Barack the closer

His stump speech is gradually narrowing to essential points.

By Thomas Schaller
Published October 20, 2008 7:36PM (EDT)

Give David Axelrod and the Obama speechwriting team credit: They seem to be gradually refining and narrowing Obama's stump speech into the sort of lyrical yet blunt instrument it was back during the cold December and January days in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Throughout the campaign Obama has adjusted to reflect unfolding events, and there is still plenty of talk about the economic crisis and proposed solutions in his stump speech, such as the version he gave before a crowd of 100,000 folks in St. Louis on Saturday.

The parts where the Illinois senator turns away from policy specifics and toward a broad, closing argument about why he is running and why voters should vote for him are some of the best lines. Like this:

So Senator McCain can keep trying to attack me and distract you -- but it's not going to work. Not this time -- not now. Because while my opponent thinks this campaign is all about me -- the truth is, this campaign is about you. Your jobs. Your health care. Your retirement. Your children's future. That's what this election is about. That's what I'm fighting for. Because I can take two more weeks of these attacks from John McCain, but the American people can't take four more years of the same failed policies and the same divisive politics. That's why I'm running for president of the United States.

If there is one thing that has distinguished the two campaigns in the past month it is that the McCain campaign is just throwing any argument out there it can think of in the hopes something will work. Maybe that's the only strategy available to the campaign right now. It's behind. Its policies aren't popular. Its candidate isn't the rhetor Obama is.

But it shows an unnecessary lack of discipline in the McCain camp. The message is too reactive and incoherent. Even if you go negative, you can go negative in a consistent, coherent way, rather than mumbling about Bill Ayers one day and screaming "socialism!" the next.

Four years ago, you may remember, John Kerry really didn't have a strong and coherent closing message. This time around, it is McCain who is fumbling and stumbling as he tries to find his voice.

Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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