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Saturday, November 15, 2008

McCain as Obama's Defense Secretary

I've been on this planet a long time now. Long enough to notice how rarely the stars all line up in perfect harmony, converging to produce a fate that more romantic writers term "destiny." Such is the case with America's 44th president, Barak Obama. I doubt that anyone, anywhere could have more gracefully surfed the ups and downs of current events and landed in the Oval Office without getting his feet wet. The election of 2008 was, in common parlance, the perfect political storm.

I could cite all kinds of reasons why and how Obama managed to ace each challenge of the campaign. In the end, however, it all boiled down to one simple strategy: I'm not Bush. The I'm Not Bush strategy fared well on two platforms: First, it provided the foundation for Obama's message of change. Second, it allowed him to point to John McCain, who as a Republican, found it much more difficult to scrape George W. Bush from the bottom of his shoe.

The McCain/Palin ticket was so weighed down by its association with the Bush administration, that all Senator Joe Biden had to do in the Vice Presidential debate was stand there and be a class act. Which was tough, considering how tempting it must have been to cut Sarah Pailin off at the knees. But like Obama, Biden knew he needed to do nothing more than stand there while Palin self-destructed.

While media pundits belabor the Herculean economic tasks set before Obama, none of them seem to be aware of the president-elect's penchant for living under a lucky star. With a nation in turmoil and an economy tanking, the media has chosen to play down Obama's secondary message to the American public, that being unification. They shouldn't. Because unification is, I suspect, going to be the big brand strategy of the Obama administration. Remember how he opined that we were not red states, not blue states, but the United States? Well, folks, you ain't seen nuthin' yet.

Rumors may be flying about Hillary Clinton as Obama's Secretary of State, but I suspect there are even bigger, more media-stunning events in the offing. And one of the biggest I can think of would be Obama naming John McCain as his Secretary of Defense. Sound obtuse? Do the math and see if it adds up for you.

In the first place, nothing unifies a group more than the victor choosing to embrace his opponent rather than vanquish him. Obama, who's viewed as a class act by the general populace, would gain grandly by offering his former rival a seat at the Round Table. You want a guy to put his money where his mouth is? This would be the move.

Secondly, throughout the campaign, Obama's position was that McCain was a good soldier, but that a president needed to be more than that. Fine. Now he has a good soldier acting as the soldier in charge of all the other soldiers. Nice.

Third, for all those folks who thought Obama would be soft on military issues, placing McCain at the top of Defense immediately assures the military sector that they've got a friend in the Obama administration. Everyone from those uniformed boys and girls on foreign front lines to contractors cranking out bombers and missiles will breathe a sigh of relief knowing that one of their own is running the show.

Fourth, what better way to show the rest of the world that Americans are united in their purpose and passions, than to create a team that really can rise above partisanship for the greater good of its country? Do you see any Shiites and Sunnis breaking bread and forming any kind of working team in Iraq or anywhere else? Me neither. If McCain were to join Obama's cabinet as Secretary of Defense, the world would learn in one quick lesson that Americans fight it out, then stick together. A lesson that governments throughout the world need to hear after eight years of Bush/Cheney-inspired factionalism.

Finally, appointing McCain as Secretary of Defense would achieve one more goal that Obama has enjoyed throughout his campaign: A spectacular event like this -- naming a formal rival to a cabinet post -- has never been done before as far as I know. The media value alone is worth it.

Is there a downside to offering McCain the Defense post? Only one I can think of: It may prompt Sarah Palin to nag for a post of her own. Commissioner of Moose Hunting would be nice.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama as the new Reagan

Now that the election is finally over, you've got yourself one happy branding guy. Maybe now we can get back to real business, turning our attention to making our lives better, as opposed to burning away productive time on idle chatter. Among the last issues to be reconciled is what impact Obama's election will have on the image of the United States of America.

It's a good question. And here's my take on it:

The news is all good for Obama, because it's the perception of the United States that requires the most repair. Whether or not anyone agrees or disagrees with Bush/Cheney policies, the election of Obama proves to the rest of the world that the people of the United States are no longer supporters of Bush policies and that to a large extent, American citizens have been misrepresented by Bush and Cheney for many years (a feat made possible only by the dearth of able, alternative Democrats).

In other words, while American strength remains, the Culture of Fear is, for the most part, over.

One of the main reasons why Obama won -- and the Republicans lost -- so decisively is that Bush and Cheney (like so many corporate brand managers) allowed the brand of Reagan Republicanism to wither and die. In 1980, Republicanism was the voice of optimism, largely based on the failures of Jimmy Carter's disastrous administration. That optimism, like Obama's, was real and resonant. It was so powerful, in fact, that Reagan himself penned his own epitaph, which is engraved on his gravestone at the Reagan Museum:

"I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there's purpose and worth to each and every life."

Not exactly what the nation equates with Republicans, is it? Well, the sentiment that propelled Ronald Reagan is exactly the same as those that helped Obama connect with the masses. A new start. A breath of fresh air. A respite from crippling fear and ominous threats.

This is the new brand strategy that Obama can bring to the world. As such, this new perception of the United States should provide all countries a new opportunity, a clean slate if you will, to approach the USA's newer, more genial mind set. Even long-standing enemies of America will no longer have the "racist white imperialist" propaganda at their disposal.

Of course, that doesn't mean the man won't be tested -- and sooner than you think.

I'm betting that Obama's first test with the international community will likely be his reaction to a pre-emptive strike by Israel on Iran's nuclear facilities. World leaders, including heads of many arab states, who are sitting idly by and waiting for someone to do something about Iran's growing nuclear capabilities, will look to Obama for his endorsement or condemnation of the action.

Should this occur, Obama should endorse the action as a stabilization move in that region, a move which arab countries would likely favor. Should this scenario unfold in this manner, it will go a long way toward stabilizing the middle east. Both Israel and its arab neighbors will understand that Obama is more like Reagan in another, more important way:

He believes in peace through strength.