When McCain said "the chairman of SEC has betrayed the public trust. And if I were president, I would fire him" he obviously expected Obama to take the emotionally weak position that, legally, the President can't do that. The McCain campaign even issued a statement imagining what Obama's response would be and saying it showed Barack's too weak to protect Americans.
But Obama didn't play McCain's game. Accepting your opponent's framing of a problem is for patzers.
Instead, Barack kicked it up a notch: he demanded that firing of, not just Cox,but the whole crooked bunch behind the scandal, from top to bottom, including the White House. And even better, he showed that we can do it - we are not weak - we have the power - we have the election!
Let's analyze this masterstroke in detail.
Christopher Cox, a former colleague of McCain, is chair of the SEC, filling a term that expires June 2009. Legally, the president can't fire anyone from the SEC, although he can demand a resignation and fume if it doesn't happen.
But forget the law; look at the emotions.
Emotionally, it feels right that someone should suffer here. The SEC Chair clearly hurt America (he was put into that office to loosen regulations, and look what happened!); it feels right that he should suffer. McCain, in saying he'd do something legally impossible but emotionally right, is presenting himself as a guy who wants to punish the wrongdoer and protect the American people. And, in contrast, he is presenting his opponent as someone who is too weak even to try. McCain expected to score big time on this.
Classic liberals fall for this all the time. Most famously, Mike Dukakis responded to a crude question about his wife being raped with a legally correct but emotionally empty answer. He should have lept over the podium and tore out the moderator's throat for insulting his wife, but instead Dukakis demonstrated that he was a thoughtful and legally correct guy, and therefore lost the election.
Some think that McCain's call for firing the SEC Chair was a gaffe; however, on the evidence, it was a well-planned setup. McCain's campaign was ready for Obama to give the weak-ass liberal legalistic response, and and condemned Obama's response in a premptive statement attacking something it admits Obama hasn't said:.
"In his rush to score political points on economic disaster, we've heard that at his next event in New Mexico, Senator Obama is about to distort the facts and attack John McCain's call for removing the Chairman of the SEC...See? McCain Strong! Obama Weak! Bwa-Ha-Ha!
The President of the United States has the power to remove the chairmanship, and always reserves the right to request the resignation of an appointee and to maintain the customary expectation that it will be delivered. Perhaps Barack Obama isn't strong enough to change Washington, but John McCain is."
This probably would have worked against old school "Kick Me Again, Please" liberals. At most they may have complained that Obama didn't say that; the statement itself admits that it's inventing something Obama might say and attacking that. But that would be a weak response because it would, emotionally, open Obama to the charge that he changed what he was going to say in response to McCain, thus showing that McCain was stronger than Obama.
But Barack Fu is strong!
Here's Obama's devastating response:
[McCain] said that he is calling for the firing of the Security and Exchange Commissioner. Well I think that is all fine and good, but here is what I say: In 47 days, you can fire the whole Trickle-Down, On-Your-Own, Look-the-Other-Way crowd in Washington who has led us down this disastrous path.In one strike, Obama:
Don’t just get rid of one guy, get rid of this administration, get rid of this philosophy, get rid of the do-nothing approach to problems and put someone in there who is going to fight for you.
- Grabs the righteous anger against the SEC
- Kicks it up a notch to "Fire all the bastards, and their little dog too!"
- Tells us how we can do it! We don't have to fume helplessly like McCain, we can throw the bums out in the election.
I must admit, I fell for McCain's trap. I felt (...and still feel...) that the legalisms are important. They always are, but politically the emotions are much more important.
I also fell for the trap of objecting to McCain's lie about what Obama actually said. Yes, every reasonable person knows McCain is a liar but so what? Emotionally, a guy who lies is demonstrating his strength by lying; he's making the other guy response "hey, he's a liar" which is weak. This is not rational, but it's true.
The true technique, the strong technique is to take McCain's pointless but strong-sounding demand for firing the SEC Chair and amplify it. Use McCain's energy against him; fire not just the one guy, but the whole corrupt bunch ... including the former Chair of the Commerce Committee who helped put Cox in as SEC Chair: John Sidney McCain.