Friday, August 29, 2008

Presidential Race

By all accounts the Obama vs McCain race is amongst the most interesting political races of last few decades. McCain today picked up Governor of Alaska - Palin, for his choice of Veep. After Democratic nominee, Barak Obama, gave a stirring speech last night, one of his best I have heard, it was McCain camp's time for hogging some spotlight and remove some wind out of Obama's storm.

By announcing a female conservative women as his VP nominee, McCain has to some extent taken out the thunder out of Obamania. But will this be enough?

This race is interesting because to an extent both candidates are not run-of-the-mill nominees. This race is "colorful" (no pun intended). McCain has gone against his party's line of thinking a few times and Obama seems to at times talk pragmatic politics over partisan one. Both candidates do not come off as hard core ideologues to me, but what do I know?

Obama looks to have the momentum, energy and lead at this time. But this could be deceptive. There may be a build up of groundswell for McCain in rural America, which will show up in polls only later in the race. Who knows? One cardinal rule of Election analysis is to "never under-estimate the force" (As Sunny Deol once said)

If Obama wins this race ultimately though, it would be a historic moment for America and even for the world as we know. A pre-dominantly white country electing a semi-Black man, to it's most powerful post, will be monumental and infinitely appealing. USA will once again lead by action and not mere words. To that effect Obama's win can go a long way in lifting the sagging image of USA around the world.

But is that what it is all about? Image? What even if USA's image improves, as we think, it will? Will it be enough to counter the growing domestic issues , some real , some perceived. The important question the US voter needs to ask to herself or himself is who will make a better president?

As a non-citizen and an outsider, I am more interested in how the America of today will tackle this question? I have limited stake in who becomes the president. In a lot of ways it does not affect me one way or the other. My interest is more out of curiosity to see how this functional democracy responds to a significant moment in it's history.

I don't really buy into the Democrats blame game of "more of the same" if McCain comes to power. I think his term, if it happens, will be qualitatively different from Bush's. I also do not buy Republicans argument that Obama will be a disaster on foreign policy and his perceived lack of experience will be bad. Both these arguments don't stick as far as I am concerned. Both candidates, at least on paper have a potential to bring some freshness to the governing. And that is what I am interested in. Will Americans trust with their country's faith with a Harvard educated, suave, and eloquent speaker or will they hand it over to a veteran of a war. What America decides can have a rippling effect outside it's shores.

The race is too close to call currently and I think, it will unfold in coming weeks, what approach is taken by each side. I have a feeling that negative campaigns won't fly with general public. If a candidate focuses on other sides negatives and keeps harping about it, he won't make any substantial gains. John Kerry's democrats did that mistake. They kept on attacking Bush so hard and on so many occasions, they lost the focus on what alternative were they offering to the people. People want to know, what is that, that you bring to the table. They already know so and so is bad. So don't keep reminding them that.

McCain and Obama both should learn from the badly executed campaign of Kerry. Criticize your opponent but don't make "attacking other side" as your campaign's base theme. Tell clearly what you are offering instead.

If I was a campaign manger I would create a 70-30 model. 30% negative attack, 70% positive alternative. The 30% of attack is important because, you don't allow the other side to run over you in politics and keep it guessing where the next one is coming from. The 70% +ve is for the people, who want to listen to the solution you are offering and not bothered about how bad other candidate is.
You can only hope and not ensure winning election by default. Meaning- "the other guy is so bad, you should elect me to keep him from coming to power. So elect me by default." This does not work, even if you hope. And hope is not strategy. It is an abstract emotion.

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