Jewish World Review Oct. 30, 2008 / 1 Mar-Cheshvan 5769
On guns, McCain misses the mark
By Roger Simon
In reality, winning campaigns and losing campaigns both make good and bad decisions.
The winners usually make more good ones than bad ones. And luck often plays a role.
But if John McCain loses next Tuesday, you can expect some very long autopsies in the press pointing out exactly what he did wrong.
Why wait, however? Putting aside the question of Sarah Palin for the moment, one of the McCain's biggest mistakes so far has been, in my opinion, his failure to exploit issues that Republicans usually do well with.
Take gun ownership.
Guns are a potent force in American politics. As I have pointed out before, had Al Gore won Tennessee, Arkansas or West Virginia - all winnable states - in 2000, he would not have had to win Florida, and he would have become president.
But Gore lost all three states, and guns had a lot to do with it. Gun owners simply didn't believe Gore when he said he was not going to take their guns away. (They did believe Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 when he said the same thing, but Clinton sold his "Bubba" image effectively and was far more trusted in small-town and rural America.)
This year, gun ownership seemed like a ripe issue for McCain to exploit.
Obama opened up the door in April, when he made his now famous comments at a private fundraiser in San Francisco about how when small town people "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion …as a way to explain their frustrations."
And, at her acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, Palin, widened the issue to one of elitism and trust. (Yeah, yeah, I know she didn't write the speech. But she delivered it well. Give her some credit.)
"I might add that in small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening," Palin said. "We tend to prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco."
And considering that the McCain/Palin ticket is now battling for its life in small town and rural America, you would think the McCain campaign would be out there talking about guns every day.
Obama's selection of Joe Biden as his running mate, gave the Republicans another fat opportunity. Biden is despised by the gun lobby. On July 23 last year in Charleston, S.C., at the CNN/Google/YouTube debate, Biden pointed out that he was "the guy who originally wrote the assault weapons ban" and "we should be working with law enforcement, right now, to make sure that we protect people against people who are not capable of knowing what to do with a gun because they're either mentally imbalanced and/or because they have a criminal record."
Some gun owners get scared when they hear talk like that (even though there is nothing unreasonable about it.) On Sept. 5, in Duryea, Pa., Obama held a town hall meeting and Joan O'Neil rose from the audience and said, "There are rumors going around that …you're going to take away our guns."
The press reported that heads nodded in agreement in the audience. (Pennsylvania, which John McCain almost certainly has to win if he is to win the presidency, has the highest per capita National Rifle Association membership in the country.)
Obama gave his standard reply. "I believe in the Second Amendment, and if you are a law-abiding gun owner you have nothing to fear from an Obama administration," he said. "The Second Amendment is an individual right ... people have the right to bear arms. But I also believe there is nothing wrong with some common-sense gun safety measures."
But some gun owners don't appear to be reassured. The Washington Post on Monday reported that while Americans are cutting back on purchasing some items because of a bad economy, purchases of "firearms and ammunition have risen 8 to 10 percent this year, according to state and federal data."
One reason, the articles says, may be fear "that if Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois wins the presidency, he will join with fellow Democrats in Congress to enact new gun controls."
But has McCain really exploited this? McCain did make a speech to the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance on Sept. 28, in which he did whack Obama over guns, but the speech did not get a lot of coverage and I don't recall McCain devoting much time to the issue since.
True, the NRA is running its own ads against Obama, but voters expect that. Where are the McCain ads, lending his voice to this issue? (I happen to agree with Obama and Biden on gun control, but I think it is a fair issue to raise in an election. It is certainly a lot more fair than claiming Obama pals around with domestic terrorists or will bring socialism to America.)
There has been one very effective political ad running recently, however, that does feature a gun. But it is an Obama ad.
It begins with Obama saying, "John McCain is trying to scare you." It then goes on to show a waist gunner in a helicopter manning his machine gun as the countryside flashes beneath him. And you hear Obama saying, "I believe in tracking down terrorists before they strike."
That is a gun image that sticks with you. And it makes Obama look tough and resolute. Which is not exactly what John McCain needs right now.
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© 2008, Creators Syndicate