In his column in the New York Times this morning David Brooks’s advice to Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain is that they should both be weirder:
Last winter, Barack Obama succeeded by running a weird campaign. He wasn’t just a normal politician aiming for office, he was going to cleanse the country of the baby-boom culture war mentality. In his soaring speeches, he denounced the mores of both the Clinton and Bush eras and made an argument for unity and hope over endless partisan warfare.
The Republican convention was one long protest against the way the Republicans themselves have run Washington. McCain’s convention speech barely mentioned his own party. His vice-presidential nominee came out of the blue and seems totally unlike the regular crowd of former eighth-grade class presidents who normally dominate public life. McCain’s campaign ideology, exemplified in a new ad released on Monday, is not familiar conservatism. It’s maverickism — against the entrenched powers and party orthodoxies.
And it all worked. McCain got a huge postconvention bounce in the polls.
He continues by saying that Sen. Obama needs to criticize his own base once in a while and Sen. McCain needs to make the argument for divided government.
I think that Mr. Brooks’s advice is good for McCain and very, very bad for Obama. Sen. Obama has a distinct structural advantage in this election and is already facing reluctance from part of his own base; alienating more of it certainly won’t get out the vote. From the standpoint of middle America he could hardly be weirder. He needs to reassure moderates and swing voters while keeping his base in the paddock. He doesn’t need to shake up the election. Winning in the general just doesn’t require the same qualities as winning in Democratic primaries much less Democratic caucuses.
Sen. McCain, the underdog, on the other hand can only prosper by emphasizing his own (and his running mate’s) maverick streak and throwing Hail Mary’s.