From the movie An American President (1995):
President Andrew Shepherd: If we had to go through a character debate three years ago, would we have won?
A.J.: I don’t know. But I would have liked that campaign. If my friend Andy Shepherd had shown up, I would have liked that campaign very much.
* * *
I got a small taste yesterday — let’s call it a tantalizing morsel — of the type of 2008 presidential campaign I would very much like to see. It came from a video TPM posted, which combines John McCain’s recent ridicule of Barack Obama for supposedly minimizing the threat posed by Iran with Obama’s counterattack against McCain and Bush.
If you haven’t watched it, take a few minutes to do so.
I hope it’s a preview of the election to come.
I will admit that there is one ignoble and hyperpartisan aspect to my feeling this way, which relates to my satisfaction with the pathetic quality of McCain’s general appearance and demeanor on the video. He comes across like a caricature of a grumpy old man. As you watch him, it’s remarkably easy to form the mental image of McCain standing on his front porch yelling at children playing across the street: “You damn kids stop making so much noise over there or I’ll call the police on you!”
That’s a John McCain I wouldn’t mind seeing every day for the rest of the campaign.
But it isn’t just McCain’s demeanor that comes across as old and dried out in the clip — it’s the substance of what he has to say. He really does want to preside over George W. Bush’s third term. The same old tired rhetoric of fear. The same old empty tough talk.
Compared to McCain’s prune like performance, the Obama portion of the video is the clichéd breath of fresh air. I’m no Obama groupie. He’s a politician — and, as such, his stands on political issues are often something less than courageous.
But on the immensely important issue of breaking America’s addiction to a simplistic tough guy “shooting first is always best” view of foreign affairs, his words are almost breathtaking. This is something radical — not in terms of the policy views themselves which are consistent with the consensus among experts — but in terms of political calculation.
For over a generation now, the political conventional wisdom has followed Bill Clinton’s famous words, “When people are insecure, they’d rather have somebody who is strong and wrong than someone who’s weak and right.” Obama now proposes to turn this dictum on its head — not by embracing weakness, of course — but by embracing smartness in the form of an openness to dialog.
Part of being smart, Barack Obama challenges us, is the willingness to talk, not just to our friends, but also to our bitterest enemies.
That’s a position that scares a lot of Democratic politicos who worry that the GOP may yet succeed in painting Obama as weak. Hell, it scares me a little. But my gut (and a lot of polling) tells me that the American people are willing to listen to a candidate who preaches a return to diplomacy, instead of more of the same old Bush-style reflexive bullying.
But either way, I would like that campaign. I would like that campaign very much