Friday, June 27, 2008

Ike and Mac; Korea and Iraq

In 1952, the country was deeply entrenched in an unpopular war across the globe. Opponents of the Korean War called it, "Mr. Truman's War". The country wasn't in the best shape economically, either. Steel strikes threatened production, and Truman took an expansive view of executive powers to seize the mills to keep them in production, fearful that if they shut down, the troops wouldn't have the materials to fight the war.

Does this sound familiar? 2008 is similar--economic troubles, an unpopular war, and an administration that has sunk to near historic lows in Gallup approval ratings. Both in 1952 and in 2008, an unpopular incumbent was leaving the White House, and the party's nominee had to deal with the fallout. The only difference is the unpopular administration in 1952 was Democratic, today it is Republican.

Despite a wide-advantage in party identification, Eisenhower was able to beat Adlai Stevenson in 1952. How? In part, Eisenhower was enormously popular personally, as he lead the Allied forces in defeating the Germans in Europe. And, his background as a general provided him with an advantage over Stevenson: he could credibly claim that he would go to Korea personally and end the war.

If McCain wants to seriously contend in the fall, perhaps it is time for his own Ike moment. Iraq may have receded as a problem in the minds of voters, but Iraq is intimately tied to the economic concerns that are at the forefront of the campaign. Instead of saying we need to stay in Iraq, McCain needs to say he has the experience, the ability, and will to go to Iraq and get us out of the quagmire. At the very least, it might help him neutralize the advantage Obama has on this issue. While Obama can rightly say he was against the whole episode from the start, it is less clear that voters are willing trust that he has the experience necessary to produce a favorable outcome. McCain's claim has the potential--by the dint of his experience--to be viewed credibly by the voters.

No comments: