This Stuart Taylor column captures half of my frustration with this presidential election. Taylor argues that, if Obama governs as a centrist, he could have a spectacularly successful presidency. If he governs from the left, Taylor says, he will fail as badly as George W. Bush did governing from the right.
Most of Bush's mistakes were not due to ideology, but that's a quibble. Taylor's basic point is sound. The country is centrist, not leftist. Problem is, Obama's track record is more left than center. Based on the candidates' records, the centrist in this race is John McCain.
But McCain has a problem of his own: He seems unable to persuade anyone who isn't already on his side. Watching and listening to his stump speech reminds me of the times I watched Bob Dole on the campaign trail in 1996. That wasn't a pretty sight. Like McCain now, Dole then was a wise old man who had run for president one too many times; either through old age or too much time in the Senate, he had lost the ability to persuade voters, much less inspire them. And were McCain to win on Tuesday, he would have to do a lot of persuading in order to govern with a left-leaning Democratic Congress and a public nearly half of which would be enraged at a third consecutive Republican victory.
So one candidate has a genuinely rare talent for inspiring followers from a wide range of backgrounds--but that candidate's ideological stance is hard to pin down. His political past suggests he's a leftist; his campaign rhetoric suggests he's somewhere near the political center. Trusting the rhetoric over the record seems to me dangerous. The other candidate has a far more impressive record--but an almost Bush-like inability to convince those not already in his camp. One might lead in bad directions; the other may be unable to lead at all. Not an easy call for centrists like Taylor, and like me.