The Magazine

To Attack, or Not to Attack?

The cultural contradictions of McCainism.

Oct 20, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 06 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Ask McCain advisers for a succinct description of his message, and you'll get several different answers. Obama's too risky. He's too inexperienced. He has bad judgment. He's not bipartisan enough. He has no record. His record is too liberal. He avoids tough decisions. He's all rhetoric. He's the wrong kind of change. And on it goes. Many of these things are true, of course, but in trying to communicate all of these messages at once the campaign risks communicating none of them.

The Obama campaign, by contrast, seems to have settled on one message, which it is driving nearly every day: John McCain is too erratic to be president.

Even for voters not inclined to believe the charge, McCain's last month has lent it credibility.
By the end of the week, however, conversations with several McCain advisers indicated that the campaign may have settled on its closing argument. If they are successful, voters will enter polling stations with this thought in their head: Barack Obama cannot be trusted because he's done nothing and has consistently put his own political ambitions before his country's needs.

Stephen F. Hayes, a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD, is the author of Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President (HarperCollins).