Thursday, August 28, 2008

TPH: Conventional Warfare

The Political Hoedown
DNC Convention

It all went down this week in Denver, CO. A black man won, for the first time, the nomination of a major US political party. How'd it go down? I won't bore you. Read elsewhere if you want news on the musical interludes, crappy live performances by any number of established bands, the little speeches, videos, Drunk Ted Kennedy.

I'm looking at the big dogs only. And really, only Obama mattered in the end.

So...yeah. Hillary. Michelle Obama. Slick Willy. Nights one and two were highlighted by knockout speeches by the two most prominent women involved with the presidential election. But whereas Michelle hit the ball out of the park for her husband, emphasizing that he's a Christian, non-Muslim, non-terrorist/anarchist/anti-establishment, decent human being, Hillary took a different tac.

She purposefully hit a high fly ball over the Republican infield while Obama was waiting to score from third. Not the best maneuver, Evita. Her husband, on night three, did a suitable follow-up, but was more specific and pointed. Shame he was jabbing his own candidate. Biden's speech, I'll admit, didn't capture my attention. I did not watch all of it.

(Psst - that's why no one cared when he was chosen, and the polls remain unchanged.)


Michelle Obama gave a very nice, polished speech Monday night to an agreeable audience. There was nothing new here, no invective against McCain or lavish praise for Hillary (just a throwaway "18 million cracks" line). Pundits predicted she'd attempt to humanize Obama's image, bring the "father" and "husband" out from storage. It worked, mostly. I can't think of a time in the speech where I rolled my eyes or thought she was mugging for the camera with a sappy story. Sure, the car ride home with one of their infant daughters, Barack looking over the seats to see his new family every five seconds, was a cute story, but it didn't degenerate into a Hallmark card.

The rest of the substance, well, some people have picked apart a few of her claims about her husband, that she inflated his record, but that happens. He might've fought for a veterans' bill, but it didn't make it out of the (Democrat-controlled) committee. Stuff like that (Biden did that two nights later).

The worst complaint I have for her is that it was too slickly delivered. Her hand movements were her husbands, as was her cadence. Certainly she has watched him speak on the campaign trail from Day 1 (in IL), and in doing so, picked up some mannerisms. As someone who looks at those things when a person speaks (and who wildly gesticulates himself), I found it distracting at times. But that's a minor quibble.


Oh, but Hillary...she screwed the pooch.

From the stock speech to the you-can't-ignore-me orange power suit, she was a woman aflame, but not for Obama. She mentioned him a number of times, but didn't. You can take her speech and replace "Barack Obama" or "Senator Obama" with any Democratic contender. It was more a valedictory of her campaign, a promise she isn't done, than a ringing endorsement of Obama. Granted, we never thought it would be. And it's not like she said, "Yay, go brown man or...whatever."

It's clear she is positioning herself as the next Ted Kennedy, senior statesman (D) in Congress. If Obama fails in November, Hillary is suddenly there for "I told you so's" until the last piece of confetti falls on McCain's shoulders. 2012 could be her year. Or not. She might fade after this into the Senate. Did we see her swan song speech? If so, for her, it was terrific. It was a speech for her. Obama was a side note.


Throughout this week at the convention, McCain hasn't had an easy time. Night one avoided truly harsh criticism, since it was Michelle's night, and she was about humanity, not vicious attack. But night two, three and culminating in Obama's thunderous oratory: McCain must feel like swiss cheese.

Virtually every major speaker ripped into him a sentence after praising his 1) congressional service or 2) military service. They also tied him firmly to the Bush Administration (the "foreign policy of Bush/McCain," Obama said), a challenge since it became clear McCain was the frontrunner. Democrats need a clear target, and McCain is nebulous at best due to his cross-aisle appeal in all previous election years. Bush and Cheney are as crisp as a fresh dollar, sharp targets easy to locate and define as opposite to everything the Dems believe in. Lassoing McCain to one or both drags him into the mire of eight contentious political years.

Despite Gore, Clinton (Bill), Pelosi, Richardson, Biden, Durbin, etc. expending their righteous indignation at the very person of John McCain, it is Obama's speech that will echo in the papers and blogs and running cable commentary. He reached out and patted him on the back, briefly, and then gut-punched him the next second.

That's ok, that's a convention speech. No one will claim he was too harsh, but he was harsh. We haven't heard an Obama this...vitriolic at any point in the whole campaign (which he's been running for 12 years. Woah!). Every failure, from Iraq to dependence on foreign oil to high corporate profits and huge tax burdens on the middle class were framed in the context of McCain's career. As an aside, Biden's been there longer and through rougher seas.

But ignore every other serving Congressman - it's about McCain, his voting for the Iraq war, desire to lower taxes for oil companies (only them, it seems, though lowering the corporate tax rate does impact, oh, toy, food, diaper, rocking chair, baseball-mitt-making, apple pie-tin forging, American-flag stiching corporations, too. But that's poor copy for an attack, to paraphrase Glen Beck), refusal to make the same outlandish alternative energy commitment. That's John McCain, who care's, but doesn't get it, doesn't know America.

That's the rare form Obama found himself in. The balance of the speech we heard after every primary, on every stumping ground from mess halls to union halls, hospitals, schools, fields, factories and impromptu platforms. Change is needed, we are change, they are the past, and that's the core of it all. As oratory, McCain cannot match it. CANNOT. Obama has a gift few have outside of a really good church - the ability to reach into the soul of the listener and tickle the outrage at injustice, the guilt at our misdeeds, the hope tamped down by cynicism, the love for a better tomorrow.

And there, dear readers, is Obama's true gift: communication. He might not say anything different, just in a different order, might inflate and deflate records depending on purpose, but it all emerges from his mouth like auditory gold.

Bush III, Bush/McCain, eight years is enough, we don't need a third term: that repeated message will start showing in the polls. It's the real story, the link that was successfully forged over four days and thousands of words of politicking and posturing.

McCain is, to borrow from the vernacular, boned.


I will say, I haven't seen this much pomp and pageantry surrounding a convention in over forty years. The indoor arena was typical, and not very exciting. The mock White House/Greek temple stage borrowed from a Cecil B. DeMille set? Astounding. Risking weather and attendance (don't want empty seats on TV), they pulled off a stellar last day that the Republicans will not beat.

Friday morning, McCain announces his VP pick. Pawlenty of Minnesota? Romney? Kay Bailey Hutchison?! Who knows, maybe he convinced Colin Powell, about the only person he could add to his ticket that would make it invincible...outside of Hillary or Barack.

The Republican Convention starts Monday. Eyes open, people.


That's all tonight. I'm tired. The convention was both grueling and over quickly, probably because I didn't have the exposure this year that I did the last two presidential elections. We'll see how the RNC does it.


No comments: