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William Bradley

William Bradley

Posted: September 8, 2008 06:15 PM

Team Obama's One Missing Ingredient: Killer Instinct



The late legendary football coach Bill Walsh, part of that vanishing group of moderate Republicans, supported Gary Hart for president in the 1980s. His elegant yet ruthless strategies point the way to Barack Obama's victory.

Barack Obama's campaign has been absolutely brilliant, with accomplishments in organization and fundraising that few would have thought possible. Obama himself is one of the most compelling political figures not just in the nation, but the world. Yet, if one were to select one area in which Obama's campaign has been absolutely deficient, it would be this. Demonstrating, and executing, as it were, the killer instinct.

In many ways, politics, especially media about politics, is like a little kids' soccer game. Somebody kicks the ball over there, and all the kids run in the same direction. I give you Wasilla Mayor-turned-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Meanwhile, a lot of other stuff goes on, that is usually more important. Sarah Snarl, as one of my posters at New West Notes refers to her, is a sideshow. I've written about that. Enough said.

The real deal is John McCain.

With the NFL season starting this past weekend, I'm reminded of the strategies of the legendary, late coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Bill Walsh. Coach Walsh was a Republican, of the increasingly endangered moderate variety, who in the 1980s supported my old friend Gary Hart for president.

Hart's frontrunning presidential candidacy was derailed 20 years ago by a private "scandal" that by today's standards seems, let's say, very quaint. So the applicability of Walsh's spectacularly successful football strategies to presidential politics remained undemonstrated.

But hardly irrelevant.

Walsh is known for a pretty, even elegant, approach to football, full of glamourous players and flashy plays. Not unlike a certain presidential campaign of our present acquaintance.

But having gotten to know him a bit prior to his death last year from leukemia, his theory of conflict was not about style. It was about attack.

Walsh, for all his cultivation of quarterbacks and an elegant passing game, was a boxing fan. And for all his complex playbook, his philosophy boiled down to one basic thing.

Analyze your opponent. Find a vulnerability. And attack that vulnerability. Ruthlessly and repeatedly.

Not once or twice or three or four times. But constantly. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Until you "shatter," as he liked to put it, your opponent.

If the opponent makes an "adjustment," as Walsh put it, that almost certainly opens up another opportunity to attack.

This is what the Obama campaign is failing to do. Select and drive a very consistent hard negative against John McCain, until the old warrior's credibility is shattered.

Team Obama failed to do this in the primaries, as well, as many of my friends and readers repeatedly told me. Obama never delivered the knockout blow against Hillary Clinton. So, emboldened, she hung around forever, even though it was clear that she couldn't win. The difference in the primaries is that Obama needed the Clintons for the general election. He's finally having lunch with Bill Clinton in New York on Thursday. Which is very good for Obama, because as I pointed out 11 days ago, Obama needs the former president in order to lock down this election.

He doesn't need John McCain. While McCain is a great hero, and Obama's Senate colleague, he is Obama's opponent. While the big dynamics of the election are in Obama's favor, as Team O would no doubt tell you, this is an election that can yet be lost.

Obama need not "rip out his living guts and use them to grease the treads of his tanks," to borrow a line from George Patton.

He simply needs to select one of McCain's multiple vulnerabilities and relentlessly drive home his attack.

Whether it is the Obama campaign per se, or some other entity, that performs the needed task.

What is the best line of attack?

I might say. But my good friend Steve Schmidt, the former Arnold Schwarzenegger campaign manager and Bush/Cheney war room director who is the architect of the resurgent McCain campaign, who I profiled early on on Huffington Post, reads this stuff right away.

So suffice to say that there are a number of things that Team Obama can select. (Look for the contradiction ...)

The key is to choose. And to attack. Relentlessly and ruthlessly.

The presidency lies at the end of the cycle.