McCain vs. Obama: Inspiration vs. conviction

It is looking more and more like the upstart senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, will be the Democratic nominee for president. If that’s the case, and Sen. John McCain gets the GOP nod, which is beyond forgone, the race of 2008 will be one of inspiration versus conviction.

How so? Gather around and let me fill you in.

Sen. Obama has turned the political world on its collective head. He has defied the Clinton machine, as he has been better organized, has raised more money, has drawn bigger and more enthusiastic crowds, and is by far the most inspirational candidate. No contest.

Despite the fact that some think he is rallying crowds and new voters with platitudes and fluff, you have to admit this guy has a special sauce for which no one else — Republican or Democrat — has the recipe. He really does have the persona of a candidate who is very special.

In fact, when the primary season ends, he may have a tailwind behind him that Republicans won’t be able to cut through.

Obama’s opponents say he’s offering no specifics. Not true.

He’s offering health care for everyone who has none. As a result, the cost of health care for the rest of us will increase dramatically over the next two to four years. Offering no proposals to trim spending and cut out waste in the federal government, he will have no choice but to increase taxes on not just the rich, but on working class men and women as well.

I chuckle when I hear the talking heads say they can’t believe he is creating such a following. It shouldn’t be surprising.

Harken back nine months and look at all the polling data, and you’ll see that no Democrat was drawing more than 30 percent of the vote, including Sen. Clinton. Hillary is, of course, married to the guy who at the time was the most popular Democrat in the world.

With the Clinton machine and the Democratic establishment firmly ensconced behind Hillary, the conventional wisdom coronated her early on. In one of my television appearances, my Democratic counterpart said Sen. Clinton would do extremely well with the black vote. I disputed that and said, “Mark my words: Obama will win 70 percent of the black vote.”

Well, I was wrong. He has carried 80 to 85 percent of the black vote. Never underestimate inspiration.

People of all colors want to be inspired, and Sen. Obama is indeed inspiring, regardless of what one may think of his policies.

John McCain, on the other hand, is part of the World War II generation, and he inspires by conviction.

To paraphrase the old Nike slogan, he Just Did It.

In spite of what one may think of his policies, I don’t think anyone can accuse Sen. McCain of putting his finger in the air to check which way the political winds are blowing. No one can accuse him of looking at polls and saying, “This is an 80 percent issue; this is where I need to be.” That’s just not his style.

Sen. McCain is a former prisoner of war whose captors offered to release him early. He declined the offer because of his convictions to be treated no differently than other POWs.

Sen. McCain is reminded of his experience every time he puts his coat on. You see, he has limited mobility in his arms because of injuries sustained during his detention in that POW camp.

Because of his convictions to protect and defend, he Just Does It.

He got battered politically when 75 percent of the nation was calling for no more troops in Iraq. Because of his convictions, he said sending more troops was the right move and he was convinced that it would get us on the right track in Iraq.

He held his ground. He was proved right.

Some of the things I saw Sen. McCain do when I served with him in Congress were profiles in conviction. I disagreed with him on some, but I always respected his character and his conviction.

I have great respect for Sen. Obama and what he has accomplished to this point. All the gatekeepers in the Status Quo Caucus were skeptical, but his poise and inspiration have won over the people who count the most — the Democratic voters.

I also have great respect for Sen. McCain. To the gatekeepers on the Republican side, I say, “Grow up.” He won fair and square and stuck with his convictions, and won over the people who really count — Republican voters.

These two men will make for an historic election contest. Inspiration vs. Conviction. This will definitely be a contest for the ages.

J.C. Watts ( is chairman of J.C. Watts Companies, a business consulting group. He is former chairman of the Republican Conference of the U.S. House, where he served as an Oklahoma representative from 1995 to 2002. He writes twice monthly for the Review-Journal.

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