It's official! Or almost official. Sort of. Just some t's to cross, etc. Whatever: Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee. Congratulations, Senator. You won. Have a sip of champagne, sneak a smoke when your wife's not looking. Then take a deep breath and get ready for the shitstorm.
Look, I'll be straight with you: I didn't vote for you. Not because I don't think you're a good guy, smart, inspiring, all that. Just because you haven't yet convinced me you have what it takes to get elected, or to be an effective president. What do I mean by effective? I mean not only winning over American hearts but reversing the disastrous, cruel, self-destructive policies of the Bush administration. Rescuing the economy from the Republicans. Rescuing foreign policy from idiots and warmongers. Rescuing the environment. Rescuing the health care system. Rescuing the Constitution from the people who've wiped their asses with it for the past seven years.
But you will be the nominee, and I want you to win. Hell, I'd give my left nut to help you win -- how's that for being ready to unify the party? But there are some things you're going to need to do, and it's time to get started. You can thank me later.
1. Invite Hillary to be Your Running Mate
Do it now. Do it publicly. Go on television and remind the country what a fierce, tireless advocate for Democratic principles she is. Tell them there's no one you'd want in your corner more than Hillary Clinton -- she's an unflagging campaigner, a strong fundraiser, an inspiring speaker. A warrior. Ask her, as though you were asking her to the prom. She won't turn you down -- she will recognize the opportunity to be a leader and a stateswoman and you'll earn her loyalty by offering her a graceful way out of the box she's in, a way to win by losing. She'll also appreciate the sense of power -- it will be up to her to make the decision that can reunite the party, win the election, save the country. This will make you both look good, and put to rest the silly rumors (spread mostly by your people) of an "irreparable rift." And once she accepts, the primaries will be over, and you'll have a wide-open road to November.
2. Time to Focus on Policy
We're inspired. We're fired up, ready to go. Terrific! Now we need to know where we're going. Get in touch with your inner wonk. (Note: Hillary can show you how.) Start laying out big, juicy plans and proposals: on health care, on education, on climate change and alternative energy, on Iraq and Afghanistan, on terrorism and foreign relations and Israel. Why not dedicate each month, from now until November, to a major policy challenge -- August for Global Warming, September for American Schools, etc. -- and have a great national conversation about it, full of ideas, arguments, and hope? I know, I know -- conventional wisdom says you don't get specific and give your opponent a target. But you're supposed to be a New Politician, right? Plus, John McCain has absolutely nothing with which to counter, just more rehashed Republican crap. Every time he comments on your proposals he will reveal himself as bankrupt of ideas, a mere cheerleader for the Bushniks. Let him dig his own grave -- by laying out your vision for the country, you'll be handing him a shovel.
3. Stop Talking to Me Like I'm Your Student
If there's one word that can lose this election for you it's "understand." Has anyone ever pointed out how many sentences you start with this word? Not as in, "I understand your concerns" but as in, "Understand: I am smarter than you." It's the imperative case, and it makes everyone listening to you feel talked-down to. It's a rhetorical tic you probably developed in your professorial days, and it's got to go. Believe me: I'm a teacher, and when I say to my students, "Understand: blah blah blah..." they roll their eyes and lower my hotness rating on RateMyProfessors.com. You want to relate better to working-class white men? Start by not treating them like dunces.
4. Remember Charlie Brown
Every time Lucy tells him to try and kick the football, he winds up on his ass. Then she tells him she's sorry, he tries again, same result. I know that Senator McCain has promised a "respectful" campaign. He might even think he means it. But he doesn't. And even if he did, the rest of the right-wing apparatus is getting ready to beat the hell out of you. They specialize in offering you a handshake, then kneeing you in the groin and spitting on you. They're going to enjoy tearing you apart, smearing you, turning you into a Weak-willed Elitist Harvard Commie Terrorist Panther Muslim. It's going to be all Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, all the time. Instead of acting shocked and indignant when you get attacked, what say you get ready to hit back? How about you get some of your own attacks chambered up and show the Republicans what you're made of? Ever wonder how the hell Hillary Clinton turned into the darling of the blue collar set? She showed them she doesn't take any shit. So take off the gloves, Senator -- this is a street fight, not a game of croquet. On that note:
5. Come Out Swinging
Why not challenge John McCain to a debate -- right now, mano a mano? There's no need to wait for the conventions -- everyone knows what the outcome will be. Make the general election a five-month affair, rather than a two-month affair. (Bonus: the media will love you for it!) Probably McCain won't accept, and you get to ask why the Republican nominee is unwilling to discuss the future of the country -- does he think the problems we face can wait until he's better rested? And on the off-chance that he accepts, you'll take him apart and let the country see what a cranky, ham-handed, weird guy he is -- and Democrat or Republican, old or young, black or white, the one thing Americans won't tolerate in a President is weird.
6. Don't Pull Your Punches
If there's one thing Karl Rove had right, it's that you don't attack your opponent on his weaknesses, you attack him on his strengths. So what are McCain's strengths? Campaign finance reform? It's a joke. It's already falling apart, and if he believes in it so passionately, what's he doing flying around in his wife's plane? Experience? What has he accomplished, immigration reform? Not quite. The anti-torture amendment? You mean the one President Bush nixed with a signing statement, with hardly even a whimper from John-boy? Military experience? You'd think a guy who spent a chunk of his life in a quagmire would know one when he saw it. Use the footage of him walking through Baghdad in a flak jacket and sunglasses like Lee Atwater used the photo of Dukakis in the tank. Take these supposed strengths apart one by one and what's he got left -- his reputation as a "maverick"? Give me a break.
7. Wipe the Peeved Expression Off Your Face
Let's get one thing straight: Politics is rough, and a presidential campaign is a nasty, bloody business. When your opponent points out your weaknesses, when she exploits an opportunity or uses an advantage, she's only doing what it takes to win because she believes she's the best person for the job. It doesn't make her morally inferior. And yet every time Hillary or Charles Gibson pressed an attack you presented an annoyed, impatient face as though you were too good to respond. As though it were beneath you. It's not beneath you. Questions about flag pins may be stupid, and damaging to American political discourse -- but they're not beneath you. Get angry if you want. Show some righteous indignation. But stop looking so disappointed in everyone all the time. We have mothers for that.
8. Stop Drinking Your Own Kool-Aid
The messianic rhetoric is not going to work in the general election. "We are the ones we've been waiting for" sounds like something Obi-wan Kenobi would say (the bad, Ewan McGregor version, not even Alec Guinness). Look, you are not the Candidate of Destiny or the Incarnation of Hope or the Second Coming of Kennedy: You are the only chance we've got to avoid four more years of incompetent, criminal, dishonest leadership. The future of this country is riding on your ability to win -- and I for one would feel more comfortable if you sounded like you knew how hard the fight was going to be, rather than sounding like my yoga teacher.
9. It's the Shrub, Stupid
Run against George W. Bush, every chance you get. Call McCain his conjoined twin. There's no downside: the president has lower approval ratings than Stalin. Appeal to three-quarters of the population's desire to make someone pay for what has happened to this country. And that someone is John McCain, who stood by and let Bush do it.
10. Win This Thing. Just Win It. I Don't Care How.
Don't break my heart, Senator Obama. Don't pull a John Kerry and whistle your way to defeat. There is no time left: The country needs someone to pull it out of the abyss Bush-Cheney has thrown it into. Are you that someone? Then you'd better be prepared to do whatever you have to do. If you're not, then give Hillary the reins -- at least she'll go down swinging.