That’s what I think we got from Barack Obama at Invesco Field tonight. A gigantic head-fake. The Republicans were probably anticipating a more abstract, uplifting, grandiose address — one more in line with the Obama caricature, and one which would make for easy critique in the context of the grandiose setting of an NFL stadium. Instead, Obama’s speech was specific, hard-hitting, and functional. It wasn’t a speech intended for the Rhetoric Hall of Fame; it was one intended to be responsive to the political winds of August 28, 2008. One needn’t worry about trying to beat expectations when one is able to defy them.
McCain needs to be equally adaptive in the way that he frames his address in St. Paul. If the best he can do is try to out-patriotic Barack Obama, I think he will lose, maybe by a lot. Instead, he needs to highlight his bipartisanship and his reform message, distance himself from Bush, and figure out a way to appeal to someone other than the Larry Kudlow crowd on the economy. McCain is no longer going to be able to count on an abnormally high number of Democratic defectors; he needs to play for the middle, and aim to win independents by a minimum of 6 points. If I were McCain, I would also strongly consider a one-term pledge.