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Three Weeks to Go

Now that Barack Obama has bought a half-hour of prime time on NBC and CBS six days before the Nov. 4 election, here's how he ought to use it:

Stand alone in an unadorned classroom, with a red marker in his hand and a white board behind him, and educate the nation about exactly what the hell has happened to our banking and financial systems.

If he did so, clearly, plainly and simply, in 15-20 minutes, free of political pandering or attacks, and then spent the balance of his time offering his thoughts about what should be done about it, the Democratic candidate might be elected president by acclamation.

As it is, the global financial pandemic has swept Obama into a commanding position in the once-tight race against John McCain, who has spent the weeks since the crisis pin balling from position to position on the economy and otherwise floundering from one irrelevant issue to another, all the while putting on a frightful frown.

Not surprisingly, McCain's Dennis the Menace act has enabled him at the same time to sink like cement in the polls.

Latest evidence: a new CBC-New York Times survey, found here, that gives Obama a 13-point edge, as well as a batch of state polls aggregated by Real Clear Politics here, that show McCain trailing in four GOP must-win states Florida, Missouri, Virginia and Ohio - captured by George Bush four years ago. He also runs far behind Obama in a trio of states New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin of which McCain must win at least one to get the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.

Of course, as the Political Writers Complete Book of Campaign Cliches tells us, three weeks is an eternity in politics. Just as the economic meltdown transcended and transformed the campaign, so another, unexpected, huge, real world event may yet reshape it in McCain's favor.

But if Obama spent his costly 30 minutes of network time as a teaching opportunity, breaking down the fundamentals of the financial crisis and explaining what is known and what is not about this exquisitely complex mess, he would prove, far more effectively than any self-serving political speech or campaign ad could, that he understands and is ready to perform the essential presidential role of Communicator in Chief.

"At a moment of economic calamity, international perplexity, political failure, and battered morale, America needs both uplift and realism, both change and steadiness," the editors of The New Yorker wrote this week, in a splendidly reasoned endorsement of Obama. "It needs a leader temperamentally, intellectually, and emotionally attuned to the complexities of our troubled globe."

With millions of Americans terrified about losing their jobs, their economic security and their life savings, it wouldn't hurt for Obama to get a couple months head start on the job.

McCain vs. Obama III

McCain's last best shot at changing the direction of the campaign comes in tonight's final presidential debate at Hofstra University in New York.

Ever since Obama taunted McCain after last week's contest for not having the stones to attack him face-to-face over his association with former Weather Underground bomber Bill Ayers, the Republican has been spitting and sputtering about how he sure would confront him on the issue this week.

Obama should be so lucky.

At a time when global financial markets are sliding down the toilet and the nation is enmeshed in two wars, the Big Idea that Americans are dying to hear how many times Obama visited the home of Weather Couple Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn - who waged war on the U.S. government when the candidate was EIGHT YEARS OLD - tells you all you need to know about McCain's campaign and brain trust.

While McCain and the increasingly Orwellian Sarah Palin for weeks have ranted about 1968 SDS manifestos and Obama's service with Ayers on an education board funded by Walter Annenberg, one of Ronald Reagan's biggest supporters, for cryin' out loud, voters have responded with a collective "huh?" or worse.

Even the McCain homers over at Fox News, who alternate hours of blather about Ayers with equally silly cries of manufactured umbrage about
alleged voter fraud scandals
have failed to make a dent. In fact, Fox's own poll shows that two-thirds of voters who've heard about Ayers say it won't make a difference in how they vote. The CBS-NYT survey cited above has a similar finding, and also reported that six in 10 voters said McCain has spent more time attacking Obama than explaining what he would do as president.

"What bothers me is that McCain initially talked about running a campaign on issues and I want to hear him talk about the issues," The Times quoted New Jersey survey respondent Flavio Lorenzoni. "But we're being constantly bombarded with attacks that aren't relevant to making a decision about what direction McCain would take the country."

You go, Big Mac: muscle up on the Weathermen. Maybe Obama once read Eldridge Cleaver too.

P.S. Whatever you may think of Ayers, his memoir, Fugitive Days, which is the source of the oft-repeated claim that he is "an unrepentant terrorist," is a good read, first-person account of life inside the radical left in the 1960s and '70s, a crazed time when many people (I name no names) who were sickened by the Vietnam War struggled to "live your life so that it doesn't make a mockery of your values," as he writes. Always too cocky by half, Ayers was guaranteed his spot in the conservative Hall of Infamy when his book got a big splash review in The Times on Sept. 10, 2001. The second edition includes an afterword in which he offers some interesting thoughts on the political use of the word "terrorist' and the differences he perceives between him and his wife and the perpetrators of 9/11.

See How They Run

The smartest political piece of the week was published by the Wall Street Journal, which toted up how much time the Obama-Biden ticket has spent in closely contested battleground states vs. the McCain-Palin dream team, and found the Democrats put on nearly twice as many events as their GOP rivals. The Journal piece is here.

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