Sunday, October 26, 2008

Of Candidates and Parties

There are many ways from which to view the 2008 presidential race:  Ideology, experience, competence, race, leadership skills, foreign policy, Iraq policy, etc.   And while the rhetoric on the stump certainly makes this sound like a traditional liberal vs. conservative race, it's really not.  Both candidates at their core are not "party men" -- they are both mavericks that cherry-pick from their party's menu, but are all too interested and willing to buck party orthodoxy where their respective idea of "common sense" prevails. 

Races with as much as stake as a presidential race are naturally going to divide the competitors.  After all, differentiators are the pillars of the brand of each ticket.  So, all we will be exposed to as voters are where the candidates differ.   But if we look between the pillars, there is a lot of evidence that we are voting this year for two individuals, not two parties.

How many times have you heard on the stump, from either candidate, their self-identified party affiliation?  While understandable in the McCain campaign (due to the tarnishing of the Republican brand under President Bush), it is fairly astonishing how Obama also likes to distance himself from his party.  Both McCain and Obama are running on personal brand vs. party brand. 

There are some specific exceptions to this, some of which are frankly bewildering.  Today, for example, John McCain vouched that he holds himself close to the Republican philosophy on Meet the Press.  Odd that he would want to tie himself to the losing party brand when he is the sole big-ticket Republican who could effectively not make that claim should he wish to.   Not so bewildering, the Clinton's also evoke the Democratic philosophy, but as a proxy for supporting the Democratic candidate.  It is/was clearly the only way they could get their moxy behind Barack without having to lie.  Yes, a proxy/moxy solve. 

It is arguable that the McCain campaign's biggest problem is that McCain has surrounded himself with Bush administration experts, who only know the win-by-party playbook.  So, McCain's message is muddled by a tug-of-war between advocating conservative orthodoxy (where in economic and immigration policy, he personally disagrees with his party, yet has capitulated to party pressure) and McCain's personal pragmatism (a.k.a. the maverick, who does not capitulate to party pressure!). 

After eight years of Americans see party ideology appearing to trump the country's best interest in the Bush administration, Americans are naturally anti-Republican, but moreover, they are anti-party.  It's not difficult to connect the dots: political parties right now are not to be trusted because we just witnessed one party abuse its power (and the Democratic party appear to be toothless instead of ruthless in the congress).  Despite the fact that the Democratic party fairs much better in the polls, it's a risky proposition to identify with either party. 

If you put stock in this analysis, then both candidates would personally lead a less ideological, more pragmatic White House.   But only one -- Barack Obama -- appears to have the leadership chops to not be swayed by his party handlers to muddle is personal brand.  Which means that, despite what history tells us of each candidate, Barack Obama will have a stronger mandate -- and ability -- to be independent than John McCain.


Congratulations on the new blog, and on OKR.

I've been with OKR since '04 I think (or 05), and have to say I'm still with ya.

Thank goodness for Barack Obama's ability to reframe a debate, and clearly, to listen to good advice.

Quantum Magick & Love Quarks


First, it's great to hear from people who have been following OKR from the very beginning. Do you remember "Kerry's Karl Rove"? That was the original concept back in 2004 before the election.

Thanks for the kind words, and I completely agree with you -- it's very gratifying to see a Democrat actually have the political and sales chops. Ironically, McCain has nothing close in terms of political talent, which disadvantages his campaign above and beyond the problems with his party's brand.