10/12/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

NAFTA and Iraq...NAFTA and Iraq...Repeat and Say It Louder...

A series of new polls shows John McCain closing in on Barack Obama in industrial swing-states like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and widening his lead in places like North Carolina. I was on CNN this morning suggesting how Obama can turn those trends around - namely, by talking about John McCain's NAFTA cheerleading and about his support for spending $12 billion a month of taxpayer money in Iraq - positions that are controversial, to say the least, in precisely these swing states:

This goes back to my earlier post and newspaper column about how Obama can counter McCain's odious cultural populism bewailing sex education and screaming "Country First," and I think he can counter it with a strong brand of economic populism - a brand Obama has only fleetingly embraced. Issues like NAFTA and the war are issues McCain can't muddle like he has taxes or health care. Put another way, those two issues are the ones that draw the most clear, easy-to-understand contrast between the two candidates.

I think Obama has to make this kind of contrast, or he could lose the election.

I also think he's entirely capable of doing this - that is, I think he's entirely capable of tuning out the Bob Rubins who he's lately decided to surround himself with, and capable of tuning into what the average American is worried about. I'm actually optimistic that he will start making this transformation (I actually said that to CNN, but you can see it get snipped at the end of the clip).

And here's the kicker: When he does do this, he won't just be connecting with voters on "issues" - he'll be showing a populist fire in the belly that speaks to those deeper qualities like character and courage.