Dog Days of Summer – Donkey Chronicles
We're into the heart of the most active season for a political junkie, the Super Bowl of partisanship. The conventions show the best and worst of the two major parties, and in this cycle, all of that magic is playing out over a two-week period.
Last week, the Democratic Party put their best foot forward. It was a very nice foot, too. Sen. Barack Obama and his team orchestrated an almost flawless performance of progressive policy discussion and Bush-bashing. Even the formidable Clinton dilemma really turned into nothing more than a media back-story.
When it became apparent that Senator Obama had opted not to pick Sen. Hillary Clinton, pundits predicted a collapse of gender-based support. The assumption was that women would feel abandoned and betrayed, that the Obama-Biden ticket would take a nose dive in the polls.
Instead of that, Mrs. Clinton did the graceful thing and spoke eloquently about why Democrats should pull together and put Senator Obama in the Oval Office. Even the less-predictable former President Bill Clinton surprised the experts and acted uncharacteristically magnanimous in his praise of the Illinois senator.
The seemingly endless parade of liberal elected officials strode to Denver's Pepsi Center podium and recounted, one after another, a litany of reasons to elect the freshman U.S. senator to the most powerful office in the world. Not accidentally, most of those reasons had something to do with how current GOP President George W. Bush had screwed things up.
One of the week's more compelling speeches came from Michelle Obama. She made an amazing transformation from back in the spring, back when she mentioned that with her husband's rise to political prominence, she'd finally found a reason to be proud of America.
In her remarks Monday night, Mrs. Obama was a sort-of super soccer mom, worried about work, children, and her family's quality-of-life. No one rushed to remind listeners that Mrs. Obama has a nice mid-six figure job at a large healthcare system in Chicago. That might have altered the June Cleaver image. Leaving the girls she kept pointing to in her speech in the care of a nanny weakens the image.
So, the week in the Mile High City ended with a huge public gathering at INVESCO Field at Mile High Stadium, a singing, swaying, weeping mass of 84,000 Democratic Party faithful. They spent most of the day lining up to go through an elaborate security sweep. They paid as much as $80 to park in surface parking areas around the stadium. I guess that's part of the "change" we're looking at, the bit where there isn't any change left over when they get done.
One entrepreneur laughed when asked by MSNBC why he was charging so much to the poor convention-goers to park in his lot. "Well, because they're paying it", he said. Besides, he pulled open his blaze orange vest to show a McCain '08 tee shirt. I think they call that irony.
So, Barack Obama took the stage on Thursday night and delivered one of the best political speeches I've heard in my adult life. He was a master, a master of the words, the look, and the emotion. He defined himself; and his story is unique in American presidential history. A Kenyan father, a Caucasian mother, time spent in the Far East, and mostly raised by grandparents in Hawaii, we've never heard a background and personal history as varied as this one.
Not satisfied with the definitional aspect of the speech, Senator Obama focused on the ills of the Bush Administration. The Democratic playbook depends on a retelling of the Bush presidency; in fact, it requires an almost constant retelling.
To hear Senator Obama tell the story, one might assume that John McCain and George Bush are one in the same. The senator’s most oft-quoted line relates McCain's record of voting with President Bush 90% of the time. Factcheck.org takes exception to the math, but Democrats aren't really too concerned with the truth, just the point.
Some of the most memorable moments came when Senator Obama sought to distinguish his foreign policy thinking from his opponent's. He chided Senator McCain for tough talk about Osama Bin Laden, making light of the Iraq focus while Bin Laden continues to hide in an Afghan cave. Barack Obama as tough guy is a new approach to be sure. Whether it sells or not is another chapter entirely.
One couldn't help but be struck by the power and significance of the moment in history, though. Standing on that stage, behind that podium, in front of that set built to resemble the White House, Barack Hussein Obama accepted the nomination of his party for the office of President of the United States. That alone was a chill-inducing inspiration, to have it happen on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and the "I Have a Dream" speech from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., seemed to cap it all off.
The Democratic Party will probably enjoy a bump in the polls. Whatever benefit, however, may be short-lived, though. Sen. John McCain's well-timed choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin stole the remaining thunder. The choice was so non-traditional that even the normally pro-Obama major media outlets like CNN and MSNBC used precious air to speculate on Governor Palin and the basis for her selection.
Democratic Party Vice Presidential choice Joe Biden, of Delaware, was salivating for a chance to take on former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, or current Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Senator Biden's immense catalog of foreign affairs and national security knowledge would intimidate the brightest and most flexible mind. The fact that Joe Biden is known as a skilled debater and quick wit doesn't help.
Governor Palin offers a unique twist to the normal Veep sweepstakes. First, she's a woman. A guy has to be sensitive to that in a political campaign, I should know, I've been there. You can't appear too aggressive; other women don't take kindly to a man verbally roughing up a woman. The more interesting aspect of the Palin choice is that she also seems to be a tough debater and comfortable communicator in her own right.
She's a life member of the National Rifle Association, a hunter, fisherman, and the mother of five. She has a reputation for reform, and has an 80% plus approval rating in Alaska. Our own Gov. Martin O'Malley, for the sake of comparison, is mired in the low to mid-30s.
Another piece of evidence that proves the intelligence behind her choice: How does Senator Biden (or Senator Obama, for that matter) legitimately criticize Mr. McCain for picking someone who lacks "experience?" Governor Palin has served as an executive, the ultimate decision maker in her state. Before that, she served as the executive for the town government of Wasilla, her Alaskan hometown. Governor Palin's experience in elective office turns out to overwhelm the Democratic candidates' own experience.
The chief executive knows how to absorb information and make critical decisions. By contrast, the Obama/Biden team's experience is in the legislative branch, where they are mired in debate and vote-trading, not in the day-to-day governance experience.
Considering all of the interest in Governor Palin and her story, her biggest accomplishment on the McCain/Palin ticket might just be her ability to make us forget the best speech that Barack Obama has ever given, and one of the best political speeches given by anyone in years. Especially given the lull of the dog days!
Next up: the Elephant Chronicles! McCain/Palin roars into St. Paul, while Hurricane Gustav roars into the Gulf of Mexico. Can anyone say Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans? It will be telling to see how GOP plans change in relation to the storm.