September 8, 2008 1:58 p.m.

From TPM Reader JA

Josh, in dismissing the Gallup poll this morning, you describe the Obama campaign as reactive and “unwilling or unable to take the initiative.” Huh? We just watched a GOP convention in which the nominee for the incumbent party agreed the election was about change. In the major speeches given by Republicans, speakers used the word “change” 30 times–more than any other theme, including “reform.”

The McCain campaign wanted to frame this election on experience, but had to abandon that when the polls didn’t move. The surge issue has likewise attracted no great interest. Although McCain continues to discuss it, as a theme, he has ditched it in favor of this murky “change/reform” theme. (By selecting Sarah Palin, the campaign has officially ceded the point.) This all works to Obama’s advantage because if the discussion becomes one of change, it must necessarily shift to policy–the last place McCain wants to go. But he’s backed himself into a corner.

Obama has run his general campaign with exactly the kind of pacing he ran the primary. It’s not always clear why he’s doing certain things because they don’t correspond to the daily news cycle. That’s because he has planned the entire campaign in advance. You can see how he’s hit his marks as he’s gone along: after he won the primary, he immediately tacked right and demonstrated his “working across the aisles” theme. The trip abroad was designed to elevate him to a presidential figure and deflate the claims of his inexperience. The convention was a way to simultaneously build momentum among the base and lay a foundation for elevating the discussion above Rovian BS and placing it directly on issues via the change argument.

We exit the convention right on schedule. Obama has set the table, and the Republicans have come to dine. I have little doubt but that the Obama camp feels it’s right where it wants to be.

I don’t think this negates my point about taking and holding the initiative. But I do think this is a very good point. And I was thinking along these same lines over the weekend. Embracing the idea that this is a change election puts McCain in a possibly winning but also extremely perilous position because the claim to represent change is inherently preposterous. The Obama camp should grab onto this concession, bank it and fight the rest of the election on these terms. How can a senator who’s been in Washington for 26 six years and embraces all the policies of the president of the last eight years be change? It answers itself.

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