The master trope--which debuted as the final part of McCain's underwhelming kick-off speech last night--concerns "the right kind of change" versus "the wrong kind of change:"
This is, indeed, a change election...But, the choice is between the right change and the wrong change; between going forward and going backward.
Got that? Right change = forward = good. Wrong change = backward = bad.
It's the McCain solution to the thorny problem of distancing himself from the unpopular Bush while planning to continue his policies: Be for change, but not for change from anything that Bush did. (If nothing else, this is noteworthy for apparently marking the end of GOP campaigns that blame everything that went wrong during the Bush administration on the Clinton administration. When Hillary lost the nomination, the GOP lost some of its favorite ways of dodging responsibility.)
Why Obama's change is characterized as "backward" isn't really clear, since most of the things he's characterized by in the points below are described as attempts to take the US into new and dangerous territory, and only rarely associated with "old" or discredited policies. But then, it doesn't have to be clear.
All a talking point has to do is be able to attach itself like a virus to our political discourse and, once there, replicate itself as much as possible. Anything else--like consistency or accuracy--is irrelevant.
And here are some of the new GOP talking points by topic. (More at the McCain site.) It's not entirely clear how the "right change" theme applies in each case, and some (like "Reforming Washington" are in desperate need of work just to make sense). But the general drift--as well as the conspicuous absence of Hillary Clinton--is hard to miss:
McCain: John McCain would strengthen our alliances, keep America safe, and enhance American prosperity by expanding trade.
Obama: Obama says he would meet unconditionally with the world’s worst dictators, from Ahmadinejad to Castro to Kim Jong Il.
McCain: John McCain had the courage to call for a change in strategy that is now succeeding.
Obama: Obama says he will retreat from Iraq no matter what the situation on the ground is, and no matter what advice he receives from military commanders.
McCain: John McCain understands the threat posed to America by violent Islamic extremists and has the judgment and experience necessary to lead our country to success in this struggle
Obama: Obama has consistently shown poor judgment about the nature of the terrorist threat and the policies needed to keep America safe.
McCain: John McCain will look for accomplished men and women with a proven record of excellence in the law and a proven commitment to judicial restraint
Obama: Obama would nominate judges that would continue the judicial activism that has characterized the federal bench for years. This is why he opposed Roberts and Alito.
McCain: John McCain will make health care more available, affordable and responsive to patients.
Obama: Senator Obama thinks we can improve health care by driving Americans into a new system of government orders, regulations and mandates.
McCain: Only John McCain has a record of working to end Washington's stagnant, unproductive partisanship.
Obama: The American people have not seen Obama forsake partisanship for progress.
A Change Election:
McCain: John McCain will initiate far-reaching reforms in almost every area of government policy recognizing that many of government's policies and institutions have failed.
Obama: Obama is looking to the past for solutions that have failed us before and will fail us again. In his short-time in office, Obama has accumulated the most liberal voting record in the Senate.
And remember: The genius of GOP talking points is that they don't have to be coherent. Or verifiable. And even if verifiable, they certainly don't have to be true. They just have to be repeated endlessly in all conceivable forms of media, from op-eds to Sunday morning news shows to blogs to send-this-to-20-friends emails to talk radio to FOX News to letters to the editor to mail-order T-shirts.
Brace yourself for having to listen to them for the next 154 days (or until they're superseded by new GOP talking points).