I agree with my esteemed SDP colleague Jason that Hillary's telephone ad was very good. And I agree with the sly Professor Schaff as to why the ad does more good for McCain than for Clinton. Walter Mondale ran a similar ad against Gary Hart in 1984, and it was very effective. But Mondale had been Vice President. Ms. Clinton's resume is a much more mixed bag, and there aren't very many impressive items in it. Still, the ad may help Clinton in Tuesday's critical contests.
The recent exchange between McCain and Obama on Iraq is very telling. Obama said he would send troops "back to Iraq" if Al Qaeda is "forming a base there." McCain jumped on that one.
"The fact is, al Qaeda is in Iraq," McCain said. "Al Qaeda is in Iraq today. If we left Iraq there's no doubt that al Qaeda would then gain control in Iraq and pose a threat to the United States of America. Ask anyone who knows about the situation on the ground in Iraq. I look forward to continuing this debate."
I have some news for John McCain, and that is that there was no such thing as al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq.
I give the win to Obama, on immediate political impact. It is clear that public doubts about the Iraq war have greatly weakened Republicans in general, and Obama's reply is part of a pretty good argument that Iraq created a lot more problems than it has yet solved.
On the other hand, Obama's reply contains an obvious weakness: it works only if the election continues to be about the past. Anyone whose major passion is to punish Republicans for the war will surely vote Democrat no matter who the nominee is. But we are electing the next President, not grading the last one. The only real choices are to stay in until it is safe to leave, or leave and let come what may. To leave and then have to come back would surely be the worst possible policy, the most expensive in lives and treasure. That Obama has boxed himself into advocating that is a sure sign that he is not thinking about policy at all, but only about how to win an election.
Just right now, Obama is resting his case against Senator Clinton and McCain squarely on the fact that he was "opposed to the war from the beginning." It may be that all his talk of change and hope is really about the past as well: it's just another way of saying, over and over, that he is anti-Bush. That may work, as it worked for Bill Clinton in 1992. But if McCain, or events, persuade us to think seriously about the future, the advantage will be with McCain.