Getting to Know ObamaHere's the "anywhere, anytime" video:
By David S. Broder
Sunday, June 22, 2008; Page B07
We are barely at the beginning of the long period in which most Americans will give their first serious scrutiny to the presidential candidates and decide whether Barack Obama or John McCain will get their vote.
Americans have many questions about both men. In the Post-ABC News poll last week, only half of those interviewed said they felt they knew an adequate amount about the candidates' stands on specific issues. Voters split evenly on who would be the stronger leader, and they showed great uncertainty about which, if either, would be a safe choice for the White House.
That is why a pair of strategy decisions made in the past two weeks could prove troublesome for him. The first was Obama's turning down McCain's invitation to join him in a series of town hall meetings where they would appear together and answer questions from real voters -- without a formal agenda, press panel or professional interviewers.
Obama's manager initially called the idea "appealing," but nine days later, when David Plouffe got around to responding, he countered with something quite different from the 10 informal discussions McCain proposed holding before the late-summer nominating conventions. Plouffe said that in addition to the three traditional debates under official sponsorship later in the fall, there could be only two others -- one on economics on July 4 and another on foreign policy in August.
The McCain side said that few Americans would sacrifice their Independence Day holiday to watch a debate and reiterated its offer to meet Obama anywhere he wanted on any of the next 10 Thursdays.
At a news briefing last week, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs characterized that as a "take it or leave it" stance by the Republicans and suggested that discussions were finished.
At the same briefing, Gibbs and campaign counsel Bob Bauer defended Obama's decision to become the first presidential candidate since the Watergate reforms to decline public financing of his general election campaign.
Gibbs and Bauer in effect blamed McCain, saying repeatedly that he was "gaming the system" by pledging to accept public funds while saying he could not "referee" spending by outside independent groups if it occurred. In fact, McCain had been far more vocal in denouncing such groups on the GOP side than Obama was in criticizing their counterparts playing Democratic presidential politics -- even though Obama has claimed the mantle of campaign finance reformer that McCain has long enjoyed.
But it's also the case that the multiple joint town meetings McCain proposed would be a real service to the public and that suspending the dollar chase for the duration of the campaign, as McCain but not Obama will do, would be a major step toward establishing the credibility of the election process.
By refusing to join McCain in these initiatives in order to protect his own interests, Obama raises an important question: Has he built sufficient trust so that his motives will be accepted by the voters who are only now starting to figure out what makes him tick?
Thinking of David Broder's question above: Who would vote for a candidate who would cut and run from debates but would go and talk to Iran's leaders without preconditions? Is John McCain, speaking on his own without a teleprompter a bigger threat to Obama than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?