If you’re looking for entertainment, watch Republican candidates try to imitate Barack Obama’s hope/change shtick. In his now-famous Tuesday night memo to Republicans, NRCC Chair Tom Cole wrote that “Republicans must undertake bold efforts to define a forward looking agenda that offers the kind of positive change voters are looking for.” In his speech this morning in Columbus, John McCain took Cole up on his offer, although today he took the utopian imaginings a little far.

He not only pledged to have “most” American troops home from Iraq by 2013 (more on that later), but also laid out a litany of other sunny scenarios: “The Iraq War has been won. … The United States and its allies have made great progress in advancing nuclear security. … The size of the Army and Marine Corps has been significantly increased. … The United States has experienced several years of robust economic growth. … Health care has become more accessible to more Americans than at any other time in history. … Obesity rates among the young and the disease they engender are stabilized and beginning to decline. … The United States is well on the way to independence from foreign sources of oil.”” (McCain’s new ad, ” 2013 ,” has a similar message.)

Skepticism was the first response, with one reporter calling McCain’s speech a “magic carpet ride.” But McCain knows what he’s up against. It’s official that 2008 is a “change election,” whatever that means, and Obama has patented his own brand of Optimism™. McCain can’t let himself get painted as the curmudgeon to Obama’s visionary. When Clinton mocked Obama’s highfalutin tone, it came off as crass and mean-spirited. In this general election, with GOP approval ratings at historic lows, the risk of getting pegged as the naysayer is even greater.

Hence the blindingly sunny forecast. “I cannot guarantee I will have achieved these things,” McCain said in the speech. But that’s not the point. No one actually expects complete success. It’s about setting the rhetorical tone. McCain is pre-emptively fending off charges of being the “can’t-do” candidate. But he has to spin it as his own positive agenda, without giving the impression he’s just trying to out-Obama Obama.