Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Conventions, and Sarah Palin

The long primary season, followed by the recent political refining of both presumed nominees views and political tactics, left little to be revealed at the political conventions. The only real news of the two weeks was Sarah Palin. Standing back from all of the exhaustive, tedious, and repetitive coverage of the conventions there was little to add, and little motivation to comment on the spectacles. That said, here are a few post convention comments:
---Both parties ran well-organized and for the most part tightly controlled conventions. Minor point, but they both ran something well.
---In hindsight, isn't it kind of weird that the Democrats built so much of their convention language and thinking around George Bush and the Republicans did not. It's understandable, of course, but the impression is what counts today it sometimes seems, not the facts. Even the minority of voters who still support George Bush are for the most part tired of him. Did the Democrats give the "impression" of needing him while the Republicans are ready to look ahead.
---One has to wonder if Obama's oratory skills have taken him as far as they can and that he needs to pull another arrow out of the quiver to get over in the hump in the next two months. The words are high minded and often delivered with unexpected intelligent nuance and of course with a cadence and intonation that can be inspiring. Unfortunately this now may have become old news. His vaunted but familiar speaking style combined with his mannerism of looking slightly skyward as he speaks, with a tilt of his head to the right that is suitable for framing, could be taken the wrong way at this point. What actually won the Democratic nomination for Obama was a political strategy and on the ground work that surprised the Clintons, and by the time they understood what was going on it was too late. Obama, the campaign, needs to get back to focusing on the basics that got him to the podium in the first place.
---The one speaker that can't escape comment here is Rudy Guiliani. That was the real Rudy, the one that we lived with in New York. Charming and ugly, decisive and vindictive, having a wonderful time, in love with himself, and taking so much more time than he was allotted that the convention controllers eliminated a Palin video and trotted her out there immediately so that a little prime time remained.
---Sarah Palin was the earthshaking news. There really should be no debate about the fact that she is totally unqualified to be one step away from the Presidency and it is not sexist, biased, or even partisan to say that. That is really the sole importance of the Vice Presidential role(until Cheney at least), and it is important. Five times in the 20th century the Vice President had to step up, and there were two other very close calls. John McCain is 72, and one could suggest that it is not really a "young" 72. Life takes its toll. McCain's five plus years in a concentration camp were, to put it mildly, grueling and left him a physical wreck that required determined and painful rehabilitation. His bouts of melanoma can be checked and dealt with, but there's is an element of uncertainty here. On top of that it is well known and acknowledged that McCain lived a work hard play harder lifestyle both before his captivity and after and only calmed down in his fifties. It is often said that life expectancy is high in his family and his vibrant late 90's mother is pointed out. But there are two sides to this. His father died at age 70 and his paternal grandfather died at age 60. An insurance actuary, factoring in the candidate's age and history, would charge some steep rates if he had the need for life insurance.
Palin's convention speech was well presented. She showed personality and presence. The fact that almost every word was written for her by a talented speechwriter is no knock either since that is true with most politicians, corporate CEO's and other people in power. Obama is one of those exceptions that writes some of and actively participates in everything that he says. The problem came when Palin reached the foreign policy part of the speech, subject matter that until last week even she admitted knowing little about, and it seemed that she was like a sixth grade student reading from the textbook. To my mind that diminished her. The fact that others wrote the speech and created some big lies about her record was politics as usual, but having her look like the puppet she is was over the top. I don't guess many people inclined to like her will notice, and it is not important that some of us found the whole speech immensely depressing.
The power of Palin is that her appeal rises above capability. The fact that she is a woman is just a sideline benefit because her real appeal is lifestyle choice, the kind described in the book "The Big Sort". Her small town background, experience with guns and the outdoors Western life combined with her evangelical Christian background and unequivocal points of view on so-called conservative "values" issues gain her a credibility that cuts into Hillary Democrats in Pennsylvania as well as fence sitters in important Western states. Obama, Biden and McCain don't reach some of this constituency at all and Palin will. Her lack of experience, knowledge, and any type of world view, or even national view, are meaningless to some when her lifestyle numbers are added up. To some she will be simply "one of us" and nothing else matters.
That McCain chose Palin has been characterized by many as indicative of the type of seat of the pants decision making that he could also make as President of the United States. In some ways, however, it was a calculated decision to change the game in this election. The vetting process may not yet be over, given the short shrift it got in the first place, but if Palin survives it fully within a few weeks(has she paid taxes for all caregivers while her husband was fishing, working for oil companies, and snowmobiling and she was being a politician and governor for example) then the biggest risk of McCain's choice will have passed. What it says mostly about McCain is that he is a cocky and insular fly boy just as George Bush has been a cocky and insular frat boy. As an experienced and to a large degree accomplished U.S. Senator, how could he be so cynical that he would pick someone with Palin's thin credentials and complete lack of any global perspective to be his candidate for Vice President of the United States?

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