Now that Sen. Obama has gathered enough delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination, Sen. McCain has trained his sights on Sen. Obama. In a speech just delivered, Sen. McCain repeatedly challenged Sen. Obama. I suspect that it’ll get underneath Obama’s skin just a little because McCain ridiculed Obama’s slogan of “Change You Can Believe In” against him.

Here’s how Sen. McCain challenged Sen. Obama on Iraq:

I disagreed strongly with the Bush administration’s mismanagement of the war in Iraq. I called for the change in strategy that is now, at last, succeeding where the previous strategy had failed miserably. I was criticized for doing so by Republicans. I was criticized by Democrats. I was criticized by the press. But I don’t answer to them. I answer to you. And I would be ashamed to admit I knew what had to be done in Iraq to spare us from a defeat that would endanger us for years, but I kept quiet because it was too politically hard for me to do. No ambition is more important to me than the security of the country I have defended all my adult life.

Senator Obama opposed the new strategy, and, after promising not to, voted to deny funds to the soldiers who have done a brilliant and brave job of carrying it out. Yet in the last year we have seen the success of that plan as violence has fallen to a four year low; Sunni insurgents have joined us in the fight against al Qaeda; the Iraqi Army has taken the lead in places once lost to Sunni and Shia extremists; and the Iraqi Government has begun to make progress toward political reconciliation.

None of this progress would have happened had we not changed course over a year ago. And all of this progress would be lost if Senator Obama had his way and began to withdraw our forces from Iraq without concern for conditions on the ground and the advice of commanders in the field. Americans ought to be concerned about the judgment of a presidential candidate who says he’s ready to talk, in person and without conditions, with tyrants from Havana to Pyongyang, but hasn’t traveled to Iraq to meet with General Petraeus, and see for himself the progress he threatens to reverse.

I strongly suspect that Sen. McCain will use this line repeatedly as he hopes to paint Sen. Obama into a corner on national security. Everyone knows that that’s Sen. Obama’s weakpoint. The sooner that Sen. McCain can paint Sen. Obama as unprepared for the role of commander-in-chief, the faster people question Sen. Obama’s qualifications.

When he talked about energy policy, he got in a great shot at Sen. Obama as a uniter. Here’s what Sen. McCain said:

With forward thinking Democrats and Republicans, I proposed a climate change policy that would greatly reduce our dependence on oil. Our approach was opposed by President Bush, and by leading Democrats, and it was defeated by opposition from special interests that favor Republicans and those that favor Democrats. Senator Obama might criticize special interests that give more money to Republicans. But you won’t often see him take on those that favor him. If America is going to achieve energy independence, we need a President with a record of putting the nation’s interests before the special interests of either party. I have that record. Senator Obama does not.

That paragraph casts Sen. Obama’s postpartisan credentials into doubt. It’s one thing to rail against the other party’s special interests. It’s another to rail against your party’s special interests. The more Sen. McCain emphasizes this point, the more hollow Sen. Obama’s claims will ring. People know that it’s easy to challenge the other guy’s friends. It’s another to challenge your own friends. In this instance, Sen. McCain can legitimately claim that he’s the true postpartisan candidate.

Here’s Sen. McCain’s challenge to Sen. Obama on health care:

Senator Obama thinks we can improve health care by driving Americans into a new system of government orders, regulations and mandates. I believe we can make health care more available, affordable and responsive to patients by breaking from inflationary practices, insurance regulations, and tax policies that were designed generations ago, and by giving families more choices over their care. His plan represents the old ways of government. Mine trusts in the common sense of the American people.

Any economist worth their salt will tell you that government mandates are a big driver of rising health care costs. What Sen. McCain did with this portion of his speech is remind people that the Democratic Party’s health care plan is HillaryCare, which is anything but forward-looking.

That isn’t to say that this was a great speech. Sen. McCain hurt himself by reminding his base that he’s with the Democrats on MMGW. Cap and trade, or as Robert Samuelson called it, Cap and Tax, won’t bring us to energy independance. It’ll only raise our taxes while doing next to nothing in increasing energy supply.

The speech wasn’t particularly well-delivered, either. That will improve, though. Most importantly, Sen. McCain has framed the differences between Sen. Obama and himself very effectively.

There is no doubt that Sen. Obama, or the DNC or both, will deride Sen. McCain’s speech as negative. It’s a tired old ploy that’s usually used when you’ve scored a direct hit. The contrasts Sen. McCain made were on the issues. He wisely avoided making personal attacks.

If Sen. Obama can’t take constructive, issues-oriented, criticism, then he isn’t tough enough to be the next commander-in-chief. I suspect that that’s the exact corner Sen. MCCain wanted to paint Sen. Obama into.

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Cross-posted at California Conservative

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