In his impressive speech on Thursday, Obama hinted at what is probably going to be the theme of the last two months of his campaign:  McCain just doesn’t get it.

Now, I don’t believe that Senator McCain doesn’t care what’s going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn’t know. Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under five million dollars a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to more than one hundred million Americans? How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people’s benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement?

It’s not because John McCain doesn’t care. It’s because John McCain doesn’t get it.

Emphasis added.  This theme is sharp, but it can’t be portrayed as an attack on McCain’s character.  The theme makes some very subtle jabs at his age, but on the face of the statement, there’s really nothing to criticize about it.  The phrase can connect with so many of McCain’s dangerous qualities, some of which don’t even make it into this paragraph of Obama’s speech — his lack of understanding of technology, his inability to grasp the economy, his ignorance of how much Americans do want to be called to sacrifice.  He doesn’t get that people are tired of the same tax cuts, the same war, the same pandering to the religious right, the same wedge politics.

There are two large corollaries to this theme.  The first is that Obama is then given the opportunity to be more positive by concluding that, while McCain doesn’t get it, he does.  He did this in his speech:

Change means a tax code that doesn’t reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.

Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.

I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

I will cut taxes – cut taxes – for 95% of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

…America, now is not the time for small plans.

Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don’t have that chance. I’ll invest in early childhood education. I’ll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I’ll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American – if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American. If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don’t, you’ll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most.

…And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day’s work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your sons.

Never before has Obama been so specific on what change means, yet so insistent on big dreams and goals.  He reassures people here that while change may be risky, there is a sound, logical case to be made for it.  Failing to change in this election means moving further off the path; if the country votes for his change, we restore the essence of America.  Obama focuses on the issues — problems that need to be solved.  And so the patriotism here is a lofty patriotism — he dreams big in solving these issues because he cares about this country.  He’s wagering that a majority of Americans hunger for this; we certainly know that youth do.

Now let’s look at the other corollary.  By saying McCain doesn’t get it, Obama is also able to offer up evidence to back up this assertion.  He did this in his speech, but now that he’s cornering the market on change and on competence, he can roll out a new criticism of anything McCain does or says and apply a comprehension test.

For instance, unless you’ve been under a rock the past few days (without a Blackberry or a laptop with wi-fi), you’ve heard that John McCain has picked Sarah Palin, a 44 year old governor of Alaska, to be his runningmate.  Many pundits are puzzled — they don’t want to disparage the pick because it is so — novel?  But let’s look at this logically:  she’s in the middle of a scandal in her homestate; she has out-of-the-mainstream views on abortion and in the battle between evolution and creationism; John McCain did not have more than one conversation with her before asking her to run with him.  Keeping all of this in mind, please remember that the runningmate decision is supposed to be the first “presidential decision” that a candidate makes.  So what does this say about McCain’s judgment and his ability to make tough decisions?  And what does it say about his “country first” slogan?

The Los Angeles Times has some analysis today on what McCain’s runningmate selection might mean when thinking about big decisions in a McCain presidency.

For a candidate known to possess a quick temper and an unpredictable political streak, the decision raises questions about how McCain would lead — whether his decisions would flow from careful deliberations or gut checks in which short-term considerations or feelings outweigh the long view.

“Americans like risk-takers, but they also want to know that in times of crisis, you’re going to be calm,” said Matthew Dowd, who was a senior campaign strategist for President Bush but is neutral in the McCain-Obama race.

“Americans don’t necessarily want somebody in a time of crisis to be overly emotional,” Dowd said. “That’s the balance that John McCain’s going to have to show the public.”

If I’m David Axelrod, I’d be doing two things with McCain’s decision:  1.) I would publicly examine McCain’s decision-making progress here to further illustrate the issues of temperament and judgment McCain has in making the important decisions — i.e. do we really want McCain to be making decisions at 3AM when he’s pissed someone had the audacity to disturb his slumber?  2.) I would explore publicly the small politics involved in this decision — if you were placing your country first, wouldn’t you be sure to talk to your partner more than once before placing her a heartbeat from the presidency?

John McCain:  He just doesn’t get it.

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