During his acceptance speech, John McCain had some very strong criticism of his opponent. I'm not talking about Barack Obama; I'm talking about George Bush. After rushing headlong into the embrace of Bush and the Rovian wing of the GOP, McCain has now decided that he desperately needs to distance himself and try to reclaim the maverick mantle. Not an easy thing to do when you have sided with Bush 90 percent of the time.
But McCain gave it his best shot. After dispensing with the obligatory opening nod to the president for "leading us in those dark days following the worst attack on American soil in our history," he offered a stinging indictment of the last seven-plus years of Bush and largely Republican rule.
He promised to "make this government start working for you again" and to "stop leaving our country's problems for some unluckier generation to fix."
He vowed to "restore the pride and principles of our party. We were elected to change Washington, we let Washington change us. We lost the trust of the American people...when we valued our power over our principles."
He pledged that his administration would "set a new standard for transparency and accountability" and "finally starting getting things done for the people who are counting on us."
According to McCain, "We need to change the way government does almost everything: from the way we protect our security to the way we compete in the world economy; from the way we respond to disasters to the way we fuel our transportation network; from the way we train our workers to the way we educate our children."
Other than that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
Listening to McCain, you'd think it was the Democrats who occupied the White House the last seven-plus years and it was time to throw the bastards out.
Given that 82 percent of voters believe we are heading in the wrong direction, it's a logical position to take. But for the American people to buy into the notion that McCain, who has raced to Bush's side on tax cuts, on offshore drilling -- even on torture -- is this campaign's agent of change, it's going to require an incredible suspension of disbelief. Or a serious case of amnesia.
And this is clearly McCain's campaign strategy: inducing amnesia about the past and confusion about the future, attempting to hoodwink the American people about what he has become. Which is where Sarah Palin comes in. As a major distraction. In the effort to divert attention from the matter at hand -- McCain's embrace of all things Bush -- Palin is the perfect storm.
Americans love the outsider plucked from obscurity. And Palin provides bucketfuls of the new and exciting. As long as voters and the media are caught up in the latest installment of As Sarah Turns or the Alaska version of All My Children, they aren't paying attention to the lack of solutions McCain is offering to the serious crises that face us.
Forget worrying about the economy or health care or the housing crisis -- think about how many people live in Wasilla, whether Bristol and Levi will live happily ever after, and if Sarah and her "First Dude" really want Alaska to secede from the union.
This is why the McCain campaign wants Palin front and center -- did you notice how much time McCain spent during the speech praising Palin and how quickly the celebratory post-speech music shifted from "Raisin' McCain" to "Barracuda"?
And it's why Democrats need to ignore Palin, and keep the focus on reminding voters about the stark contrast between an Obama and a McCain administration. It's tempting to prime the Palin attack pump. But Obama and the Democrats do so at their own peril.
John McCain wants to distance himself from Bush, cloud the huge policy differences between him and Obama, and hope his compelling life story carries the day. Obama's job is to make sure he doesn't get away with it. Forgetting Sarah Palin is a good place to start.