Barack Obama has the lead for the time being. But three sign posts point the way to
a McCain landslide in November in the unlikely event the Arizona senator has the
wit to heed them.
What figures to be by far the most important issue this fall is the skyrocketing
price of energy and its deleterious effect on the broader economy and national
Now that Sen. McCain has flip flopped on drilling off of our coasts, there is a
substantial difference between him and Sen. Obama on the issue. Sen. McCain also
supports building more nuclear power plants, which Sen. Obama opposes.
Opinion polls indicate a large majority now supports drilling for oil off our coasts
and in Alaska. That majority is likely to expand and harden as gas prices rise this
summer. But Sen. McCain can't fully capitalize politically on this change in public
attitude unless he completes his flip flop, and consents to drilling in the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge.
Commentary editor John Podhoretz fears Sen. McCain's ego will prevent him from doing
what is in his, and his country's interest:
"So McCain 2 makes a big speech about offshore drilling and the need for it. Fine.
But the message is muted and confused. Why? Because McCain 1 voted against oil
exploration and field development in (ANWR) and McCain 2 doesn't want to look like a
flip flopper by changing his stand on the matter...In acting out of a combination of
holer-than-thou piety and political pique, McCain 1 has made it all but impossible
for McCain 2 to run with this issue and go on the offensive with Obama on a matter
of central concern to the American people."
I fear Mr. Podhoretz is correct. But few Americans would hold flip flopping
against Sen. McCain, because they've flip flopped, too. Soccer moms were happy to
genuflect to environmental pieties when gasoline was $2 a gallon. But now that they
have to sell their firstborn to fill up their SUVs, their attitude has changed
If Sen. McCain were to fly to ANWR and announce his change of heart there, the
attendant publicity would make it clear to Americans the sharp difference between
himself and Sen. Obama on the issue most important to their pocketbooks. He
supports letting Floridians and Californians decide whether there should be drilling
off their coasts. Why shouldn't the same principle apply to Alaskans? A large
majority favor drilling in ANWR.
The second sign post is Sen. Obama's clumsy embrace of a Sept. 10th attitude toward
the war on terror. The law enforcement approach toward fighting it is precisely
what led to Sept. 11, 2001. Fortunately, national security is the one issue Sen.
McCain knows something about. The danger for him here is that he'll overemphasize
it. The fact that we're winning the war on terror makes most Americans less
interested in it, and more focused on economic concerns. Voter anxiety about Sen.
Obama's fitness to be commander in chief is a strong subsidiary issue. But this
election will be won or lost at the gas pump.
The third sign post was illuminated by the flap over the receipt by the (now
former) head of Barack Obama's vice presidential selection committee and two
prominent U.S. senators of below market rate loans from Countrywide Finance, which
Sen. Obama has charged is in large part responsible for the sub-prime mortgage
crisis. One of those senators, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, is trying to push
through Congress a bill that would, in effect, bail out Countrywide.
This glaring conflict of interest hasn't attracted much attention from the news
media, because for most journalists, a scandal isn't really a scandal unless
Republicans are involved. But it's an issue tailor made for Sen. McCain. He has
often stupidly (see McCain-Feingold), but always ardently, fought pork barrel
spending and corruption. Congress has its lowest approval rating in the history of
polling. Replacing the Washington way with the Chicago way is not an improvement.
Sen. McCain is the best person to make that case, and Americans are in a mood to
The sign posts also indicate who Sen. McCain should choose for his running mate. No
Republican can better make the case for drilling than Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and
no governor has fought harder against corruption, especially in her own party.
So go to ANWR, Sen. McCain. Embrace Sarah Palin there. You'll have to eat some
crow. But crow doesn't taste so bad when it's served on the White House china.