Since the 2000 presidential race I used the "Five Tools of Politics" as a template by which to gauge the two major parties’ presidential candidates.
This is simply, and only, a way to measure their candidate skills — not a way to measure the content of their political philosophies. Issues are not the subject here; skills as a presidential candidate are. So let us examine an Obama-McCain race.
Arguably, baseball's greatest talent evaluator was St. Louis Cardinal and Brooklyn Dodger general manager Branch Rickey. He taught his scouts to grade aspiring players on five baseball skills: 1) hit; 2) hit with power; 3) run; 4) field; 5) throw. Any player who combined these skills was a sure-fire major leaguer. To this day, baseball people salivate when they find a "five-tool" player.
Similarly, in elective politics, there are five attributes that, when combined, almost guarantee that a candidate will rise to the political "major leagues" known as the presidency:
1. Fire-in-the-belly: This overriding hunger borders on the obsessive. Virtually all successful political candidates, no matter how well they disguise it, would "walk over their mothers" to win, as Nixon White House aide Charles Colson once put it.
2. Self-discipline: The ability to rein in one's own worst instincts, habits and weaknesses. Both President Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich ruined their legacies through a lack of personal self-discipline. The speaker couldn't keep his mouth shut; the president couldn't keep his fly shut.
3. Authoritative presence: Especially in the television era, candidates must project an air of gravitas and weight. Dan Quayle's "deer in the headlights" look undercut anything he said or did.
4. Fundraising capabilities: All successful candidates find a way to raise enough money to win. Some, like JFK, merely asked their fathers to pay. Others spend years developing a network of donors; others cultivate special interests. However they do it, winning candidates always come up with "the mother's milk of politics."
5. Articulating a positive vision: Derided by President George H.W. Bush as "that vision thing," it is this singular ability that elevated Presidents Kennedy, Reagan, and Franklin Roosevelt into the political Hall of Fame. The skill to speak in a way that inspires voters is invaluable — and very rare. (No wonder so many campaigns today resort to negative campaigning; their candidate is incapable of painting with voice and words a believable picture of a better future.)
With these five tools in mind, let us examine the November match-up of John McCain and Barack Obama:
1. Fire in the belly: This is not an issue with either man. John McCain has repeatedly proven how badly he wants it by morphing his political persona from GOP maverick in 2000 to GOP mainstream Bush acolyte in 2008. In other words, McCain wants it so bad that he will sell out his so-called political soul to win. His recent hiring of Karl Rove’s political team to run his campaign shows that this former Bush opponent has the fire in the belly.
Obama? Well, clearly, this fellow has been plotting this presidential run since he made overt political moves in Chicago: joining the most politically active church, running for state Senate, and carefully avoiding taking controversial positions — by voting ‘present’ 160 times!
No one can say these two candidates aren’t hungry for victory and thus we can count on them doing anything and everything to win in November.
2. Self discipline: This has been a McCain weakness as a candidate for years. Sitting on the straight talk express and swapping jokes and tales with the traveling press corps ends up stepping on the campaign’s message of the day. But in the last month McCain has agreed to follow the more disciplined routine of his new campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, a former Rove deputy.
Obama is running perhaps the single most disciplined and efficiently run campaign since Jimmy Carter in 1974-1976. Obama does not make many mistakes and stays on message. He only adjusts positions after the campaign heirarchy carefully weighs the consequences.
3. Authoritative presence: McCain’s presence is under-whelming. He looks old. He is a poor speaker. When he walks into a room, does anyone really take notice?
Obama is tall, thin, and charismatic and has a million-dollar smile. To the young, he is a rock star. He has, for some voters, that certain indescribable something that makes him stand out.
4. Rundraising capabilities: No one has ever — ever — raised as much money as the Obama campaign. He has revolutionized political fundraising. His 1.6 million donors show the power on the Net in politics.
McCain’s fundraising has been anemic, signaling a lack of enthusiasm from the GOP base. This is why McCain has decided to accept the $84 million at the GOP Convention to pay for his fall campaign. Obama has declined this public financing, banking on his ability to raise $200-300 million for a two-month sprint to Nov. 4.
5. Articulating a positive vision: This is the gold standard that makes candidates into leaders. McCain seems devoid of any type of vision. His communications skills are lacking — but what he does communicates lacks even more. Look for his GOP Convention acceptance speech, penned this month in Maine during a working vacation by his alter ego, Mark Salter, to correct this problem and suddenly provide McCain with a lofty vision of where he wants to take the nation.
Obama is already the vision candidate. He has specialized in just this style since announcing his candidacy in February 2007. His post-racial picture of one America inspires many. The question is, Is he too lofty, too visionary — and is he projecting a vision that turns off more people than it excites?
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