Four Months of Accusation Ping Pong?

There’s a bit more than four months to go before voters elect their next president. Between now and then we have the two conventions needed to make official what’s already certain: the nominees. We’ll have the pseudo-excitement generated by the selection of their running mates. And, it appears, we’ll have endless days of accusation ping pong.

It’s already started. Not a day goes by without headlines “Obama criticizes McCain for this” or “McCain raps Obama for that.” This and that changes daily. So far we’ve had attacks on off shore oil drilling, taxes, flood insurance, negotiating with bad foreign leaders and so on and so forth.

To listen to the candidates and their spokespeople, the other guy wakes up each morning trying to think of something boneheaded to weaken America’s security, enrich the rich and degrade the environment.

When they get bored with this kind of rhetoric, the candidates revert to the “next term” of the failed presidency routine. Senator John McCain is apparently seeking to create the third term of the current President George Bush administration and Senator Barack Obama can’t wait to get started on President Jimmy Carter’s second term.

The only people who could possibly be enjoying this are the talking heads on 24 hour news stations who need something to fill up the time between commercials for arthritis medications, get rich quick schemes and high definition sunglasses. For the rest of us, the tone of the campaign is a huge disappointment.

Senators McCain and Obama both have a great deal to offer America. Senator McCain is a devout conservative. Yes, he’s fostered a reputation as a maverick, but he diverts from the traditional GOP position on only a handful of issues, most notably immigration.

Senator Obamais an equally devout liberal. He’s not an ideologue who will scuttle good legislation in order to keep it pure. But there’s no denying he’s a pragmatic liberal. Like Senator McCain, he’s willing — sometimes eager — to reach across party lines to fashion a compromise.

Both a intelligent. Both care deeply about this country. And both have fashioned personas that attempt to rise above politics as usual. Which makes their daily attack press releases so disappointing. Nothing is more usual in politics than denigrating the other guy. Nothing would be more refreshing than two campaigns who explain why we should vote for their guy and spends less time, money and resources shouting at us to oppose the other guy.

If any campaign in recent history has the chance to focus on principals and policies it’s this one. The two candidates have different visions for the country, different agendas and different priorities. Instead of rapping the other guy, perhaps they could promote their own qualifications? At least for a little while?

Perhaps they could call a truce. For two weeks of every month the candidates and their surrogates should agree to hold back on criticizing the other guy and simply state their own case. They’d still have two weeks a month to attack and belittle one another. But for 14 straight days, the campaign could be as civil as voters deserve it to be.

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A VP for Change

Senator Hillary Clinton and former-Senator John Edwards are both under consideration by Senator Barack Obama’s as a running mate.Senator Obama himself has said, on numerous occasions, that Senator Clinton would “be on anyone’s short list.” And the Associated Press, among others, reported that Senator Edwards is in the running. Both would be poor choices.

In fact, Senator Obama should rule out anyone who has been on a national ticket of late. Yes, that would include former Vice President Al Gore, but that’s the price to be paid when “change” is the core principal of your campaign. (OK, I’d make an exception for Vice President Gore, but c’mon, what are the odds he’d take it? That would make him the Crash Davis of politics.*)

Senator Clinton stands for many things. Some good (those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling) and some not so good (much of her campaign from March through May). She’s a return to the 90’s, not a choice for the 21st century.

Senator Edwards has been around the track too many times as well. He’s lost twice for the presidential nomination and once as the running mate to Senator John Kerry. But there’s a bigger problem with Senator Edwards: his approach to politics is incompatible with Senator Obama’s. Yes, both are genuinely committed to lifting up the nation’s poor and to helping the middle class achieve greater security. But while Senator Obama’s approach is open, inclusive, and civil, that of Senator Edward’s is harsh, exclusive and borders on demagoguery. Senator Obama talks of “disagreeing without being disagreeable.” Senator Edwards demonizes his opponents

Senator Obama needs a running matethat demonstrates to independents and moderate Republicans that he’s serious about a more civil, results oriented political culture. That means steering clear of running mates that divide the country into “us” and “them.” It means finding someone with a proven ability to rise above partisanship in order to deliver meaningful change.

I’ve already written about how well Senator Evan Bayh meets this requirement. I haven’t looked into her background deeply, but from what I have read, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano might fill the bill, too.

Senator Obama’s greatest strength is the promise of change. Looking backward on the single most important decision a presidential nominee makes undermines the premise of his campaign. Yes, conventional wisdom and the talking heads urge him to go with Senators Clinton and Edwards. But if he listened to them, he’d never have run in the first place, let alone won the nomination.

* For the trivia fans amongst you: Crash Davis was the character played by Kevin Costner in Bull Durham who became the home run king of minor league baseball in virtual anonymity.