I spent the day today in Salem, New Hampshire, a wonderful town of white-steepled churches and houses with porches, all shrouded in snow. There, John McCain and Barack Obama both held events -- separated by two blocks and three hours.
Both men were at the top of their games. McCain's event was set up as a theater-in-the-round and after a few minutes of introductory remarks he opened the floor to any and all questions. He not only welcomed, but asked his questioners for follow-ups -- and kept on going back to them until they said they were satisfied.
After getting a quick lunch, I went over to the school where Obama's event was being held. I arrived an hour before it was supposed to begin. The long line snaked around the building. The auditorium had room for 750 people -- 4,000 were waiting outside in the cold. Obama had attracted similar-sized crowds at events all through the weekend. He arrived an hour and a half late and after apologizing -- a nice and all too rare touch -- launched into a spirited rendition of his effective new stump speech.
While McCain and Obama -- the old veteran and reformer and the young community organizer and "hopemonger" -- have very clear differences, there is a clear similarity in their approach. McCain in his pledge to fix our public schools, tackle AIDS in Africa, fight climate change, and alleviate global poverty; Obama by the very nature of his appeal to independents and Republicans and promise to unite the country offer a stunning rebuke to the prevailing political approach of many progressive bloggers, including that of many who are part of the Huffington Post.
Both McCain and Obama reject the view that elections are won by mobilizing the party's base instead of reaching out to others outside their coalition. They think elections are won by upturning the static conventional wisdom of American politics and building a new, bigger majority.
Since the mid-1990s, American politics has descended into brutal partisan trench warfare. Both parties are fighting over tiny slivers of political territory. The 2000 and 2004 elections were decided by the barest of margins. In 2002 and 2006, each party gained the slenderest of majorities. In the trench warfare of World War I, two exhausted armies were stuck in place because they used old strategies in a new time. That changed when a new weapon was brought on the battlefield. In 2008, both McCain and Obama promise to be a tank.