It's the Democrats' George Harrison moment. After a long, cold, lonely winter, Here Comes the Sun. Yes, that strange sound you're hearing is the presidential candidates talking about the issues.
For a couple months, with McCain locking up the GOP nomination and the spotlight firmly on Obama and Hillary, we've talked about virtually anything and everything else. None of it was very uplifting.
We've pondered questions like, "Who's the bigger liar: Hillary for making up sniper activity in Bosnia, or Obama for mixing up Nazi concentration camps?" We've wondered whether Hillary meant to suggest that a candidate could be assassinated this year, or whether she just tethers her memory to traumatic political killings. And we've been talking -- a lot -- about race. We've been stuffing 300 million American people into demographic baskets and declaring who their candidate of choice must be.
Maybe all of that was inevitable in a primary where the two contenders hardly differed on the issues. But what's clear now is that Obama and McCain are the two left standing, and that they have a lot of distance between them on policy matters. That's a good thing for the quality of our political discourse. And it's a really good thing for us Democrats, whose policy platform is in tune with how most Americans are thinking about their country right now.
I'll heed James Carville's advice and start with the economy. McCain is a professed amateur on economic issues. This is the man who admitted that after two decades in Congress, "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should." Really? I respect when politicians acknowledge their limits, but that's a disarming concession from a man who will inherit the worst economic crisis in a generation. And if McCain's plan is just to entrust the ship to his advisers, well, we've seen with the current administration where that story goes.
McCain's honesty is well-taken, though, because his ideas to reinvigorate the economy haven't been even a little bit serious. A gas tax holiday for the summer? That's pandering, not policy, and everyone knows it. Gas prices over the last months have roared upwards by much more than the per gallon federal gas tax of 18.4 cents. And while McCain's tough stand against pork barrel projects is admirable, earmark spending represents a tiny portion of our ballooning deficit. It'll take more than reining in congressional pet projects to right our economy.
Obama's advantage on healthcare policy is also huge. Obama favors a national insurance program for which all Americans are eligible, regardless of health history or pre-existing conditions. But unbelievably, McCain has turned a tin ear to widespread moral revulsion at the idea that nearly 50 million Americans lack health insurance. McCain aims to tackle our healthcare crisis by lowering healthcare costs (which the federal government doesn't even set) and by offering vague proposals to help states offer insurance coverage to "high-risk" pools of applicants (without really explaining how he'll help them do it). That's tinkering. It's a plan from someone who doesn't really "get" the problem but knows he has to talk about it.
Even traditionally Republican issues may come out the Democrats' way this year. Conventional wisdom has it that the issue of judicial appointments fires up conservatives more than liberals. But unlike during the last two elections cycles, the Supreme Court now stands a single vote away from overturning Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to abortion (Justices Scalia and Thomas have expressed their desire to overturn it; there's good reason to think Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito would be happy to go along as well).
The opening sentence in the "Human Dignity and Life" section of John McCain's website reads: "John McCain believes Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned, and as president he will nominate judges who understand that courts should not be in the business of legislating from the bench." Pro-choice voters who gave lower priority to this issue when the right to choose seemed safe may think again with four justices already poised to strike. This will provide Obama a boost, especially among female voters he struggled to connect with during the primary, when the abortion issue wasn't even on the table because he and Hillary shared the same position.
Lastly, of course, is foreign policy. This is McCain's wheelhouse. John McCain loves talking about foreign policy. And he's claiming great foreign policy judgment because he called for the surge in Iraq before anyone else.
Funny. It sounds a lot like George H.W. Bush's utter failure of an election platform in 1992, when Bush touted his great success in Iraq but got thrown out of office because he didn't understand core pocketbook issues during rough economic times. As if that reelection model weren't problematic enough, at least the elder Bush was coming off a war in Iraq that was widely viewed a foreign policy triumph. But the current Iraq war is a debacle, and a majority of Americans now believe it was a mistake from the beginning. Running on Iraq wasn't even a good idea in 1992. If John McCain wants to tee that one up again, by all means...
The primary was bruising for the Democrats, especially in the final weeks. No one but Republicans had any fun. The good news is that it's over. The sun's finally coming out and shining light on the substantive issues that voters care about. And that, Little Darlin', is something the Democrats can finally cheer.