I agree with Ross Douthat:
Both campaigns have clearly decided that they have an interest in keeping this pattern going. From the McCain camp’s point of view, substantive debate could be fatal to their candidate, since he isn’t all that comfortable talking about the issues – the economy and health care chief among them – that voters claim to care the most about, and the Democrats are trusted more than the Republicans on most domestic policy questions anyway. If the election is going to be won, McCain and Co. have decided, it’s going to be won on trench warfare and intangibles, not substance. From the Obama camp’s point of view, meanwhile, the election is theirs to lose, so why take any chances when you can just meet McCain blow for blow and run out the clock until November? With substance comes opportunity, but also risk – does Obama really want to talk about the costs of, say, the cap-and-trade program he officially supports? I think not! – and why would you take any risks at all when the Presidency is within your grasp?
So Barack Obama, who once claimed to embody sweeping, once-in-a-generation change, has ended up running a cautious, negative, and deeply generic Democratic campaign, while John McCain, who’s supposedly all about honor and service and aching nobility, has offered a mix of snark, stunts, and manufactured controversies week in and week out. And the pundit class, deeply invested in the notion that the stakes in this election are stunningly, awesomely high, has responded to the fundamental dullness of the race itself with wild hyperventilation, unable to accept that this campaign just hasn’t lived up to their round-the-clock hype – and that it may not even turn out to be the most important election of this decade, let alone of a generation or a lifetime.