The Note: Bad Humor

Whose political purgatory will last longer -- Jesse Jackson's or Phil Gramm's?

Whose joke fell flatter -- Bernie Mac's, or that one on The New Yorker cover?

Which Monday fight has the most implications -- Sen. John McCain vs. Sen. Barack Obama on immigration (with McCain getting his turn at La Raza), or Barack Obama vs. Jesse Jackson (with Obama due to speak in front of the NAACP)?

Who will be the first candidate to find the right pitch on housing? (And who will try to make new friends named Fannie and Freddie?)

Which measurements really matter -- the ideological distance between McCain and Obama, or the distances between the candidates' primary-era images and general-election realities?

Speaking of measurements -- no more talk of outlier polls now: It's Obama 44, McCain 41 in the latest Newsweek poll -- compared to a 15-point spread in the previous survey.

"Obama's rapid drop comes at a strategically challenging moment for the Democratic candidate," Newsweek's Jonathan Darman writes. "Having vanquished Hillary Clinton in early June, Obama quickly went about repositioning himself for a general-election audience -- an unpleasant task for any nominee emerging from the pander-heavy primary contests."

You can underline and bold-highlight this sentence: "In the new poll, 53 percent of voters (and 50 percent of former Hillary Clinton supporters) believe that Obama has changed his position on key issues in order to gain political advantage," Darman writes.

Just maybe slightly on that subject . . . Obama seeks further clarification for his Iraq position on Monday, with a New York Times op-ed.

"We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months," Obama writes. "In carrying out this strategy, we would inevitably need to make tactical adjustments. As I have often said, I would consult with commanders on the ground and the Iraqi government to ensure that our troops were redeployed safely, and our interests protected."

He wants a new focus on Afghanistan: "As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan," Obama writes.

Obama wants to reset the dial before his trip: Per the campaign, "On Tuesday, Obama will deliver a major policy address on Iraq and national security in Washington. He will focus on the global strategic interests of the United States, which includes ending our misguided effort in Iraq."

Maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger is right -- that, as he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos Sunday, "flip-flopping is getting a bad rap."

(And would the governator take on a role as an energy and environmental policy czar in an Obama administration? "I'm always ready to help in any way I can," he told Stephanopoulos, as he slammed the Bush administration for inaction on global warming.)

But as both candidates line up against the images they constructed so carefully way back when, warning signs are emerging, should they choose to heed them.

Watch the concern grow: "On defining issues -- security wiretapping, gun control, campaign finance, Iran and Iraq -- he has done partial or full about-faces. Hardly a day goes by that he doesn't attack John McCain in typical partisan fashion," Michael Goodwin writes in his Sunday New York Daily News column. "And when he denies with a straight face that he's changing anything, Obama gives new meaning to chutzpah."

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