Friday, August 29, 2008

 

Open Thread

Click your heels three times and repeat, "There's no place like Nome; there's no place like Nome..." Then thread away!

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Beyond The Palin

From what I saw of her announcement, Palin is attractive, personable, very comfortable in a large public environment. That said, my gut tells me that this represents a strategic error on McCain's part.

More later.

UPDATE (9:00 PM): With a busy day at the office (trying to do some research on the newest Republican vice presidential candidate), now I can actually do a little more analysis here. On a purely tactical level, John McCain's choice was very smart. The other "short-list" choices -- Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty or even Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia -- would have been ho-hum one-day stories. Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge would have been multi-day stories -- but of the wrong sort: "Conservative base up in arms over pro-choice pick!!!"

Instead, from most accounts, conservatives are ecstatic over this pro-life mother of five -- with at least one notable exception. On a broader level,
the surprise choice -- arguably a far bigger surprise than Biden -- and its novelty completely changed the media focus from the Democrats' convention and Obama's speech. Instead, the discussion is about a young, rather attractive female governor selected by John McCain. And, it's always a bonus when a tactical move on your part causes a tactical error on the part of your opponent. That's what happened with the Obama campaign's initial reaction (as stated by press secretary Bill Burton):
"Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency. Governor Palin shares John McCain's commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade, the agenda of Big Oil and continuing George Bush's failed economic policies -- that's not the change we need, it's just more of the same."
For a campaign that has been all about "change" and bringing forward a new type of politics, this reaction completely undercut the Obama message. No surprise then that the campaign put out a later statement with both Obama and Biden's names on it reflecting what should have been the original reaction:
"Her selection is yet another encouraging sign that old barriers are falling in our politics. While we obviously have differences over how best to lead this country forward, Gov. Palin is an admirable person and will add a compelling new voice to this campaign."
Of course, you can't unring a bell. The first, ungenerous, release remains out there.

Hillary Clinton then chimed in with a statement that carried an interesting tone: "We should all be proud of Governor Sarah Palin's historic nomination, and I congratulate her and Senator McCain. While their policies would take America in the wrong direction, Governor Palin will add an important new voice to the debate."

Note the "we should all be proud" (emphasis added). Just in case Barack's crew didn't get the message.

Liberals and Obama supporters seem to be somewhat apoplectic over Palin -- because of the seeming hypocrisy of McCain saying that Obama is not experienced enough to be president, and then picking someone who hasn't been in the state house two years. I still think this does create an obvious inconsistency in the McCain message (the "strategic error" to which I referred in my immediate blog post above).

However, liberals should pause before they think that pointing out this apparent hypocrisy alone is going to be a winning argument. Several Hillary supporters during the DNC week complained about media sexism that they believe helped contribute to Hillary's loss -- and even if it didn't, there was anger about how some journalists had no problem using certain phrases and attitudes toward a female candidate, where the equivalent would never be directed at a black one. Geraldine Ferraro wrote a piece for the Daily News on the day of Obama's speech, making that point.

Whether one accepts this or not, the fact is that a certain number of Hillary supporters do. If either the Obama campaign or the broader media appears to attack Palin because she is a woman, it could backlash in a way that would be ultimately damaging to Obama.

Oh, and my friend Josh Marshall who has been practically doing cartwheels over a ready-made Palin scandal involving her office's alleged improper firing of the
state public safety commissioner because he refused to fire a state trooper who happened to be Palin's former brother-in-law. On the surface, one might be inclined to be troubled by the details of the story. Upon deeper inspection, even if Palin was in the wrong, she might accrue a hell of a lot sympathy because her ex-brother-in-law looks like a real dirtbag:
On July 17, the Public Safety Employees Association, with Wooten's permission, released the investigative file concerning the complaints brought against the trooper by the Palins, Palin's father, and others.

The internal personnel investigation began in April 2005, long before Palin became governor and months before her October 2005 announcement that she was running. The investigation into Wooten wrapped up in March 2006.

Troopers found four instances in which Wooten violated policy, broke the law, or both:

- Wooten used a Taser on his stepson

- He shot a moose without a permit, which is illegal. At the time he was married to McCann, who has a permit but never intended to shoot it herself.

- He drank beer in his patrol car on one occasion.

- He told others that his father-in-law - Palin's father, Chuck Heath - would "eat a f'ing lead bullet" if he helped his daughter get an attorney for the divorce.

Wooten's 10-day suspension was reduced to five after his union filed a grievance.


Just based on that, I can see Palin's wanting to get rid of this state trooper receiving support from the ACLU (over the Taser), PETA (over the moose) and Mother's Against Drunk Driving (getting sloshed in his patrol car). In other words, Palin could end up coming across very sympathetic. And the fact that she has made lots of enemies -- among Republicans -- because of the state's institutional corruption creates a fair bit of doubt that this investigation may well be politically motivated.

All that said, there is yet something that troubles me about the Palin pick, and this has nothing to do with her personally: As I said at the top, I liked what I saw at the rally (as regular commenter MS noted, she has a Tina Fey quality about her). Still, there is, in the choice, another example of a type of cynical Republican politics that churns my stomach.

Seeing Sarah Palin, I remember this walk I took back from the GOP convention space in San Diego in 1996 -- just about exactly 12 years ago. I found myself walking near a couple of young Caucasians (I'm thinking late-20s, maybe early-30s). One said to the other, "Just think, wasn't it supposed to be Quayle-Clarence Thomas?" The other said, "Oh yeah, right, that was what people were talking about." The meaning was clear: Some Republican strategist back in 1992 -- in the likelihood of a Bush re-election -- was game-planning what would be a great '96 ticket: Vice President Dan Quayle with Clarence Thomas as his running mate.

This isn't an apocryphal tale (and no, I hadn't been drinking). I never approached the two to get their names or where they had heard such an interesting story. Why Clarence Thomas would have ever even considered leaving a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court to get into national politics made little sense. However, the attitude exhibited by these two made perfect sense. It was driven by the same instincts that led George H.W. Bush to appoint Thomas to the Supreme Court to replace Thurgood Marshall -- and say that that was the best choice available. This, of course, being the party that is against affirmative action, uh, excuse me, racial preferences.

Now, Clarence Thomas has developed into a challenging and complex Justice with a much stronger grasp of the nuances of legal theory than most liberal critics will admit. However, that was hardly perceived at the time -- even among conservatives: As George Will said at the time:
"George Bush began the Thomas saga by saying two things he and everyone else knows are untrue -- that Thomas is the person best qualified for the Supreme Court, and that his race was irrelevant to his selection." When he was appointed, he had been in political appointments most of his time in DC. He had been on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit barely a year when he was elevated to the Supreme Court. Republicans decry identity politics, but this is how they play it -- with symbolic appointments that may be used for subsequent tactical moves down the line. Of course, Democrats play identity politics, but it is most often an attempt to balance the various parts of their electoral coalition.

Republicans do it for symbolic reasons or, as almost as often, for crass tactical ones. Thus, just as George H.W. Bush was willing to not let a simple thing like the Republican principle of being against affirmative action prevent him from selecting Thomas and calling him, "the best man for the job," John McCain is perfectly happy to push aside both a message stressing the importance of both experience and knowledge of foreign affairs in order to select a running mate who can be used to go after disgruntled Hillary Clinton voters. And, just in case, no one got the point, Palin genuflects before the previous examples of both Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Rodham Clinton. As Ramesh Ponnuru noted, the word for this is "tokenism."

Of course, Sarah Palin is as different from Barack Obama as Ferraro was from Clinton. Hillary Rodham Clinton -- whom I am not a fan of -- ran for office in New York and won. She then assembled a political machine and ran a hard race, but didn't quite win. Barack Obama who supposedly has no experience, with much less connections and resources than Clinton, assembled a national campaign, raised money and defeated an operation with a former president as one of its most powerful assets. That is an achievement earned. It wasn't given to him.

But, now, McCain's pick allows him to run for the White House because he, too, represents "change." And, yeah, Sarah Palin is certainly a change from Dick Cheney.

However, the GOP cynicism this identity pick also represents is change we've seen before.

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Mile High & Rising

Given the immense challenges he faced -- including some self-imposed added weight -- Barack Obama acquitted himself quite well. His speech was definitely more prosaic than those given in the past.

But that was a good choice. He has been hammered as sound and, uh, fiery, but signifying little. In short, that he was a man of style more than substance. For those so inclined to look, the substance has actually always been there: It just happens to be a more liberal substance than either conservatives or many moderates/independents might be comfortable with. That said, his most significant speeches have tended to emphasize more soaring, elegant, rhetoric than on concrete policy.

By contrast, most Hillary Clinton's speeches are the laundry list of a devoted policy wonk.
So, tonight, it almost seemed like watching an All-Star pitcher known for his fastball, decide to go with a "steady diet" (as the sportscasters say) of off-speed pitches. Well, if you can get the opposing line-up out that way, go for it.

And Obama did with an assertive speech and performance of principle, passion and, yes, patriotism.

A recurring theme during this year has been whether the Democrats have found "their" Reagan, i.e. a charismatic figure who can make a previously rejected political philosophy palatable to the broad middle of Americans. Obama may very well have done that tonight. Whereas Reagan made a powerful critique showing where big government had hurt the average American's capacity to achieve the American dream, Obama has turned the argument around:

"Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves...".

That line comes after a recitation of what Obama sees as government failing during the Bush years -- most notably [sitting] on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes."
(Yes, the government failures during Katrina were also at the local and state levels, but unfortunately "Heckuva job, Brownie" has become a mark of Cain which the Bush administration can't remove.)

Speaking of marks that can't be removed, exactly how much does John McCain love Phil Gramm -- whose permanent gift were the phrases "mental recession" and "nation of whiners"? Gramm left the campaign shortly after making those comments. Alas, McCain is stuck with them.

For an acceptance speech, Obama was remarkably restrained toward John McCain. That's not to say that he didn't criticize him -- and the Bush record -- but he engaged the military service/sacrifice issue head-on with more seemingly sincere praise than one usually finds in such a setting. It was relatively absent of personal attacks: After hearing about McCain's houses all throughout the convention, Obama didn't mention them. His critique on the economy was delivered in a tone of "more in sorrow than in anger": "It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it."

Despite my comments a couple of days ago, the setting worked very well. With all the blue carpeting and bunting, the columns hardly looked like any "Greek temple." Far from it: Instead, the sight of 80,000 ordinary folks vigorously waving their American flags in the clear Denver night was wonderful to behold; that it was at a Democratic convention was all the more endearing.

Obama adroitly tossed back McCain's "celebrity", by comparing the lives of people he's met along the campaign trail with those he worked with in his life as a community organizer -- and even his own grandmother. In doing so, he manages a two-fer: First, he answers his opponent's ads: "I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes." Secondly, he is indirectly speaking to those working class voters that Hillary Clinton was attracting and saying, as a certain former president would have, "I feel your pain.

Finally, Obama deflected the focus away from him: "What the nay-sayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me. It's been about you." Initially, that sounds like a reworking of the classic break-up line, "It's not you; it's me." But this is something different: Barack Obama is not yet asking Americans for their vote (as one would expect in this sort of a speech). Instead, he's asking them to become part of a movement of change that is made of everyday people.

But, artfully, this statement makes things rather dicey for Republicans next week. If they hoped that their convention was all about tearing apart Obama personally and contrasting him with John McCain, Obama has almost prepared the viewers for it -- and inoculated himself. The GOP could end up sounding like it's about making its convention only about Obama and McCain, rather than an overarching vision.

I don't give Obama quite a full A (in fact, my initial "grade" was a B+), because one slight negative came through over the last week: Obama is not nearly as unflappable as he seemed throughout the primary campaign. Given the enormity of the task in front of him going into this week, some nerves are understandable. But each time he appeared in a major setting, he made a verbal or mental miscue. If he wasn't such a powerful speaker, you wouldn't normally notice it. But, because of his verbal acuity, these errors seemed a bit jarring.

Consider:
1) He introduced Joe Biden as the "next president, uh, vice-president of the United States."
2) On the opening night of the convention, he announced he was in St. Louis, when he was in Kansas City (possibly an error based on all the travel -- he corrected it a little later when his daughter asked, "What city are you in, Daddy?"

3) On Wednesday, when he came out following Joe Biden's speech, he garbled one of his signature lines -- and ended up saying, "change comes from the top down," before correcting himself.

4) At the most significant line in his acceptance speech, he said, "I accept your nomination for presidency of the United States." [sic] A "the" was dropped.

Individually, all of these were minor, but, again coming from a rhetorical master, they seemed like a champion dancer losing his balance at inopportune moments.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

 

Obama's Blackjack Moment

Crossposted from Gotham Ghostwriters.

The best advice a speechwriter might want to give Barack Obama before his historic address tonight is -- tone it down, keep it down to earth, avoid the high-flying rhetoric and the aim-for-seats grandiloquence.

But then one considers the moment: In any event, the stakes would be high: This is, after all, a presidential nominating acceptance speech. On top of that, Barack Obama is the first African-American (literally!) to be a major party's nominee. Add to that, this is the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's, "I Have A Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Add to that, he is competing against his own phenomenal keynote address delivered four years ago -- the address that catapulted an obscure state senator onto the national (international?) stage. Add to that, he is following by a day, one of the best speeches of the premiere politician of the last generation. Add to that, he is following by two days the best speech his bitter rival in his own party has ever given. Add to that, over the last month, his opponent in the other party has managed to portray him as a vacuous "celebrity" who can't really lead the country because he is out of touch with "real people."

And what does Barack Obama do? Not only does he schedule the last day of his convention outside of the convention hall, he puts it in a football stadium that holds 75,000 people. This is the type of venue that a pope or a rock band usually rents. And just when one thinks that is impossible to, as the saying goes, take it to another level, reports begin to spill out that Obama is creating a "temple-like" stage with iconic Ionic (ironic?) pillars.

Look, I'm not a poker player. Indeed, I'm suspicious of all legal (and illegal) gambling.

But, there is one card game of which I am somewhat familiar. No pun intended, but it seems like Barack Obama may well be a fan of blackjack: Rather than try to shy away from the "celebrity" tag -- as demonstrated by his selection of verbose, yet ultimately blue-collar background, Joe Biden as his vice president -- Obama is doubling-down on his bet: He wants to think big – and wants a stage big enough for the dreams he dares to share..

He is embracing the fact that, when given the chance to make his case to an audience, Barack Obama succeeds by selling himself and his vision. That was enough to sell several thousand copies of his "Dreams From My Father" well before he was nationally known. That was enough, four years ago, to capture a national convention in the way an unknown politician never previously had (remember, Ronald Reagan had been a fairly well-known actor and TV presence well before his 1964 speech in support of Barry Goldwater).

That has been enough to inspire millions on the campaign trail over 18 months.

That was, finally, enough to vanquish the most powerful political machine the Democratic Party has created in the last two decades.

But, will it be enough to extricate Obama out of the "celebrity" quicksand in which John McCain and the Republicans have managed to immerse him in the last several weeks?

No one will know until the moment it happens.

But, as a person who doesn't agree with Barack Obama ideologically, I must say that he is either the most arrogant politician to come along in quite some time -- or is the canniest and bravest. After all, given all that has been listed above, it is quite clear that, absent everything else, Barack Obama had a colossal task ahead of him. Yet, at each step, he has chosen to add more weight to the task. If he fails, he will fail spectacularly: There is no middle-ground here. Bill Clinton, John Kerry and Joe Biden have set this up as well as any set of Democrats could. But the rest is in his hands, brain and mouth.

The difference between a good speech and a great speech is often found in how well the message matches the messenger. The Obama '04 convention speech was as perfect a marriage as one will find. Obama '08 is a different man in a different place. America is a different country in different circumstances. Can he manage to 1) reintroduce himself, 2) speak to the nation's economic anxiety, 3) convince an audience near and far that he will keep the nation secure, and 4) assure America that he is ready to be a president (to borrow a phrase from the man who took the stage Wednesday night) -- even as he looks somewhat different from all previous American presidents.

That last part is the most difficult. It can't be said flippantly, as in the, "I don't look like the guys on the currency." Rather, it is said as simple fact. It is not to put race out there as either shield or sword. It is to just recognize fact; it is to show that Barack Obama is comfortable in his own skin.

Because, ultimately, that is what Americans want to see in their president -- a man who knows who he is and what he wants to do. That, in essence, is why American selected George W. Bush over Al Gore: It's not the "beer" test; it is the "self-assurance" test.

Is Barack Obama a self-assured visionary who knows where he wants to lead America -- and is ready to explain it?

Let's find out.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

 

Grand Slam

After a couple of uneven nights, the Democrats really hit their stride Wednesday. When even John Kerry can give a strong, forceful speech (including a line that was a hard jab at John McCain and a self-deprecating comment -- really, see for yourself), it would be hard to have a bad night.

But, beyond that, Bill Clinton demonstrated why, despite his fumbles on the primary trail campaigning for his wife, he is still the premiere political master of the last twenty years. Furthermore, his speech -- remarkably concise, nuanced and balanced between domestic and international concerns -- retrospectively made Hillary's Tuesday night speech even better. The major criticism of Hillary's generally well-received speech was that she never stressed that Barack Obama was ready for the challenges -- particularly those in foreign policy and national security -- of the presidency.

Bill Clinton filled that part in -- and then some. So, together, the two made a real one-two punch. Hillary's address was something of a personal one to her supporters, explaining why she ran -- and how Obama's candidacy can help push those concerns. Tonight, Bill came across as the elder statesman of the party -- showing what Democratic policies can actually do with a president who can enact them. Most significantly, he compared Obama with himself -- not in a self-serving way, for once: He said that he was declared too young and inexperienced as Obama is now.

Now, Republicans and conservatives will find much to milk in that statement: The fact that American interests were repeatedly attacked by Islamist radicals during a decade when, generally speaking, America was respected in the world may be a fair critique of the Clinton years. That said, for those not necessarily invested in either conservative analysis or Republican policies, if they only recall eight years of general peace and prosperity, Clinton's blessing of Obama as "ready to be president" may well go a long way. The only thing Democrats should be upset about from Clinton's speech is that it was in the 9 o'clock hour -- a full hour before the broadcast networks give their brief coverage. This was a speech worthy of being seen by as many people as possible.

In short, his appearance demonstrates why, a half-century later, Republicans must still think that the most significant legislation they ever got passed was the 22nd Amendment. Otherwise, that guy may well have been finishing his fourth term.

Joe Biden, meanwhile, was as disciplined as Bill Clinton (given each man's talent for verbosity, convention planners must have feared the night going into the wee hours): He finished speaking a few minutes before 11. He showed why he brings some considerable assets to the ticket. Even though he got the cadence wrong on his "That's not change; that's more of the same," that passage going after McCain on foreign policy issues was a powerful, and, I believe, effective.

The parade of military figures coming out in support of the Democrats was also impressive, but again, except for people watching on C-SPAN, how much of America saw it?

Still, this was a very powerful night for the Democrats, both rhetorically and image-wise. The Clintons, Biden, Kerry and others have done everything they possibly could for Barack Obama: Now it's up to him on Thursday to see if he can close the deal himself.

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Snarky Transvestites from Planet X (or my preseason NFL rankings)

Now that I have your attention...

With the rest of the world watching Obama's coronation, it seems like an appropriate time to offer my NFL preseason rankings. This is how the teams look going into this year:

ELITE

Patriots: The only team that comes into this season with an elite ranking. Sure, they lost the Super Bowl, but they still have Brady and Moss and Welker and Maroney and a good offensive line and a decent defense. I don't think they'll go undefeated again, but they are THE team to beat.

EXCELLENT

Colts: This team just looks ready to break down. If Manning goes down, so do the Colts. But until they do, they have to be considered an excellent team.

GOOD

49ers: The Cinderalla Niners will shock a lot of people this year, and are my pick for NFC Champ. Frank Gore does his best Marshall Faulk impression, while J.T. O'Sullivan becomes this year's Kurt Warner in Mike Martz's offense. Watch WR Josh Morgan too, who has had a nice preseason as a 6th round pick. If Mike Nolan can get some defense going on this team, they could be scary good.
Cowboys: There is nothing wrong with the Boys. They have the talent. They will be the team to beat in the NFC, but I see them losing in the playoffs again. They have no character, but plenty of characters.
Panthers: If Delhomme stays healthy, this team goes far. Welcome the newest running back sensation, Jonathan Stewart. Like the 49ers, the only question in Carolina is the defense.
Jaguars: With another year under QB David Gerrard's belt, the Jags will challenge the Colts for division dominance.
Chargers: This team is still good. But with OLB Shawne Merriman playing on two torn knee ligaments, expect the defense to take a hit.

AVERAGE

Texans: I have seen more than a few prognosticators call for a big year from the Texans. While I think they will be better, they have too many guys with injury histories, starting with QB Matt Schaub, and including running backs Ahman Green and Chris Brown. That said, their defense is quite respectable. But they have to show me they can stay healthy if they are to rank any higher than this.
Broncos: This is the year Jay Cutler enters the ranks of elite quarterbacks. The running game should be servicable with Selvin Young. The defense is still a question mark though.
Steelers: The Steelers should be challenged for the division title by the Browns this year. The Steeler defense gives them the edge.
Browns: The best team not to make the playoffs last season should be able to slip in as a wild card this year. If the Steelers slip, the Browns should move in for the division title.
Redskins: Every year they come loaded for bear, and every year they disappoint. This team will surprise, possibly even shooting the Cowboys from the top.
Packers: Without Favre, the Packers aren't bad. The problem here is QB Aaron Rodgers' injury history, plus his attitude.
Vikings: Adrian Peterson starts out strong, then gets hurt. This team's success rides on Peterson's ship.
Giants: No Osi, no Strahan. Welcome back to Earth G-Men.
Eagles: Donovan McNabb's last season will end early with his annual injury. Next year, he goes to Chicago.
Seahawks: This is the most boring team which still manages to win a lot of games. Holmgren is a good coach, but even good coaches can't make filet mignon out of hamburger.
Bills: The Toronto Bills just sounds wrong, much like "Bills win the Super Bowl" sounds wrong.
Bengals: The Bungles should be a little better this year, but they still have no defense.
Jets: You weren't honestly expecting that adding Brett Favre instantly makes this sorry team a playoff contender? After this season, Jet fans will long for the carefree days of Chad Pennington and Herman Edwards.
Titans: QB Vince Young needs to age a little more quickly. In his defense, they haven't exactly given him any receivers. At least he should be able to have a running game (LenDale White and rookie Chris Johnson) to take some pressure off him.
Saints: Reggie Bush = bust (and I don't mean the Canton style either).
Lions: This is the year WR Calvin Johnson breaks out. Unfortunately, the rest of the team is still stuck in neutral.
Buccaneers: This will be Jon Gruden's last year as the Bucs coach (because he will be fired), so expect it to be like a bad "Chuckie" movie.
Bears: If you're Lovie Smith, and when you have to choose between quarterbacks Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman, you walk down to the front office and say, "You're killing me guys!"
Raiders: If you want to have some fun, listen to coach Lane Kiffin's press conference, and try to interpret the subtle messages Kiffin is sending to Al Davis. The sad thing about the whole Kiffin-Davis divorce-in-the-making is that this team isn't that bad. QB Jamarcus Russell should be fun to watch, and Darren McFadden should be a great running back. The defense is decent too. But this team has no chemistry.

BAD

Falcons: The Matt Ryan era begins in Atlanta. This team looks like it just might generate some offense, but don't expect miracles. The Falcons have a long way to fly.
Cardinals: Matt "Hollywood" Leinart can't seem to unlodge Kurt Warner from the starting quarterback job, which is a sad commentary on this team's front office. I would tell Cardinal fans to expect a long year, but they should be used to that by now.
Rams: It will take more than one season of rebuilding to revive this team.
Ravens: Quoth the Raven, "Not this year..."
Dolphins: Hey Dolphin fans! Get used to hearing this: "And the punting team comes out..."
Chiefs: Remember that great draft the Chiefs allegedly had? Unfortunately, they didn't get a new coach. This team will actually get worse. If you enjoy watching Herm Edwards blow his stack in press conferences, you will love this season.

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King For A Day

Obama had better deliver Thursday, because, if the old saw about pride going before fall is true, he's setting himself up for a major tumble.

After the GOP has painted him for weeks as a "celebrity" out of touch with average folks (including an ad with Moses), Obama actually doubles down on their caricature of him: Pillars in the stadium?

Wow.

What, no servant girls to feed Joe Biden grapes in the background?

Kinda undermines the, "How can John McCain understand ordinary folks when he lives in multiple houses?" argument, don't it?

Oh, and did those 1.5 million contributors to his campaign really think they were contributing to quite this level of ostentatiousness?

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

 

Convention Thoughts...

Hillary Clinton gave a very good speech. Yes, it did not include a line about why Barack Obama would be a great commander-in-chief. Yet, in most every other respect it managed to walk the fine line between being a passionate recitation of why she ran for president and a fairly convincing assertion of why her supporters need to vote for Obama in the fall.

Perhaps the best part was closer to the end where she managed to glide seamlessly between discussing the Seneca Falls Convention on women's rights to reminding people of the work of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. Yeah, there was a certain amount of self-serving in that imagery (as if common political problems are on a par with with helping slaves run away). However, the two historical anecdotes, helped create an image of the shared progress of women and blacks. Nice touch.

Will the PUMAs buy it? Let's see.

As good as Hillary's speech was, I thought Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer was remarkable. You don't have to buy into Democratic Party views on energy policy to see why Schweitzer is likely to be a real political rock star for some time. The prepared text in no way does him justice. So, check the video. The guy is a natural showman. He was the only speaker who clearly was having fun from the minute he opened his mouth. He also manage to master the ability of moving around at the podium, making regular eye contact with various parts of the audience -- and never losing his place in the teleprompter. When he told the audience to stand up to tell the "petro-dictators" that America wouldn't continue to be held captive by them, the place went wild. It should be noted that -- according to the DNC's schedule, Schweitzer was only supposed to speak for five minutes. He ended up going fifteen. Not sure that was his fault or the programs, but the end result was that Hillary's speech finished at 11:05 PM on the East Coast, technically out of the 10 o'clock prime-time slot. Will her supporters feel dissed?

Again, we'll see.

Finally, from what I saw of the other prime time speakers (PA Sen. Bob Casey did slightly above average, while VA ex-Gov. Mark Warner was "OK" as the keynote speaker; he correctly noted that he wasn't going to make anyone forget Obama's speech four years ago) -- the real interesting surprise was Alabama grandmother Lily Ledbetter. She sued her employer Goodyear over pay equity. She won in the lower courts, but lost in the Supreme Court, which in a 5-4 ruling, stated that Ledbetter hadn't filed a claim of pay inequity against Goodyear in time.

Now, put aside the exact details of the case. What was smart on the part of the Democrats was to have a very sympathetic older lady framing a Supreme Court issue that wasn't related to abortion. "Barack Obama is on our side," said Ledbetter, . He is fighting to fix this terrible ruling, and as president, he has promised to appoint justices who will enforce laws that protect everyday people like me." Ledbetter is an ideal messenger to reach those women who may have concerns about Obama, but understand the importance of the Supreme Court (it was no coincidence that Ledbetter mentioned, by name, Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent).

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Capturing The Moment

Via Andrew Sullivan, Juan Williams captures many of my sentiments on Michelle Obama and co. last night:

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Monday, August 25, 2008

 

Michelle's (And Sasha's) Moment

It's easy to see why Obama did the unusual move of having his wife speak on the first night.
She gave a very poised, heartfelt address that while obviously laudatory and 'political', didn't seem contrived. She sounded like a woman who loves and respects her husband and the father of her children. Prepared text can be found here. Video is here.

My favorite line:
He's the same man who drove me and our new baby daughter home from the hospital ten years ago this summer, inching along at a snail's pace, peering anxiously at us in the rearview mirror, feeling the whole weight of her future in his hands,
determined to give her everything he'd struggled so hard for himself, determined
to give her what he never had: the affirming embrace of a father's love.

And, proving that if you ever want to have a golden unscripted political moment, make sure you bring a young kid along.

After Michelle finished her speech, she brought out her two daughters. After they walked around the podium a couple of times, Barack appeared on a big screen. He explained he was in Kansas City. The youngest daughter, Sasha, said "Hello, Daddy" into a microphone. Okay, that part was scripted (otherwise, why would they have given a seven-year old a mic?). After, Barack said a couple of things, Sasha apparently decided she wasn't finished and asked, "What city are you in?" After his whereabouts were once again determined, she finished off with an, "I love you, Daddy."

Absolute sweetness. Pure television gold. Somehow, I don't think Michelle and Barack minded being upstaged by their daughter.

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Clinton Double-Speak

Gosh, it's difficult living in the Clinton Universe (because, after all, it is their universe -- we just live in it).

It's impossible for the Clinton gang to let this primary go -- while continually complaining about the Obama campaign's behavior and the media's biases. Here's a great example: 1) You have Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell complaining about how much the media was for Obama. "Absolutely embarrassing," he whined.

2) Another big-state Clinton-supporting governor -- Ohio's Ted Strickland -- uses almost the exact same language to complain about media coverage.

3) Clinton moneyraiser Terry McAuliffe tells the Obama campaign to stop whining -- about the Clintons: "You're nominated to be president. It's your campaign. At some point, quit talking about the Clintons and move on."

4) And what will McAuliffe and other Clinton supporters be doing when their party's nominee is giving his acceptance speech? Long gone from Denver, of course. Think about this: McAuliffe is a former chairman of the Democratic Party -- and he's leaving without hearing his nominee give his acceptance speech. And, yeah, the historical nature of the first African-American becoming the official nominee might be worth sticking around for, as well.

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As Gaffes Go...

...you can do worse than "Barack America." (In fact, if I were the Obama campaign, I would embrace the slip-up and go with it -- a la, "Barack America -- F**k Yeah!") Introducing Joe Biden as the "next president," though is a little worse.

Meanwhile, McCain's "pro-Hillary as VP" ads are something of a stroke of genius.

Hillary tries to denounce them. But it sure keeps the conversation going for a couple more days.


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