Leading article: Twelve steps to the White House

Both candidates have compromised their best qualities in their choice of running mate. Which can now square the circle?

Related Topics

Two outstanding candidates, 57 days to go and the opinion polls neck and neck. We offer a 12-step programme on the model of Alcoholics Anonymous for recovering the moral standing of American leadership.

Resolve those contradictions

Barack Obama and John McCain chose running mates who disagree with them on core issues. Joe Biden voted for the invasion of Iraq; Sarah Palin supports drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Iraq issue is essentially historical, although it does not look so clever for Mr Obama to boast about his judgement. Mr McCain, who did not mention climate change in his acceptance speech, has a bigger problem: decisions on energy policy will have to be taken within days of inauguration. He must re-assert his commitment to energy-saving action.

Close the gates

Avoid any controversy that could have the suffix "gate" attached to it. Ms Palin has already fallen victim to that most irritating US cliché, with the so-called troopergate.

Family on parade

If you put your family on the stage, you become accountable for choices that are normally kept private. Mr McCain left his first wife, who was confined to a wheelchair by a car accident; Ms Palin needs to be careful in using her own children to illustrate her fidelity to family values.

Go for a tolerant God

Similarly, if you profess religion in public, you are accountable for policy edicts handed down by the God of your denomination. It might be preferable, in the words of the original 12-step programme, to turn such things over to the care of "God as we understand Him". Mr Obama was impressive in dealing with the rantings of his pastor, but Ms Palin wants creationism taught in schools – in other words, making irrationalism dictate public policy.

Don't overclaim

Do not, even by implication, compare yourself to JFK, Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln. Dan Quayle got squashed for that in a 1988 debate.

Be nice to Hillary

The women's issue cuts both ways. Some women will be insulted that Mr McCain expects them to vote for him just because he has a woman on the ticket; others will be insulted that they are expected to vote for Mr Obama because Ms Palin is "pro-life".

Keep away from Bush

Mr Obama and Mr McCain are more respectful of international law than George W. Yet it is Mr Obama that has threatened to bomb Pakistan, while Mr McCain has taken a notable stand against torture. Mr McCain must have been delighted that Gustav gave him the excuse to cancel the President's speech.

Careful with class

Mr Obama still has a problem with his elite image – which is strange, given that his life story, and that of his wife Michelle, is a parable of social mobility. The problem was not solved by choosing Mr Biden as vice-presidential candidate. His blue-collar roots are overstated: his father was a sales representative for Amoco. Ms Palin's persona as a classless "hockey mom" is solid electoral gold.

No plagiarism

Do not imagine that copying the work of others will go unnoticed. Not even speeches by obscure European politicians. (Mr Biden was caught lifting chunks of Neil Kinnock in 1987.)

Hit the comedy shows

The media battlehas moved from the serious Sunday shows to the satire of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Mr Obama is a natural; Ms Palin will be; Messrs McCain and Biden less so.

Forget about race

The polls may overstate Mr Obama's support because of unacknowledged racism. On the other hand, his campaign may mobilise the black vote in southern states in ways not fully reflected in the survey numbers.

The economy, stupid

The 12th step to the White House is to get the economic message right. Mr Obama has flirted with protectionism, while Mr McCain has had the courage to tell laid-off Michigan car workers: "Those jobs ain't coming back."

This election has so far been an uplifting celebration of democracy. Both candidates responded to a mood of reaction against the failed policies of the Bush administration. Now, in their choice of running mates, both have compromised their most attractive qualities for expediency. Obama chose the quintessential Washington insider who went with the herd on Iraq. McCain picked one whose positions on the environment undermine his credibility. Whichever candidate can most convincingly square these circles will deserve to win.

For rolling comment on the US election visit: independent.co.uk/campaign08

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Cover Supervisors Urgently Required In Knowsley **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

Java developer - (Intershop Enfinity)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Java Developer...

School Office/ Finance Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Ilford: School Office/ Finance Assistant Long t...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp  

Oscar Pistorius sentence: Judge Masipa might have shown mercy, but she has delivered perfect justice

Chris Maume
Oscar Pistorius at the High Court in Pretoria  

Oscar Pistorius has been sentenced to five years in prison - but what then?

Rosie Millard
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album