Thoughts on the GOP conventionPosted Wednesday, September 10, 2008, at 10:07 AM
The Big Mac Attack got underway as the GOP got its chance in the spotlight last week.
Like the Obama coronation the week before, McCain's crowning as his party's leader was an impressive spectacle. It lacked fireworks (at least real ones), but made up for it with a lot more balloons.
So here's some of my thoughts on the convention before the campaigns move beyond scripted theater to the real guts of the election season, which concludes 57 days from now:
* * *
Last week I said McCain needed to deliver the speech of his life -- and he did.
McCain will never be a great orator. It was a well-written speech that an orator like Obama could have made truly inspiring. But it did what McCain needed it to do.
He took advantage of the biggest spotlight of his life to let the American people know who he was and what he stood for.
Unlike most of the speakers who addressed the convention Wednesday night (we'll get to that later), McCain's speech was extremely positive. He made few attacks on his opponent. Instead, he promoted his own positions and policies.
It was a speech he needed to make and America needed to hear.
* * *
In the course of this campaign I have come to respect both candidates. As a nation, I think we will be well served no matter who we elect.
Both men are honest, sincere, trustworthy, patriotic and capable. Each, in their own styles, can get the job done and both, in a refreshing change, are less concerned with the power and glory of the job than the ability to use it to help make America better.
So I think it would be wrong to judge either man, or attack either candidate, on the basis of their character. In either man's case, that shouldn't be the issue of this campaign. Coming from completely different backgrounds and sets of experiences, both candidates are men of high character.
So it comes down to the issues themselves. That means carefully looking at what each man proposes, the details of how they will do it, and whether or not that is the process/procedure you think will work best to move America forward. As citizens, that's your homework assignment for the next two months.
* * *
McCain's speech dominated Thursday night, but most of the speeches and actual work took place Wednesday night, including the formal vote to make McCain and Palin the party nominees.
In the end, there was a motion to make McCain's nomination unanimous, which passed. But before that, the roll call of delegates left McCain 13 votes short of pure unanimity. Ron Paul had 11 votes (five from Palin's home state of Alaska) and Mitt Romney received two votes.
In a way, those votes were silly, since the party's nominee was clear.
The last time a party convention wasn't a pure coronation was 1952 when Adlai Stevenson was nominated on the third ballot. He also was the last candidate to be "drafted" on the convention floor. He had previously declared himself not to be a candidate, but his opening address to the convention so electrified delegates that by the third round of balloting he'd earned enough votes to win the nomination.
For the Republicans, the last time a convention wasn't a pure coronation was in 1948, when Thomas Dewey won the nomination on the third ballot, beating out nine other candidates, including "front runners" Minnesota Gov. Harold Stassen and WWII hero Gen. (ret.) Douglas MacArthur.
In the early days of polling, Dewey was considered to be a lock to win the general election, so much so that the Chicago Tribune, a Republican newspaper in those days, famously went to press before all the returns were in (it was a very close election) with the headline that read "Dewey Defeats Truman." It was considered one of the great upsets in American political history.
It's a lesson to us all. Never believe the polls until the votes have all been counted. If we believed the polls this time last year, and just accepted them, we'd be looking at a Guliani-Clinton race.
* * *
I don't know how it will play out among the crucial undecided voters in this election, but in terms of the GOP core faithful of conservatives and evangelicals, Sara Palin hit a home run with her 37-minute speech Wednesday night. A lot of that core group had been a little soft on McCain, and frankly, if he'd selected what apparently was his preferred choice, Joe Lieberman, he'd have lost them all. Instead, at least in terms of his own party, Palin is probably going to turn out to be a great choice for McCain.
Her appearance and speech clearly energized the crowd and she hit all the core GOP buttons.
There still will be a lot of questions about her ability to become president if McCain were to become incapacitated, but in terms of helping McCain get elected, it looks like he did a good job.
* * *
Palin is going to be McCain's "bulldog" in the same way that Biden will serve in that role for Obama. I think the vice-presidential candidate debate later this year could be really, really interesting. Think bare knuckles cage fighting.
* * *
Best joke to come out of the GOP convention: Palin will be an upgrade over Cheney because she's a better shot.
* * *
Personally, I thought the best speech Wednesday night was one that wasn't carried by the networks. You had to be following the PBS coverage to see it.
Mike Huckabee, whom I'd always considered a little off the wall, nevertheless delivered an outstanding speech that summed up Republican positions in general and in this election in particular. He gained my respect.
While most of the GOP speakers Wednesday night went out of their way to engage in unnecessary and I think inappropriate negative trash talk about their opponent, Huckabee was more interested in promoting McCain and the Republican positions with a well thought out positive message.
Huckabee seemed to recognize that trashing your opponent doesn't make your own policies and positions any better. You need to focus on what you'll do if elected, to convince the voters you're offering something they actually want, rather than raising boogey men and trying to frighten the voters away from the opponent, which has always seemed to me to be a tactic that implied you knew your own policies weren't that good.
Huckabee took the high road. He focused on what McCain and his policies would do FOR Americans, and I wish a lot more voters had had a chance to hear his positive-approach message.
* * *
Wednesday night there was a lot of "message" given to McCain's energy policies, with the crowd chanting over and over again "drill, baby, drill."
I don't have any problems with offshore oil drilling, but remember it will be ten years at best before you see any of that oil hitting your gas pump.
No question we need energy independence. When the first Arab oil embargo occurred in 1973, we imported 20 percent of our oil. Today it's 70 percent (with a lot of that from places outside the Mideast, like Nigeria and Venezuela). Face it, we're gas hogs. In the long run, we need to get away from a petroleum-based economy and move to a hydrogen-based economy, but that will take more vision than either party has really committed to so far, beyond lip service.
But the biggest laughs of the night on that issue came when the speakers denigrated Obama's plan to "just fill up your tires."
Which made me laugh, because it's actually a good idea and one advocated by the Bush Transportation and Commerce departments, as well as groups like AAA.
Properly inflated tires can literally save more than a quarter of a billion gallons of gasoline a year in this country (some estimates go as high a million gallons a day), which isn't insignificant. And it doesn't take a government program, increased fuel taxes, tricky international diplomacy, new global trade rules or a wink-wink handshake with big oil corporations from the government to do it.
It's a simple, easy thing any ordinary American can do to help fight our energy dependence of foreign oil. Obama embraced a simple idea that would help a lot, without any big government involvement, and then gets laughed at by the party that at least claims (despite evidence to the contrary) that it is the enemy of big government and that solutions to many of our problems should be turned back to the people.
* * *
Guliani's speech was pure hogwash. Facts, or at least facts in context, didn't seem to be important.
Don't tell me, for example, that Palin got more votes for governor than Biden did for president, unless you go ahead and put it in context. There are losing city council candidates in many of the nation's major cities who got more votes than Palin did. Alaska isn't exactly a populous state. I think there are more moose there than people.
And I wish Rudi and everybody else would get off this "left-wing media" bull. Pure smokescreen. Like blaming jews for a bad economy. It's just designed to shrug off any criticism without having to actually respond to the critique.
The fact is, two thirds (70 percent) of the daily newspapers in this country consider themselves, by their own admissions, to be at least fairly conservative to strongly conservative and they consistently endorse a majority of Republican candidates to major offices. And at least one broadcast network is so far in their pocket they don't even pretend to be fair and balanced. It might as well be called the GOP Network News. The Republicans need to quit biting the hand that actually feeds them.
* * *
If you listened to Wednesday night's speeches it would make you think the GOP has almost become the party of GOD, and I always get a little nervous when religion becomes too much a part of politics.
I don't like it when people start standing on stacks of Bibles to look down on anyone who disagrees with them. That's not what the Bible is for. And when you reach a point where politics and religion become indistinguishable from each other, then opposition becomes heresy, and actual sin. That's scary. Heretics have a tendency to get burned at the stake. And if you want a good example of how accusations of heresy are used to keep people in line, look at Iran.
Religion as politics has a nasty tendency to support repression of ideas, which is not what this country is about.
* * *
I also get a little tired when people start wrapping themselves in the flag as if it were a protective blanket or shield that automatically confers on them immunity from attack. In my opinion, that's a form of flag desecration. It's a symbol of our nation, not a political party, position or policy.
* * *
It's always a good thing when a politician has a war record. Americans vote for war heroes. Washington, Jackson, Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy and even Bush Sr. all used their military service to help them reach the White House. It's an accepted ploy, one that works, and McCain's supporters are stressing his legitimate heroism hard.
But the cynic in me looks at this and says that isn't what the job is really about. Stress in combat is not the same as stress in regular life. It occurs in a completely different context. Sgt. Alvin York, the WWI war hero, was one of the kindest, gentlest, most religious men this country ever produced. But in the unique environment of combat he was one of the most efficient cold-blooded killers ever to walk a battlefield.
How does getting your plane shot down (McCain) or your PT boat cut in half (Kennedy) qualify you to be president? It doesn't. But it makes for good copy and earns you some patriotic respect. We do love our war heroes.
But how many war heroes failed to succeed in civilian life? Some even cracked up under the non-combat stresses of "normal" life. It's not a perfect indicator.
Being a good president is about the ability to gather good facts, make intelligent decisions based on those facts, and surround yourself with good people.
Give all due respect to our war heroes. They more than deserve it. But in the end, it should be a null issue in deciding who to elect no matter how much you want to stress that it says something about a man's character. It can say a lot about character, but the actual skill set to be an elected official goes well beyond that.
McCain will use his war service to full advantage. He'd be a fool if he didn't. But he doesn't need it. His long years of political service to this country are more important for the job he's trying to win.
* * *
What idiot came up with the argument that Palin isn't qualified because she has five children and wouldn't have time to do the job? One, it's not exactly a tough job unless the guy above you dies. Two, it's an insult to every working mother in this country.
You can make a lot of solid arguments against Palin's qualifications, but that shouldn't be one of them.
* * *
The right to peaceful protest is fundamental to America.
I had no problems with the protestors outside the convention hall. They had a right to be there and express their opinions.
But I had serious objections to those tiny few who attempted to disrupt McCain's speech inside the convention hall. It was inappropriate and wrong. Terribly wrong.
Any protestor who wants their voice to be heard must be willing to allow their opponent to be heard.
Those who tried (unsuccessfully) to disrupt McCain's speech did absolutely nothing to help their cause. If anything, the principle of backlash occurred here. It probably added a few votes to McCain. It certainly didn't make their own positions look very good.
And I hope the courts throw the book at those specific individuals.
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