The wave of post-Republican convention speculation and the tightening of polls nationally and in key battleground states — due in part to Sarah Palin’s debut — must be taking a toll on Barack Obama’s campaign because their people are acting conspicuously spooked this weekend.

Obama’s chief strategist David Axelrod, interviewed by Chris Wallace on FOX News Sunday this morning, didn’t even attempt to clarify Obama’s strange concession on The O’Reilly Factor Thursday that the Surge worked “beyond anyone’s Wildest Dreams.” Axelrod, looking dry-mouthed and less confident than should be allowed eight weeks before Election Day, instead reiterated Obama’s assertion that “the surge has succeeded in ways nobody anticipated.” This is a most curious argument, considering that Obama has spent much of his campaign chiding the Bush administration’s own charges that no one could have anticipated the fierceness of the insurgency when they invaded Iraq in the first place. This is clearly a non-starter that is already drawing criticism from Obama’s loyal base. Seeing that if anything, McCain’s pick of Palin for vice president has jacked-up the conservative base, the worst thing that could happen now is for the liberal wing to lose faith:

From Chris Floyd: In short, [Obama] continued his relentless campaign to purge himself of any of that weak-sister “anti-war” taint that got attached to him in the early days of his campaign — which was, of course, responsible for his phenomenal rise in the first place. He rode that wave to national prominence — trading on the desperate hopes of millions of Americans that the ungodly criminal nightmare in Iraq might finally end — but it was obvious long ago that he was never going to dance with the ones that brung him. Once it was clear that he might really make it all the way to the top of the greasy pole, he began a dogged campaign to prove to our ruling elite that he would be a “safe pair of hands” for the imperial enterprise.

Even more alarming was Joe Biden’s appearance on Meet the Press. Aside from doing nothing to massage Obama’s take on the Surge, he couldn’t seem to pull together a simple argument about why the Republicans are wrong on Iraq. He started to explain why his early proposal to carve Iraq into a loose confederation wasn’t so wildly off the mark. He pointed to Kurdistan and Anbar province as how a “de facto” separation has already occurred. Then he ran out of gas. He didn’t mention the ethnic cleansing we sanctioned in Baghdad, the 5 million refugees and internally displaced persons, in part, a result of those sectarian purges. He left the audience with the feeling he had a bad idea and has very little ability to defend it against the hardening conventional wisdom.

He kept repeating that there has been no “political reconciliation” to accompany the decrease in violence, but offered no examples to bolster his claim. He mentioned the “regional elections,” but didn’t say they haven’t been scheduled yet because of factional disagreements. That was a “gimme” and he let it go. He pointed out that we have left an Iranian-backed government in charge of Iraq, but didn’t convey it all that forcefully.

Most importantly, he took no opportunity to tell the American people that the so-called Sunni Awakening that McCain has credited for The Surge success is about to implode, and that violence is still a way of life for the Iraqi people, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. Furthermore, why aren’t Obama and Biden asking the most obvious rhetorical question — if The Surge has been so successful, why is the Bush Administration compelled to keep the majority of our troops there indefinitely? If we are to believe in this miracle of success, why is Bush only advocating the withdrawal of some 8,000 troops early next year? Why not 50,000? Where do McCain-Palin even stand on this issue?

The Democrats risk falling into a familiar trap — of looking desperate and Republican-Lite, when all people want is the real deal. And some confidence. Republicans not only feel comfortable in their own skins, they are brilliant at making the Democrats second-guess their own. Democrats, and yes, many independents and libertarians had hoped that Obama-Biden were stronger than that, particularly on the war. After today’s performances, I’m not so sure.