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Another Reason The Polls Could Tighten

My colleague John Judis is starting to show some concern about the election. Noam Scheiber blew past concern a little while ago, just reached angst, and seems to be heading in the direction of full-blown panic. And while I take some comfort in the repeated reassurances of Nate Silver, whose instincts have proven impeccable this election cycle, I'm following John and Noam down the worry path.

For a while now, I've thought Obama's lead in the polls was bound to shrink. And what I just saw on television makes that seem even more likely.

It was a clip from McCain's speech in Miami. Here, taken from the prepared remarks, is what he said:

Senator Obama believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that grow our economy and create jobs. He said that even though lower taxes on investment help our economy, he favors higher taxes on investment for quote "fairness." There's nothing "fair" about driving our economy into the ground. We all suffer when that happens, and that is the problem with Senator Obama's approach to our economy. He is more interested in controlling wealth than in creating it, in redistributing money instead of spreading opportunity. I am going to create wealth for all Americans, by creating opportunity for all Americans.

Senator Obama is running to be Redistributionist in Chief. I'm running to be Commander in Chief. Senator Obama is running to spread the wealth. I'm running to create more wealth. Senator Obama is running to punish the successful. I'm running to make everyone successful.

Obama's surge in the polls over the last few weeks reflected a lot of factors, obviously. But a big one was the contrast in rhetoric. While Obama was hammering way about economic insecurity, McCain was constantly shifting his focus to issues like Bill Ayers and Obama's alleged support for terrorism. Now McCain, too, is focussing relentleslly on the economy.

It also seems like McCain has tweaked his message on the economy, at least in emphasis. Previously, McCain's primary argument was a simple pitch to middle class Americans: Obama will raise your taxes, even though you are struggling already.

But that didn't work so well, in part because voters had become convinced Obama's tax plan did more for the non-wealthy than McCain's did. So lately McCain has been focusing on a different part of his argument, one that was more implicit than explicit until now: Raising taxes will chill the economy for the sake of redistributing wealth. Thus, we get the line above: "is more interested in controlling wealth than in creating it." 

Substantively, I don't think McCain's argument is right. The sorts of investments Obama proposes--on infrastructure, education, energy independence, and health care--are precisely what we need both to stimulate short-term growth and create the foundation for long-term prosperity. Paying for those inevitably requires higher taxes for at least some people, at some point in the future if not right away. (That's why I wish Obama weren't promising so much tax relief, at least permanently.)

Right or wrong, though, McCain's argument is both more focused and more relevant than it has been for a while. This is bound to improve his poll numbers. The question is by how much.

--Jonathan Cohn


Judis (10/28): Start Popping The Corks

Scheiber (10/28): Why I'm Still Sweating An Obama Victory

Judis (10/29): More Cork Popping

Scheiber (10/29): Now John Judis Is Scaring *Me*