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Lessons from the Trail

7:42 PM, May 19, 2008 • By DEAN BARNETT
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It was a busy two days on the campaign trail. Yesterday, Barack Obama minimized the threat Iran poses, spontaneously burbling, "Iran may spend 1/100th of what we spend on the military. If Iran ever tried to pose a serious threat to us, they wouldn't stand a chance." The right wing blogosphere, including your humble servants here at the Weekly Standard blog, made a fuss of the comment this morning.

Soon, the McCain camp was giving speeches and sending out emails. McCain's comments were relatively hard hitting:

Before I begin my prepared remarks, I want to respond briefly to a comment Senator Obama made yesterday about the threat posed to the United States by the Government of Iran. Senator Obama claimed that the threat Iran poses to our security is "tiny" compared to the threat once posed by the former Soviet Union. Obviously, Iran isn't a superpower and doesn't possess the military power the Soviet Union had. But that does not mean that the threat posed by Iran is insignificant. On the contrary, right now Iran provides some of the deadliest explosive devices used in Iraq to kill our soldiers…

Senator Obama has declared, and repeatedly reaffirmed his intention to meet the President of Iran without any preconditions, likening it to meetings between former American Presidents and the leaders of the Soviet Union. Such a statement betrays the depth of Senator Obama's inexperience and reckless judgment. Those are very serious deficiencies for an American president to possess.

So, what have we learned from this episode on the trail? A few lessons stand out:

1) Barack Obama has the potential to embarrass himself every time he speaks without a script. He's beginning to remind me of the Peter O'Toole character (very closely based on an old and drunken Errol Flynn) in "My Favorite Year." Aghast upon learning that he would have to get his lines right on "the first take" because he would be on live TV, he declared, "I'm not an actor - I'm a movie star!!" At least the O'Toole character knew his limitations. Obama keeps vamping and veering off script to disastrous effect. This compulsion could someday seriously damage his candidacy - if it hasn't already.

2) I hate to disagree with the Allahpundit since he's so often right, but this incident perfectly illustrates Obama's weaknesses as an extemporaneous speaker and why the McCain campaign should take as many debates as it can. Forget that without a script, Obama is far from the remarkable speaker he is with a teleprompter. Put aside all the "ums," the awkward pauses and the halting delivery.

Obama's real problem is that he often doesn't know what he's talking about, and thus has the chance of revealing his lack of knowledge and inexperience every time he opens his mouth. Someone as young as Obama seeking national office has to come across as a proverbial "Wiz Kid." Obama often reveals just the opposite, and butchers important facts in the process. I'm still getting over his speech from Friday where he said Kennedy sat down with Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Most casual students of history would know this was a mistake.

What happened last night in Oregon was grist for political junkies. It will knock ‘em dead on Memeorandum for a couple of days and then go away. But it will be a different story if Obama makes a similar blunder on the enormous stage of a general election presidential debate.

3) It's wonderful news that the McCain campaign hit back and did so in a timely manner. If the McCain campaign is to have a winning narrative, its focus will be Obama's inexperience and naïveté. Obama's a tremendously appealing guy and an appealing candidate. But he's also not ready for primetime in a presidential sense. McCain will have to hammer this aspect of the Obama persona if he wants to win. That may not be the kind of campaign McCain wants to run, but it's the kind of campaign he has to run.

And, needless to say, Barack Obama's inexperience and lack of preparation for the presidency should be an issue in this campaign. In fact, it should be the issue.