John McCain is faltering. As things stand today in states like Ohio, Missouri, Virginia, Florida and North Carolina, Barack Obama would need some seriously shocking gaffes or scandal to not break 300 electoral votes on Nov. 4. Conservative commentators, from the Georgetown elite (George Will) to the Emerald Coast Joe Sixpacks (Joe Scarborough), have all but conceded the election on McCain’s behalf.

They never hold back their criticisms of how McCain has executed his campaign, but it’s become a disturbing fad for conservative commentators to point to a litany of lost opportunities — as if to say “blame John McCain and his blunders, not the peerless platform of the GOP.” If you believe them, then there are just a handful of little things keeping McCain from crushing Obama, and there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the Republican Party. That argument is winning for the Republicans even though this election is all but lost.

Democrats, of course, believe McCain is only a small part of the dangerous, flawed ideology employed by Republicans for the better part of the decade. So why can’t Democrats convince Americans that the problem is much bigger than McCain or even his impish goon Sarah Palin? Obama invokes “the failed policies of the Bush administration” at the start of every sentence as if saying grace before a meal, but none of that works. Why? Because when it comes to sounding out of touch, unemotional and hopelessly paternalistic, McCain and Obama are perfect equals.

Take the debate last week, for example. When McCain wasn’t detailing every juicy bit of Obama’s conversation with a plumber (you’d think he wiretapped the guy … or planted him), he was speaking in tired platitudes accusing Obama of favoring higher taxes and a redistribution of wealth. Such ridiculous charges are easily countered, but we know Obama isn’t one to be succinct. Showing a prowess for droning that would put John Kerry to shame, Obama never did address the whole redistribution of wealth charge, which surely caused convulsions in the average American’s Commie-hating gut.

Obama has said on hundreds of occasions that he will cut taxes for the vast majority of Americans, while raising them on only a select few. Unfortunately, he has never seen it fit to explain this scenario with anything resembling emotion or compassion. It wouldn’t be too hard to appeal to morality or fairness, especially given the current financial crisis, but that’s simply not Obama’s game.

From the beginning of the primary cycle, his game has been to be the cool, calm, unexcitable one. While Hillary Clinton railed on about experience and John Edwards ran his unabashedly leftist race, Obama filled in the gaps. Primary voters went for the choice that was easiest to stomach, the one who promised change from the entrenched failures of Washington (something Clinton couldn’t manage), but not one whose proposals were radical enough to require contemplation and commitment (Edwards’s biggest shortcoming).

But wait: I’ve already declared Obama the winner, so why does any of this matter? Well, Obama may win, but whether progress is made ultimately depends on whether the Democratic platform wins. That’s much less certain.

If Edwards was sitting in Obama’s place right now, we would know the Democratic platform was winning. Notwithstanding recent revelations of his personal shamefulness, Edwards was an uncompromising champion of universal health care, financial relief for the poor and a swift end to the war in Iraq — all issues on which Obama is a follower but hardly a leader. Confronted with the redistribution of wealth accusation, Edwards wouldn’t have folded under its socialist implications, but more likely would have pointed to the recent string of corporate bailouts to say, what’s wrong with a little bailout for the common man?

Instead, Obama is more like Bill Clinton. He’s a smart man who can be convincing and eloquent, but he chooses to moderate and mitigate rather than assertively implementing what his voters believe is right. When Clinton did it, they called it triangulation, and from it we got half-assed policies like the Temporary Aid for Needy Families (probably a step back from the previous system of welfare) and “don’t ask, don’t tell” (less discriminatory than before, but still pretty damn discriminatory).

Even so, many people might say, what’s wrong with compromise and moderation? Ideally, there is nothing wrong with a party being moderate; in fact, I’d prefer it. But with Republicans catering to the extreme right, a true moderation of the political system demands an equally unflinching, sure-handed party on the left. We would have had it if Al Gore had won in 2000. We damn sure would have had it if Howard Dean had won in 2004 and probably if Edwards had won this year.

But it’s looking more and more like we’re not going to get it with Barack Obama.

Imran Syed was the Daily’s editorial page editor in 2007. He can be reached at galad@umich.edu.

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