Maybe we had it wrong from the start: It's Barack Obama who is running for George Bush's third term, while John McCain just might be pursuing John Kerry's first.
Not on policy, of course (not that Team McCain would much mind that perception these days). But in approach, in temperament, in stability, in take-no-prisoners mindset -- inside which campaign would Karl Rove recognize a piece of himself?
In the one with tightly controlled access, the jugular-aiming (drama-free) political shop, and the temerity to cast aside a fundraising pledge en route to breaking all campaign-finance records?
Or the one with rolling press conferences, scattershot messaging (with missed zingers), and complaints about the other side not playing fair?
We have found the new politics -- and it can spend half a billion dollars to win an election.
There's a signal here that Bush campaign veterans can appreciate: Obama made a coldly calculating decision based on a desire to win. He tossed aside a pledge rather than throwing away the single biggest advantage he enjoys over his rival.
"Sen. Barack Obama's decision to forgo public financing for his presidential campaign clears the way for him to outspend Sen. John McCain by 3-to-1 or substantially more in the general election, a financial edge that dramatically rewrites the playbooks for both candidates," per ABC News. "The comparison with the consistently cash-strapped McCain campaign could hardly be more stark."
If he raises $300 million, $400 million, or $500 million for the general election -- where WOULDN'T he try to compete? (And a new Obama ad that's running in Alaska, Montana, and North Dakota -- and not Minnesota, Oregon, or Washington -- tells that story "straight from the Kansas heartland" on a convenient day for it to be told.)
"Barack Obama faced two critical questions: where to play and how to pay. To answer both, the Democrat reversed course to become the first candidate to reject $85 million in public money for the general election," the AP's Liz Sidoti writes. "The decision will allow the record-shattering fundraiser to raise and spend as much as he wants -- and, thus, implement his strategy to expand the Electoral College playing field."
Not to be lost in all the discussion of broken pledges, broken systems, and broken-down negotiations: Obama, D-Ill., made a very good political move -- probably the only move that spared him the wrath of his own party. It's almost certainly the move that gives him the best chance to actually win. (Which side took that lesson to heart in 2004?)
For Obama, it's another in a series of pragmatic decisions (perish the thought). "He's kept his distance from elements of the Democratic Party that demand purity, from Washington reformers to more ideologically-motivated liberal bloggers," Politico's Ben Smith writes. "Instead, his campaign has sought the Kennedy mantle, modeling the candidate after a revered Democratic family not known for its scruples."
But as Obama would be the first to tell you, 2008 isn't 2004 -- or, for that matter, 1960. A shattered pledge joins non-existent town-hall debates and some shifting positions in the slowly growing all-talk-but-no-action collection being compiled by Team McCain.
"This is a big deal, a big deal," McCain said Thursday of Obama's decision, per ABC's Bret Hovell. "He has completely reversed himself and gone back, not on his word to me, but the commitment he made to the American people."