I should state first that although I am more or less a conservative libertarian, my interest in the conventions is mostly centered on communication: what choices do the parties make? how do they portray themselves? what sort of speeches do they make? and what exactly does the convention hall look like?
I should also state that I (usually) watch PBS with Jim Lehrer, Mark Shields, and David Brooks (when my television is working) plus the PBS pundits, all looking a little older than four years ago. I like the civility. I think Mark Shields tends to be a little too "Democrats can do no wrong; David Brooks is the only acceptable Republican in the world." David Brooks is, granted, (relatively) conservative, but his analysis tends to be more prudent and self-effacing. I find self-effacement very charming.
It's a DeMille film! The Democratic Convention has moved to a football stadium and become the cast of thousands. And thousands. And thousands.
I turned on the television about 9:30 and the current speaker was talking about Obama's ability to be Commander-in-Chief. As far as I can tell, the Democrats have decided McCain's military record is the Republican's biggest threat. It seems kind of odd when you remember that pollsters in 2004 said "moral issues" were deciding factors in how people voted, not the war in Iraq. But maybe that was just one survey.
We are about to hear from "regular, everyday Americans." And next week, Republicans will haul out their "regular, everyday Americans" and frankly, the whole game makes me tired. I mean, what exactly is the selling point? "MY regular American only earns minimum wage." "MY regular American only earns minimum wage and is a single mother." "MY regular American only earns minimum wage, is a single mother, AND takes care of her four aging grandparents." "MY regular American only earns minimum wage, is a single mother, takes care of her four aging grandparents, AND works near Willy Wonka's candy factory--" oh, sorry, strayed in Roald Dahl there.
The speakers did a good job, but I still can't get behind this technique. If you want to find a struggling family that has fallen on hard times in the last eight years, geez, how hard is that? Finding a struggling family whose lives have improved over the last eight years won't be that hard either--it's called life, people.
Before my PBS went kapluey, David Brooks referred to the convention as a "spectacle" rather than a "political event." Well, the conventions are always "spectacles," but he has a point. Will it sell the Democratic party? Maybe. Those who plan to vote Democrat anyway will love it. Those who plan to vote Republican will scoff at the flash and glam. And the rest of us will react according to taste. Personally, I dislike being sold things from health insurance to phone plans, and I really dislike people selling me things by going on and on about HOW GREAT IT IS, HOW COOL IT IS, HOW WONDERFUL IT IS. "Look," I tell the salesperson on the phone, "just tell me what you are selling, and we can go from there." And the person doesn't, and the conversation is over.
But that's me.
Now I will wax libertarian--I don't much trust in either party. Politicians have to sell themselves; one of the inevitabilities of selling oneself is there has to be something to sell. With businesses, the thing being sold is the latest product. With politicians, it is the latest service. So politicians have to keep coming up with services to sell, things to do, problems to fix. Defining an ideology, presenting a political perspective, arguing over the role of government: all these things fall by the wayside. Sure, intellectuals within the parties may be doing these things, but politicians have to keep selling themselves, have to keep convincing the American people that they can make life better.
Thus endeth the lesson.
Sometimes, the news media is just silly. CNN's coverage includes the phrase: "Obama expected to address change in speech." Wow! I never ever expected THAT!
He will address the economy first.
He praises McCain--is this the Republican convention? Oh, wait, nope, it's Obama speaking. "John McCain has voted with George Bush 90% of the time." The irony is that pro-Bush voters who think John McCain is too left or too maverick will be comforted by this "fact."
But I don't think Obama is really aiming his speech at Republicans (whatever the Democrats say) but at Independents.
Apparently, McCain has said we are "a nation of whiners--" okay, I admit it, I laughed. It's not very smart politics, but when you consider how often higher academe goes on and on about our decadent American society, it's kind of funny that McCain would be criticized for saying something that gets written about in the New York Times on a daily basis.
Obama is criticizing McCain for giving tax breaks to the rich. Unfortunately, this is such a common knee-jerk criticism of Republicans, I'll need to hear the other side before I pass judgment.
Okay, Obama, so what are you going to do about the economy?
Insert Jeopardy music.
- Tax breaks for small businesses
- Keep jobs in the United States
- Eliminate capital gains taxes on small businesses
- Cut taxes for 95% of all working families
- End dependence on oil from the Middle East in 10 years (but he isn't going to drill)
- Invest in clean-coal technology!!
- Safely harness nuclear power!! (He's got me!)
- Fuel-efficient cars built in the United States
- Invest in wind power and solar power (he lost me) which research will provide new jobs (he really lost me: government creating jobs to improve the economy--erk)
- Invest in early childhood education (kind of pointless)
- Pay teachers higher salaries
- Raise education standards
- "If you commit to [help] our country, you will be able to afford college." (Well, that's already true--it's called enlistment in the U.S. Army.)
- Affordable healthcare--lower premiums
- Insurance coverage similar to what U.S. Senators have
- Stop discrimination by insurance companies
- Equal pay for women (what is it with this non-issue?)
- Close corporate loopholes
- Eliminate Federal programs (which will make him ALL kinds of friends)
Obama addresses foreign affairs:
"Don't tell me Democrats won't defend this country." Well, Democratic leaders didn't exactly line up behind Reagan, now did they?
He's going to end the war in Iraq, curb Iranian and Russian aggression, and end terrorism.
Ohhkay. Now, I really don't think he has a clue. International politics are hard, Barack. Pollyanna optimism will not solve the problem.
He looks forward to debating McCain. He thinks they both have a Patriotic perspective.
How bothered am I by Obama using Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy to bulwark his own image? (No, he didn't say that, but that's how it feels). I'm not sure.
Obama is a good speaker. He's clear, passionate, and has the ability to hit fundamental/common values. (Good parallelism too.)
Can he do all the above? Well, bonus points for self-confidence, but I think life is much messier than Obama is promising.
Does he know that? Does he believe he can sweep into office and fix everything? Or does he know that politics is hard and messy and is simply talking the talk to get to the White House?
I don't know.
I must say again, GREAT music this time around for the Democratic Convention. The big closing blow-out also looks good although I miss balloons. I really, really like balloons at a convention.
Ah, but they do have fireworks. I LIKE fireworks.
I will say, the Democrats have put on one of the snazziest conventions I have ever seen, even including Bush 2000 which was pretty good.
Part of a convention's job is to energize the delegates, so they will go back home and work hard to convince others how to vote. I think this convention has more than done that job. However, as many, many people have told me over the past week, few people watch the conventions themselves. So how big an impact will the Democratic convention have on the long term vote? Very little directly. (There really wasn't anything new said.) However, indirectly, it could have a great deal of impact in terms of how the Democrats continue to portray themselves.
On to the Republican Convention!!
Wednesday, August 27th
Tonight, Biden speaks. I'm curious to hear him. I've heard (from my personal group of pundits) that Biden is given to putting his foot in his mouth and sometimes just comes out and said what he thinks. It would be fun if he did that tonight, but these conventions are much too carefully crafted to allow for that.
Oh, yeah, and Bill Clinton is speaking. Kind of forgot about him--ahh, the short-lived memory of the public.
"No roll call." Instead Obama is elected by . . . Hillary's say-so? Soooo, Hillary Clinton has allowed Obama to be nominated--oh, thank you, Hillary. (Apparently, women can't lose primaries without being patted on the head and made to feel important. See my brother's blog about the state of feminism in the United States.) Okay, okay, despite my snarkiness, it is smart politicking to give Hillary this role. (And bypassing the roll call speeds up the process.)
Another speaker rambling about energy. The floor isn't listening--kind of odd. Is there something going on elsewhere? One of the drawbacks of PBS is the "gentleman's agreement" to focus on the speakers. I approve, but I'm curious. Maybe Harry Reed, the Majority Leader in the Senate, is just dull.
Major Michelle Jones: So, will Iraq finally be addressed? "He is the type of Commander-in-Chief that American soldiers need and deserve." But he has never commanded anyone militarily. Ah, I see, he's a cradle-to-grave type of Commander-in-Chief.
I confess, I can't get overly invested in the whole Commander-in-Chief idea. I kind of figure a good president listens to actual generals serving on the ground. A bad president doesn't. Is a person with military experience more likely to do the former than the latter? Eisenhower maybe, but I wouldn't count on MacArthur.
Congressman Patrick Murphy and a bunch of veterans: I hate to tell you, Murphy, but the Republicans do the "We LOVE you, Military Guys" hoop-la better than the Democrats (always have).
In any case, nobody is talking about Iraq itself--just goodies for veterans at home.
It's supposed to be hawk night, but so far, it's been cute little sparrow night.
Madeline Albright: Will SHE talk about Iraq? "Overseas problems, if not addressed, ultimately come home to America." Hey, I would agree with that. "A blow aimed at extremists that strengthened radicals." Why not a "blow aimed at radicals that strengthened extremists"? I have nothing against Albright, but she is not talking about what Bush was supposed to do about Iraq--specifically--or what Obama should do now. Fluff, fluff, fluff. David Brooks must be grinding his teeth. Sure, he is a self-effacing guy, but he is a self-effacing guy who needs some meat to analyze.
Evan Bayh: Apparently, we are going to beat the terrorists by becoming isolationists. Which will make the terrorists happy.
My personal approach would be to allow big business to go into the Middle East with the understanding that the United States army will not protect them. Wild West style. If you really want to alter a culture, give it McDonald's.
"McCain is not a bad man." Interestingly enough, most of the people who work with McCain seem to like him. The press quite likes him. Can he jump the gap to the American public?
"[Bush] divided our country more profoundly than at any time since the Vietnam War." And whose fault is that? I'm going to get all obnoxious and biased here and say that, living in Maine, my experience has been that anti-Bushites are the most divisive, intolerant people I've ever met.
Jack Reed from Rhode Island is up. Rhode Islandites tend to be independent in their views. Is Reed? Well, he appears to be a hawk. Reed is selling Obama as a military guru. It's Reed's job to do this, but I don't buy it. Does anyone? Obama just doesn't have the background. It's a problem.
At least Obama's not doing Kerry's "I served a long time ago in a war I didn't support and have never thought about since; therefore, I will make a great Commander-in-Chief." But then, Kerry's whole campaign was "I showed up once or twice in the Senate; therefore, I have two thoughts to rub together." Obama isn't that hard a sell.
VP Mondale in the PBS box: Mondale is trying to make the vice presidential position sound like more than an invisible man job. He isn't succeeding.
Bill Clinton: I should state I am not one of those people who thinks Bill Clinton is evil. I think he is a rogue. I wouldn't have cared much if he was impeached, but I didn't care that he wasn't. His morals don't impress me; I think his only moral code is "What will make people love me?" I actually think this makes him different from his wife: I think Hillary wants power. I think Clinton wants to be loved--at all costs (interns, conservatives, voters, anyone). It makes him completely amoral, but it doesn't actually make him a totally terrible president since he will do what the great American public wants, and the great American public (despite wishful Hollywood movies) tends more to conservatism than liberalism. (Basically, Clinton is Ahab from the Old Testament.)
"I'm here first to support Barack Obama." Well, yeah, like we didn't see that coming. Clinton can be bitter, but he's too crafty not to choose the side that will bring him kudos. I kind of like craftiness in a politician. It is easier to swallow than Gore's self-righteous surety although Gore may actually be the better person.
You know, psychologically, Clinton may actually be getting what he needs emotionally from basking in his wife's power.
Clinton gives a good speech. He's less used-car-salesman than he used to be, but he does have the ability to communicate ideas beyond the pulpit.
But there's still no meat. "A power of our example rather than an example of our power." Nice turn of phrase. Still . . . I don't remember past conventions being quite so--empty of context. I know conventions are usually flash and glam, yet . . . Perhaps, I should read my old notes. But it's all "look at the badness of the Republicans." And I grant there's badness to point to. But what will Obama supply in its place? There's this nifty parable in the New Testament about devils leaving a house; when they return, the house is empty, so they go and collect even more devils. (Par-tah!) An absence of decision does not automatically supply goodness.
Clinton is being positive about McCain. That's nice, but is it the best tactic to use? The main thing I'm going remember from this convention is that everyone likes McCain.
Clinton points out that he was criticized for being too young and inexperienced to be Commander-in-Chief. And . . . he was. His foreign policy isn't anything to write home about, and yes, I do think 9/11 occurred partly because Clinton turned a blind eye to growing tensions in the Middle East. (However, before anyone pulls out the conspiracy theories, I think 9/11 would probably have happened anyway--the price of freedom is partly the freedom to allow terrible things to occur.)
John Kerry is speaking tonight--major urgh. (Yes, I have a super low opinion of Kerry.) I don't see the point of writing about anything he says.
I have to mention, the speakers tonight keep pointing out how tense things are internationally. Which is a good reason . . . to elect a Republican military man. But then, what else can the convention managers do? They must address foreign policy, but the Democratic Party isn't known for strong stances on foreign policy. It's a problem.
Kerry has gotten the floor energized! I'm impressed. Amazing how not being a candidate can give some people some personality.
Salute to Charlie Paine, Obama's (very white) uncle who fought in WWII--that is extremely cool. I have to mention how much I like Obama's truly diverse background. (Like those totally cool commercials for AT&T? with the white husband, Hispanic wife, and mixed-race kids.)
Actually, I think Kerry is making the "what I wish I could have said 4 years ago" speech. He's a bit riled.
Well, I take it back. Kerry did good and actually gave a speech worthy of a convention.
Lt. General Claudia Kennedy: No wonder Shields was having conniptions last night at the supposed lack of women in power.
Congressman Chet Edwards: More about taking care of veterans. I really want to know how Obama is going to deal with Iraq and terrorists. I don't think anyone is going to tell me.
Stephen Spielberg's tribute to the military. Nice work. I was a little tense, thinking it would be some kind of "evil military" arty flick. But no. (And I like Tom Hanks.) This is really, really smart. In 2004, the Democrats were desperate to look like hawks, and they failed. So--get an expert to do it for you! But it makes you wonder how many anti-war liberals are chewing furniture right now.
Gwen Ifill talks to military people. Who are all pro-Obama? Come on, PBS, get a little tough! Wait, I like PBS's soft approach. Still, sometimes . . .
Bo Biden introduces his dad. Nice job. (Although all these family values speakers keep telling stories about how good people shouldn't become politicians. Well, yeah.) The children speakers this convention have done a good job.
By the way, the Democratic convention this year has used some great music.
Senator Biden: Okay, I like him. He is easy to like. Boy, if you took out the political context, this could be a speech for some self-esteem seminar.
Speakers keep confusing McCain and Bush. They think it is funny. The crowd laughs, but . . . it kind of betrays that their distaste for Bush is so severe, they aren't dealing with McCain as an individual threat, merely as the face of Bush. That might work. It could seriously backfire.
The floor spontaneously applauded McCain's bravery. That's truly nice.
It's Batman and Robin! Obama and Biden are going to SAVE THE UNIVERSE. I know this is typical for all convention speeches, but honestly--they're going to save the Middle East, Georgia, get a new energy source, and . . . and . . .
"Remember when the world used to trust us" . . . under Reagan's leadership, for example?
Biden is an energetic speaker. And he covered foreign policy. Can he make up for the gaping void of nobody saying anything specific about Iraq tonight?
Hey, Obama just showed up a day early. That's pretty cool. (Although he stole Biden's thunder--I can't help wondering if Obama just can't stay away from the loving crowds.) What a way to get the floor going.
This is a very, very smart convention. I'm not sure it's enough though. If the Republicans hit the ground running with strong, specific proposals, the Democrats are going to look very weak in comparison. (If not, it won't matter.)
David Brooks thinks Clinton and Biden made the case for McCain being too much like Bush, so now McCain has to pick Lieberman. I don't mind the idea of Lieberman, but I don't agree with Brooks at all. Clinton and Biden's speeches simply convinced me that the Democrats desperately need people to believe McCain and Bush are carbon copies of each other. Is McCain that big a threat? I came into this convention thinking Obama had the election in his pocket. Now . . . I'm not so sure. McCain worries them something bad. (Or is it easier to define McCain than it is to define Obama?)
Tomorrow night, I will miss the first half of the night, but I won't miss Obama! Look for notes on his speech tomorrow night.
Tuesday, August 26th
Tonight is Hillary Clinton. Three things could happen:
- She comes out and says, "The evil news media and evil conservative bloggers and evil conservatives had made me look like I'm opposed to Obama. I've never been opposed to Obama!"
- She comes out and says, "My supporters are so wonderful. They love me so much. They went overboard. Of course, I support Obama!"
- She comes out and says, "You delegates are horrible. I hate you. You should have voted for me. I'm going to run for president anyway--nah nah nah."
A case in point of above: Mark Shields just referred to the Democratic party as "cerebral"--yawn, yawn. This stereotype of Democrats as intellectual know-it-alls and Republicans as down-homespun doofuses is so cliche (and so completely opposed to reality), I confess to an immediate disgust: Just how silly are you, Shields? (I personally think there are smart people on both sides of the political fence as well as foolish people; down-homespun types as well as sophisticated intellectuals (real and wannabes), etc. etc.)
Nancy Pelosi is up next. She just congratulated Hillary Clinton for a well-run race. I will say now (get it out of the way), I consider Hillary the worst type of feminist, the ultimate poor-me-female-victim-baby-me-please-men-are-so-meeeean representative. (After all, Pelosi didn't congratulate Edwards. Well . . .) Hillary is either an incredibly cunning woman who presents this image on purpose, or she really thinks that way. Either way, errrk.
Conventions always remind me of pep rallies (and, yes, that is what they are). No matter what the speakers say, people clap and scream and applaud. It can get really tedious.
Hey, Pelosi just flubbed. She recovered nicely. Instead, of immediately correcting herself (which always opens up the speaker to later parodies), she paused for three seconds and started over. Good job.
Urgh--reference to Ted Kennedy. No, I'm not a fan of the Kennedys. (In case, you are wondering, I do respect Obama.)
"Health care is a right."
No, it isn't. Do you think any politician will ever have the guts to say so? Or to not say, "We must do it for the children!!"
Pelosi isn't a bad speaker. She is playing all the right notes. Patriotism! "Barack Obama is right, and John McCain is wrong!" Brooks says her speech was cliche, but I think that works for an opening speech.
Brooks wants people to define Obama, but I'm not sure defining Obama is in the party's best interest. Shields points out that people don't know McCain either. Yeah.
I must comment on the hall: in the past, Democratic convention halls have always been dark and depressing. Unfortunately, I get such bad reception on my television, I'm listening to the convention more than watching it--wait, got onto cnn.com with the sound down: The hall is not completely awful looking. Still too flash and glam. Really, people, streamers and balloons always work fine.
Jimmy Carter video. He is a very, very nice man.
Barack Obama's sister: Maya Soetoro-ng. I enjoyed her speech. Sweet but not saccharine. What a unique family!
Jesse Jackson, Jr. Junior! Wow, where have I been? Nice Martin Luther King, Jr. "I've Been to the
Mountaintop" reference (my favorite of King's speeches). Do you think any of my college students would get it? No, probably not.
He just mentioned Obama's speech in 2004. I personally thought Obama and Schwarzenegger's speeches were the two best this-is-why-I-am-what-I-am speeches of 2004. Giuliani's speech was fun. Zell Miller's was the best written speech.
Jackson just stated that Obama won in Illinois without help from the "powerbrokers"--hmm, is that a reference to the Clintons and their powerbrokers? I get a big kick out of the Jacksons. As O'Rourke once said (I'm paraphrasing), "Jesse Jackson was the only candidate in the convention to display any knowledge of Western rhetoric." Jesse Jackson, Jr. is doing what he is supposed to do at a convention--sell the candidate.
PBS speaks to Carter. (He's 83--impressive!) What a nice guy!
Hooray, it's PBS' pundits: the historians! I love these guys. However, I admit to having little interest in Carter's impact on the Democratic party.
Judy Woodruff is interviewing a delegate who knew Barack Obama in high school. This is actually really funny (unintentionally). Like any good biographer, Judy Woodruff is trying to get the delegate to say, "Oh, yes, I just knew Obama would be something someday." But the lady just thought he would grow up to be a basketball player because he liked basketball. Now that is real life. (People not automatically knowing what will happen to individuals they met in high school)
I'm sorry Ted Kennedy is ill. But you know, illness doesn't make people any more likable than they were before they got ill. I think it is bizarre how negative people can be about the Bush "legacy" while positively cooing over the Kennedys. Geez, people, if you want nepotism and power built on nothing more than a name and an image-- In any case, I strongly question the Kennedy's supposed legacy, and I think JFK sold Cuba down the river. (I admire Caroline Kennedy; I think she is a real lady.)
Well, the speech was nothing remarkable. This hasn't really been a "meaty" night.
Oh, hey, the Democrats got their own Republican (like Republicans got Zell Miller).
Eh, Leach is no Miller. Miller's speech at the 2004 Republican convention was a work of art:
For it has been said so truthfully that it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag who gives that protester the freedom he abuses to burn that flag.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag,serves beneath the flag,whose coffin is draped by the flagwho gives that protester the freedom he abuses to burn that flag.