Strategy ’08

Obama vs. the other guy, 2008

Obama, McCain, and the “Competence” Meme

Marc Ambinder posted some findings from a study of independents. I noticed this little nugget:

Obama is seen as a candidate of the future; an agent of change; the positive words they associate with him are “change” “future” and reform. “ McCain is seen as the more competent candidate; the positive words associated with him are “experience” and “integrity.”

Really? McCain is the more “competent candidate?” This is a meme that needs to die a quick and painful death, and needs to be aided along by Obama surrogates.  NOW is the perfect time, I’ll explain why:

McCain’s campaign is a mess. On both the overall strategic level (such as it is), to the tactical execution level, the guy simply doesn’t have his act together. No amount of re-boots can fix that. This is something that frustrated me in the primaries as well: Clinton kept trying to knock Obama as the incompetent newbie while she was the experienced hand, and yet it was his campaign that was the well-oiled machine. To be fair, after some drama, Clinton was at least able to correct her course somewhat, only then it was too late.

As a friend keeps reminding me, Bush ran two good campaigns, and has been a completely incompetent executive, so you can’t necessarily say that the person who runs the better campaign will be the more competent President. But competence has been the hallmark of Obama’s career, and he could not have come so far so quickly without being an excellent leader – and politically, at least, the campaigns are as good an example as any.

So my advice, for what it’s worth, to Obama and his surrogates: NOW is the time to attack McCain for incompetence. This is a week during which almost every MSM outlet finally acknowledged that his campaign has been less than optimal, so send some top surrogates to the media with this talking point:

You in the media keep talking about John McCain as the safe choice. Watching these two campaigns I’d feel a hell of a lot better about Barack Obama as my chief executive. His campaign has been as well-run as any we’ve ever seen. John McCain’s campaign is a mess. You keep talking about his advisers, but he’s the boss of his campaign. I’m comparing these two and I see only one that is competent: Obama’s. We don’t need another four years of an incompetent chief executive. Obama is a natural leader, and it shows.


July 25, 2008 - Posted by | Media Strategy, Uncategorized | , , , ,


  1. Very good and insightful post, Dansac.

    I think you’re absolutely right. Eugene Robinson had a great piece this morning that talked about Obama’s “luck” overseas, quoting Seneca in saying: “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”

    Hitting the disarray that is the McCain campaign now would be timely.

    Comment by zenbowl | July 25, 2008 | Reply

  2. I know they’re trying to wait until Obama returns home to start attacking, but think about it: his whole trip was about reducing the gap on foreign affairs.

    Now is the time to reduce the (inexplicable) gap on “competence” and “risk.”

    Comment by dansac | July 25, 2008 | Reply

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