I know there's plenty to do in Hawaii, but while Barack Obama is on vacation in his home state, allow me to suggest some beach reading for him. It's quite dark, occasionally hilarious, consistently frightening, and may or may not have a happy ending. I'm talking about John McCain's record on national security.
In fact, what I'm really hoping is that Obama will use this downtime to regroup, recharge, and come back ready to relentlessly make the case to the American people that McCain isn't "ready to lead" on national security. Voters trust McCain on the war on terror; Obama needs to show them every day why they shouldn't.
After a primary campaign in which the Obama camp skillfully went right at Hillary Clinton's strength -- her experience -- and used it to paint her as an entrenched, part-of-the-problem D.C. insider, it's been shocking to watch Team Obama cede to McCain national security and the war on terror -- his supposed strengths.
Making matters worse, they've taken this approach while McCain's Rove-trained message mavens have succeeded in turning one of Obama's real strengths into a negative - continuously reframing the fact that Obama is popular as just empty celebrity.
It's absurd, but it's worked. At least for the moment. Meanwhile, the public's perception of McCain as "ready to lead" on national security issues sits there, untouched.
Sure, we can read too much into polling swings, but when poll after poll has McCain with a sizable double-digit edge on security issues and Iraq it shows that the job of undermining this perception has not even begun. Rasmussen has McCain with a 51 percent to 39 percent lead on Iraq, and a 52 to 40 lead on national security. Time shows McCain leading on Iraq 51 percent to 36 percent, and on the war on terror 56 to 29.
Yes, voters continue to say the economy is their top concern but, come November, national security will once again trump every issue -- as it has since 9/11. Something will happen - even if it's nothing more than yet another Osama tape -- to remind the American people that the ability to keep us safe in these dangerous times is job one for the new president. So allowing the GOP to claim it has the advantage on this is nothing less than disastrous for Democrats. Just ask President Kerry.
I'm not saying Obama shouldn't have fought back against McCain's pathetic attacks of the last month. But the problem is that McCain has carved out a small playing field on the electoral landscape and lured Obama into it. McCain would love it if the rest of the race is a tit for tat about celebrity and Britney and Paris. He realizes that if his hold on national security were to be aggressively challenged, his lead on that issue would evaporate. So I'm sure he's thrilled to keep the fighting far away from the one thing that could put him in the White House: the idea that he's somehow better at dealing with national security.
McCain has shown time and time again over the last seven years that, far from being an expert when it comes to foreign policy, he is frequently --- and dangerously -- clueless.
As much as it troubles me, I understand why the media -- many of them card-carrying members of the John McCain Protection Society -- continue to paper over each new crack in the McCain-as-foreign-policy-authority myth: they love McCain, or at least the McCain they've created in their minds, and they're uncomfortable and embarrassed when the real McCain shows that he no longer has much to do with the character they've created.
But I don't understand why Obama is letting them get away with it. He should be taking a chisel to McCain's competent commander-in-chief edifice every chance he gets. And he should be making sure that he gets at least one chance each and every day. He needs to be as unrelenting on this critical issue for the American people as the GOP has been on their fabricated celebrity issue.
So every day between now and November 4th voters should be reminded that:
McCain has been among the most ardent supporters of the war in Iraq -- the most disastrous foreign policy decision in American history.
McCain falsely claims that, from the beginning of the war, he called on former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to resign. He should have, but he didn't.
McCain thinks it's "not too important" when American forces come home from Iraq.
McCain has repeatedly claimed that Iran was training members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, showing a fundamental misunderstanding of the key players in the war. He doesn't understand the difference between Shiites and Sunnis, and even after being corrected he still doesn't get it.
McCain falsely claimed that the surge was what led to the Anbar Awakening, even though the Sunni revolt against al-Qaeda in the province began months before Bush even announced his plan to send more troops to Iraq.
McCain falsely claimed at the end of May that American troops in Iraq were down to "pre-surge levels" (brandished as proof that the surge was "succeeding") -- even though two-thirds of the additional surge troops were still in Iraq. And, when called on his mistake, he refused to acknowledge that he was wrong.
McCain falsely claimed that the war in Iraq was "the first major conflict since 9/11" -- either forgetting about the war in Afghanistan or deeming it not major enough. This is not all that surprising, since McCain's policies on Afghanistan -- the real central front in the war on terror -- have been all over the map. Indeed, McCain first attacked Obama's policy on Afghanistan, then adopted it for himself.
McCain has a long history of paying lip service to supporting America's troops but voting against their interests. His handling of the new GI bill was the latest example of his hypocrisy: he consistently and vocally worked to defeat it, then, once it passed, tried to take credit for it.
Need more proof of why McCain is not "ready to lead"? Do you want a president who thinks there is an "Iraq/Pakistan border"? Who believes Darfur is in Somalia? And that Czechoslovakia is still a country?
McCain and his handlers believe that national security and terror will be their secret weapon come the fall -- and any day when their ability to deploy it is not undermined by the Obama campaign is a good day indeed. (Hence the celebrity distraction.)
This is why Obama needs to come out firing after his vacation. Over and over and over again. The myth of John McCain's competence on foreign policy has been allowed to take root over many years -- so it will take more than a few polite swipes destroy it.
And this is not just strategic thinking and acting on the Bush-proven tactic of going after your opponent's primary strength. It is also the essential truth of this campaign. The world cannot afford McCain in the White House. George Bush has brought us to the brink of disaster; John McCain's will undoubtedly take us over the edge.
Obama needs to make it clear to the nation that that's what this election is all about.