Obama on McCain: “We can’t afford to gamble”

A much nastier attack than it appears to be. It’s a metaphor for risky policy. It’s a subtle attack on McCain’s thrill-seeking. And it really hurts him with some of the evangelicals who just don’t hold with playing dice, and with middle-class “family values” folks who need to be reminded that McCain is a rich playboy. Well done.

The Obama campaign has already started to needle McCain about being “erratic” and “reckless.” Now Obama plays the “crap-shooter” card.

I read the other day that Senator McCain likes to gamble. He likes to roll those dice. And that’s okay. I enjoy a little friendly game of poker myself every now and then.

But one thing I know is this – we can’t afford to gamble on four more years of the same disastrous economic policies we’ve had for the last eight.

I know that when Senator McCain says he wants to bring the same kind of deregulation to our health care system that he helped bring to our banking system – his words – well, that’s a bet we can’t afford. We can’t afford to roll the dice by privatizing Social Security, and wagering the nest egg of millions of Americans on Wall Street. We can’t afford to gamble on more of the same trickle down philosophy that showers tax breaks on big corporations and the wealthiest few. We’ve tried that. It doesn’t work.

This works on about four levels. On the surface, it’s just a metaphor: McCain’s recreational gambling resembles his risky policies. Some sophisticates might take it a bit deeper: the thrill-seeking personality revealed by a taste for craps is a flaw in a political leader. This ties in to the “reckless” narrative. Deeper stilll: to much of McCain’s evangelical base, gambling is a serious vice. Knowing that McCain is a dice-player might not make them vote for Obama, but it mgiht lead some of them to stay home, which is half as good. Deepest of all: it reminds lots of people, not all of them evangelicals, that Barack Obama is a middle class, family-values sort of guy for whom small-stakes poker is a semi-illicit thrill, while John McCain is a rich playboy who likes to gamble thousands of dollars a night in casinos.

Like every great political attack, this one is much meaner than it sounds. Well done. Republicans have been doing this sort of thing to Democrats ever since Nixon, and I’m delighted that we finally have a candidate and campaign staff with the skill to do it back to them.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com