Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Clear-Cut Case of 1988 Thinking

It is the mid-summer of 1988, and you are a comparatively lackluster Republican candidate for President--the presumptive nominee--swimming upstream against the challenge of succeeding a two-term President, and suffering from a curiously durable problem closing the deal with your own base. They don't like you, it so happens, because they remember your erratic voting record on issues such as birth control and school prayer while you served at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. What do you do? Very, very simple: You choose a completely unvetted but notoriously fulminating extremist firebrand as your running mate.

The beauty of this decision (all but entirely missed by the mainstream press at the time) is that the extreme wing of your own party is made of people who will actually be more likely to support your decision, the more universally it is panned by journalists and beltway insiders. The bumpier things get for your pick, the stronger your own standing with the equally un-worldly supporters you've been courting with such uneven success up to now. Surely you can't be an elitist who owns multiple properties and can't be trusted to carry the Evangelical war-standard into battle, either one, if you're prepared to defend the "good name" of someone self-evidently out of his depths in the national dialogue.

Once you've galvanized that far-right-wing of your party by choosing someone less intelligent and more reactionary than you have ever been on the scariest day of your political career, your victory is secure: Your base has more people in it, they consistently have "deeper party affiliation," they are far more unified in their agenda for the next four years, and, best of all, they've already lavished upon you an enormous funding advantage, even before deciding for sure that they're completely convinced you won't jilt them at the altar. All you have to do is make the crazies in your midst a lot angrier at the national intelligentsia, and you're our next President.

Except this isn't 1988. This is 2008. And none of those built-in advantages favor the Republicans this time--from the ground-game to the funding to the depth of enthusiasm for each party's agenda, this time all the major factors favor the Democrats. And that's why, after another day of machination on the choice, McCain's VP nominee looks more and more like it has the trappings of a grave mistake. Even if the "swells" completely overplay their hand and seriously offend the extremist right with their caricatures of Sarah Palin, the extremist right won't win this election for John McCain. Indeed the battle-plan is already emerging, and its a good one: to the obvious "more of the same" arguments already being proffered by Team Obama, the first Sunday news circuit prominently featured Democratic chargesthat it is Mr. McCain, ironically, whose judgment has emerged as the significantly less mature and more reckless. (A charge that carries with it the inestimable bonus of being true.)

For McCain, the next seven to fourteen days are certainly the most crucial; his choice of Sarah Palin has been met by uncertainty and suspended judgment more than any single other emotional note, both inside the Beltway and out--which is why the impact of Hurrican Gustav on the Republican Convention carries with it such an enormous downside risk. If the Democrats succeed in defining Ms. Palin before Senator McCain can do so, the obvious result will be that significantly more centrists will jump across, than extremists will jump aboard.

And this time -- this time -- that's a trade that a lackluster Republican candidate can not afford to make.

Dave O'Gorman
("The Key Grip")
Gainesville, Florida Click Here to

Getting to Know Your Republican Candidate for VP

This post is a bit out of the usual schedule, for me, but I couldn't let this slip away. Click Here to Read More...

How to Beat John McCain in One Easy Step

As we brace for Hurricane Gustav -- and the hurricane of cynical pseudo-outrage that will issue forth from Republicans, claiming that Katrina comparisons are exploitative of human tragedy -- it seems the time might be right to take a working holiday from the lengthy posts on the subject of using Republican words against them to win elections.

...Not because it would be in any way crass or opportunistic or unsporting to make such a post right now, as the whole lot of them prepare for a week of fiddling while Rome drowns--indeed rather the opposite, there hasn't been a more fitting time in all of this election cycle to speak earnestly and from the heart about the best strategies for ending Republican incompetence in Washington. But it does rather seem that videos like this one make the argument all by themselves. Click Here to Read More...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Get Me Someone Stupid Who Likes to Fish

The Republican machine in this country is nothing if not shrewd. Every four years they set everything else aside--from the core of their small-budget ideology, to basic civility, and back again--and figure out a way to win. Many of their wins are cynical to the point of being downright odious, and every four years this cynicism is splashed across the national stage with a curiously well-practiced and consistent formula consisting of equal parts cheerful derision and bully confidence.

I myself became a Democrat at 11:32PM on election night of 1988, after voting for George H. W. Bush, when I saw a news report depicting a fusillade of perhaps a hundred Bush campaign workers, standing shoulder to shoulder along the sidewalk leading to a polling place in New Mexico and holding signs that said, "ILLEGAL ALIENS AREN'T ALLOWED TO VOTE." Bad thing to do? Obviously. Odious? You betcha. So how many legal Hispanic citizens do you suppose Dukakis lost New Mexico by? And in how many other places around the country was the same bully nonsense going on, with the same, bully impunity?

But it would be easy to under-specify the brilliance of this particular page from the Newt Gingerich / Lee Atwater battle manual: The point isn't that the GHWB campaign did something dirty, and knew it was dirty when they were doing it. That's the way these charges often get left, and the smug-and-smarmy comeback from the other side is as predictable as levee failures in the poor neighborhoods of New Orleans: "Both sides do things that are dirty and know they're dirty when they do them, Dave."

Well.... Maybe. But what makes the Republican playbook so effective is that they never try anything dirty, cynical, or manipulative, if that particular antic isn't also guaranteed to resonate with an undecided voter who's too lazy to unwind the cynicism of what they did. This is something Republicans get, instinctively, that Democrats don't get because they can't bear the thought of it: most undecided voters are undecided not because they haven't thought about the pressing issues of the day; they're undecided because they don't want to think about the pressing issues of the day. They want to be shown a simple, one-sentence heuristic by which they can make their choice and be comfortable defending it at the lunch counter, and then they want to go back to thinking about, literally, everything else.

Please understand: this doesn't make them bad people. In a Democracy you don't actually have to pass a written test to cast your vote (indeed the point of a Democracy is rather the opposite). What it does make them, as Democrats have seen too many times before, is a group of people far more likely to make their choice of candidate based on second-best considerations of personal affinity and perceived empathy, rather than on administrative competence and better ideas. Administrative competence and better ideas are far, far, far harder to defend at the lunch counter than perceived empathy.

So file today's post under the heading of revision-and-extension of my previous reaction to Palin, if you must, but the Palin pick certainly carries with it the potential to saddle Obama and Biden with a very difficult dilemma--the dilemma that destroyed Al Gore: If Obama and Biden run straight at Ms. Palin, the risk of their aggressive response would lie in the very fact that it would be so easy. She is, first and foremost, a profoundly un-astute person, if not actually stupid. She has all the Presidential poise and aura of the runner-up in a PTA Treasurer's race. She holds a bachelor's degree with a major in Journalism and, as you surely know by now, she was the mayor of a town of fewer than 10,000 people less than two years ago. Other commentators have said that she's pretty. She isn't.

No less remarkable is what she adds by choice to this already considerable handicap: a cornucopia of extremist right-wing views that make Tom Delay look like the voice of reason in the Republican Party. She believes creation ought to be taught in public schools (right after the morning prayer to Jesus, of course), she thinks global warming exists but only as a natural part of the earth's history and not as a result of any human intervention in the climate, and she thinks abortion ought to be illegal even in cases of rape or incest. She believes gun ownership rights extend to all guns in all situations, and she regards the very idea of government with the kind of inbred distrust that only someone who doesn't remotely understand the functioning of a modern mixed-economy could possibly endeavor to defend. Set her positions out to any of the nation's remaining undecided voters, and they would agree with her on a grand-total of zero of them. That's what makes those voters undecided in the first place, after all.

On top of all of this baggage, there is also the dark cloud of one explicit scandal and the rampant innuendo of a second, far more juicy one. The explicit scandal, which it seems safe to presume will not amount to much, involves her alleged abuse of the power of her office in trying to get her brother-in-law fired from his job with the State Police, after he and Palin's sister began sinking into the nightmare of an acrimonious divorce. The Republican-controlled state legislature, receiving a full-bodied middle finger from the Governor's office when it requested a special prosecutor, has appropriated a small budget for a completely private investigation into the matter, but barring a major bombshell in the case it seems unlikely that such an off-the-books inquiry would ever carry the same cache in the court of public opinion as a more conventional one. Time will tell, but Palin would appear to be safe on this score.

The other scandal--which so far is completely unconfirmed and exists only as a swirling background hum of side-mouthed comment in the blogosphere--is that the now well-known, four month-old baby with Down's Syndrome that Palin gets so much credit for not aborting while still curled inside her womb, isn't actually hers. Among the tidbits that would seem to support this theory? That her fifteen year-old daughter was pulled from school for whole months at a time because she had mononucleosis, an ailment that rarely debilitates people for more than a few days at a time; that Palin's physique registered just the sorts of visual changes that would distinguish a carefully crafted lie from the real thing; and that Palin herself flew from Texas to Alaska "when her water broke," in order that the child could be born on Alaskan soil--a story which, even if it's true, should probably have resulted in criminal charges.

So Palin is, at all events, a deeply, deeply flawed candidate for Vice President. (And never mind the ways in which she changes the dynamic about Obama's readiness vs. McCain's age--which see, yesterday's post.) But as Gore learned in 2000, just because it would be easy to destroy one's opponent does not mean that this would be the best political strategy for dealing with him or especially with her.

Gore gets a lot of the blame for the last eight years in the minds of a lot of Democrats--and never mind the fact that he actually won--but a lot of that blame now seems unfair to me, since his choices were to alienate people by sounding teachy and elitist, or stoop to his opponent's level. Imagine, now, how narrow the maneuvering room would have been if, on top of Bush's militant ignorance on every major issue (he didn't even have a passport until after the general election campaign had already started), he had also been far more folksy and likable, a credible middle-class everyman, and, irony intended here, a woman. It would have been next to impossible to shine a bright enough light on the other candidate without making it impossible for Joe Undecided to empathize with Gore. The policy arguments would've been all correct (as they surely were), but the one-sentence takeaway would've been, even more than it already was, that the other choice was "someone who understands me," for which read, someone who doesn't talk down to me and whom I don't feel threatened by.

And make no mistake, the difficulty of that path was what decided the 2000 election: When Gore famously melted-down in the first debate, throwing the first-ever literal hissy fit on national television, it wasn't because he was bent on needlessly fumbling away his chance; it was because he and his advisers had carefully examined the situation and concluded that calling Bush stupid and/or wrong would cost even more votes than just standing there loosing oxygen through a slit in one side of his mouth.

Eight years later, Obama and Biden face precisely the same risk: run full-offense, straight at Palin, and Joe Everyman chooses a fellow hunter/fisherman over the nerdy policy wonks with the mean streaks who enjoy beating-up on unprepossessing women; run a "I can hunt and fish too" campaign (viz, John Kerry drinking Budweiser straight from the bottle while the Red Sox played in the World Series) and the conservative columnists will nail them to the wall on grounds of insincerity.

Worse still, the McCain/Palin message for the fall election cycle, at least the one that was unveiled yesterday, is the perfect storm of infuriatingly self-contradictory and perfectly appealing to the low-thought-value voters in the undecided middle: They're going to run on a -- get this! -- on a reform platform. And never mind that the reform people are craving is the result of the antics of members of McCain and Palin's own party. Specifically, never mind that fact because minding it won't do you any good: Joe Uncommitted doesn't want a civics lecture about party affiliation and incumbency, and he'll vote for McCain if you insist on stuffing that lecture down his throat. Already saddled with the dilemma of how to run at Palin without running over her, Obama/Biden must now also resolve the question of how to shine a bright light on the ridiculousness of Palin's reform message, without making anyone who momentarily bought into it feel ridiculous.

The good news in all of this is how simple the answer is--and it's something that Team Obama could do more of with that old guy we all seem to have forgotten at the top of the Republican ticket, too: You show these folks, in your commercials, speaking in their own words. Nobody held a gun to Palin's head and forced her to say that she opposed the "Bridge to Nowhere," after she'd already gone on the record publicly defending it at several different levels of government and in several different venues. Nobody held bamboo chutes up to Palin's fingernails and forced her to say on the record that the universe is six thousand years old and was created by God. Nobody laughed or belittled Palin into saying there's no such thing as global warming.

This was the profoundly effective third choice that escaped the brightest minds of the Gore campaign: You defeat a person like this, not by attacking them for what they've said, or by letting them get away with it. You defeat a person like this by showing Joe Undecided that this other person isn't like them at all. You defeat a person like this by giving Joe Undecided the simple-to-grasp, one-sentence cover that he needs at the lunch counter if he's expected to vote against someone who, in the venomously monstrous words of Kay Baily Hutchinson, "likes to do the things that Americans like to do." You defeat someone like this by stepping out of their way and letting them hang themselves on their own, hate-dappled ignorance. Al Gore didn't think he could do that without seeming shrill. John Kerry tried it and couldn't pull it off. If there's one single piece of good news in the last few rounds of the air campaign, it's that the Obama people are smart enough to see this third path, and take advantage of it.

Dave O'Gorman
("The Key Grip")
Gainesville, Florida Click Here to

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Hidden Blunder of the Palin Pick, Revealed

There's (general) support for John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin for running-mate among the analysts of the mainstream media. Very few have openly questioned the decision and a few have even resurrected the word "maverick," notably CNN's website, where a besotted editorial staff has been handing McCain get-out-of-jail-free cards for the thick end of two months, now, in the interest of stoking their ratings by tightening the race.

Here in the comment fora of the blogosphere, reactions from both sides of the spectrum seem to suggest that McCain gains ground by choosing Palin. There are now several separate stories in the internet news community about the pick (either that it's about to be made, has been made, someone has reacted, or that Palin herself has expressed doubts as to the job description), and in each case the comments beneath the story may be fairly characterized as either "back-slapping approval," from the rightward-leaning, or pursed-lipped unease from the political left.

She certainly does nothing to rattle the already-rattled Evangelicals on McCain's right flank. She likes to hunt and fish (two activities which were described by Kay Baily Hutchinson on national television a few hours ago as "things Americans like to do," emphasis original), she eats mooseburgers (also good news, apparently--assuming you're not a moose), and she is a lifetime member of the NRA. Her fervently pro-life credential is well known and would be no less convincing if the press didn't continue to insist on the odious practice of suggesting that she might otherwise have aborted her youngest child, a line of argument for which someone, somewhere, surely should be fired if not actually shot.

Those who've criticized Palin have focused on two things: the fact that she's a first-term Governor from a sparsely populated state (indeed, eighteen months ago she was the Mayor of a town with about 9,000 people in it), and that she has become ensnared in a controversy that carries with it all the trappings of a Cheney-esque abuse of power: As her sister and brother-in-law sank into the nightmare of an acrimonious divorce, Palin apparently tried to pressure a subordinate official to have her brother-in-law fired from the Alaska State Highway Patrol. The investigation is, at this very moment, still open--and could conceivably lead to Palin herself being criminally charged.

But, for all of that, there's actually a much bigger problem with the Palin pick.

A casual trip through those same blogosphere comment fora over the past six hours leads a person inexorably to a realization that the VP-pick-bounce for McCain might carry an Alaska-sized sting in its tail. What seems to have happened so far is a pattern in which a left-leaning blog commenter says something to the effect of, "If this first-term Governor with no foreign policy experience is ready, then Barack Obama is ready, period," after which a right-leaning counterpart posts back with, "Governor Palin isn't auditioning for the top job," with the latter comment generally punctuated by venomous name-calling of the sort that suggests the first commenter is a knife-raping puppy eater who plays golf with Satan every Wednesday on his way to the Communist youth-rally.

This may have been--I hate to question a decorated POW's judgment twice in one day, but this may have been--the extent to which Team Crankypants bothered to think this all through. Obviously I'm not privy to their discussions on the matter, but still it's easier than it should be to imagine this entire discussion unfolding in those same two, as-then hypothetical sentences. "What do we do about the charge that Palin isn't ready?" "We'll point out that Palin isn't running for President, and then call the other person an America-hater."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, that is an unforced error on the part of the McCain campaign.

Because, you see, the obvious retort on the part of the left-leaning blog commenter is to bring up something that McCain had done a relatively good job of keeping from prominence in the conversation--something Team Obama had been justifiably gunshy about hitting with any kind of forcefulness for fear of backlash: John McCain is a 72 year-old cancer survivor and, let's face it, even right this minute he's not in especially good health. By choosing Sarah Palin to be his running-mate, John McCain just shined a 100,000 candlepower klieg light on the subject of his own, frighteningly imminent mortality. Over the span of a week we went from talking about someone who could easily step into the job and certainly won't have to, to someone about whom may be said neither of those two things.

Worse still for McCain, the gravity of this mistake is front-and-center in those same comment spaces--where the words "die," "death," "succeed," "succession," "seventy-two," and "cancer" have descended onto the conversation like a summer hailstorm, with even some of the most fervently conservative respondents succumbing to the temptation to get into a medical debate about the prospective longevity of their candidate. Time after time, in blog after blog, the "is she ready" critique has been swatted down by the Republicans on the basis that she's not auditioning for the top job--followed instantly by a retort from the left that she could well get it anyway, indeed probably will.

And after last night, a prolonged discussion about whether or not John McCain is about to die, is quite possibly the very last news story that he needed right now--aside from a hurricane smashing into New Orleans at the moment of the Republican Convention's keynote address, that is.

Dave O'Gorman
("The Key Grip")
Gainesville, Florida Click Here to

The McCain VP Watch That No One is Watching

Our morning news from the campaign trail? Try this and see if it fits your mood as you sip the last of your second cup: Sources both from within the McCain camp and within the offices of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty have indicated that he will not be selected as John McCain's running mate, with the expected announcement just hours away at a rally in Dayton, Ohio.

Now, seriously. On this Friday morning, is that even really the question anymore--who McCain will pick to be his running mate? After a speech in which Barack Obama responded, deftly and elegantly and with the surgical precision of a man ready to handle any job in the universe? After a night in which the Democratic nominee reached out to the middle both in content and in rhetoric? After a stirring and perfect-pitched rallying cry, a speech in which Obama made it virtually impossible for McCain to cling to the self-evidently preposterous notion that a volcanic-tempered septuagenarian was the country's best choice to handle foreign policy for the next, critical four years? A speech which none other than Pat Buchanan described as "the single greatest convention speech of all time"? Is the question really who McCain will name today, in a half-empty basketball gym in Dayton, Ohio? This is the question we're expected to be buzz about, over our morning coffees and around our water coolers???

Of course not.

In an election cycle in which many of the Republican candidate's miscalculations, unpopular stances, unfortunate off-script mutterings, and general administrative and electoral slip-ups have passed all but silently through the suspiciously permeable membrane of the mainstream media, this miscalculation on the part of McCain and his people will need no analysis, no flurry of blog-posters, no grassroots demand for greater attention; it will be dangling out there, lonely and forlorn beneath the dusty overhead lighting of an Ohio midcourt, for all to see: The McCain camp will metaphorically book its own, rival cotillion this afternoon... and, metaphorically, and perhaps even physically, almost no one will come.

There are numerous stories on the web about how much difficulty the McCain people have had, finding enough persons willing to listen to the Arizona Sidekick announce his choice of sidekick--and these were stories that broke before Obama, at an elevation of 5,280 feet, so comprehensively and irreversibly sucked all of the surplus air from the room that is the 2008 election. Now, in the cold, hard light of morning, the person picked will seem even less significant a response to Team Obama's agenda for the dialogue as he or she would seem naturally by the nature of the job, while McCain, never Obama's equal in oratory but often his rival in warmth and by that measure effectiveness, will appear older and crankier and all the more at sea in this contest than he really is.

Still, some of us await the announcement -- as much out of courtesy as for any real concern that the person chosen stands even the slightest chance of altering the plane of the discussion for the next one, or two, or perhaps many more news cycles, from that of the speech that broke this whole thing as wide open as any modern election in our history. Sources both from inside the McCain campaign and from the offices of the Governor of Minnesota appear to have confirmed that the choice will not be an at once soft-spoken and divisive fellow that you have absolutely, positively, never heard of, by the name of Tim Pawlenty. Over the last twelve hours or so, he himself has said that the process does not seem to have seriously involved him--though it isn't clear from the text of these remarks whether he said them with hurt feelings or unconcealed relief. Neither would surprise me, at this point.

With the semi-official departure of Tim Who from the list, McCain's remaining choices grow even thinner and less palatable than they were before: Romney, always a difficult choice for his unfortunate track-record of liberalism, his withering critique of the candidate, and his religion, was somewhere in California at the moment of Obama's acceptance speech, having quietly slipped out of Denver to convene a fundraiser in the suburbs of Los Angeles. This would seem to make his appearance later today on a stage in Dayton, Ohio, considerably less likely if not actually impossible.

Lieberman and Ridge are both reportedly close at hand, traveling with the candidate. As The Key Grip has noted in these pages before, the choice of either would lead to full-scale revolt in the Evangelical Right--highlighting McCain's advanced years and frail health in a manner far less veiled, and far more effective, than the Democrats would ever have dared. Indeed at this point it seems that the inevitable dialogue about McCain's imminent mortality would surely do even more damage to his candidacy than the Evangelical defections themselves. Still, McCain is good at nothing in this world if not shooting himself squarely and repeatedly about the feet and ankles. Certainly much stranger and less wise things have issued forth from Team Crankypants, this year.

The choice of a military leader -- be it Petreaus or someone else -- is plausible but, presumably, not under serious consideration for the imbalance it would create in the campaign's offensive capabilities headed into the fall. A self-proclaimed non-expert on the economy, choosing a General for his running-mate, at a time when unemployment and inflation are both inching higher and middle-class jobs are disappearing down T-1 lines to India? Not even the McCain organization is that self-destructive.

Which leaves the wildcard in the mix: Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson. Surely this is the person that the Obama campaign would have wanted least: A woman, first and foremost--someone who could have suggested a viable reason for disaffected supporters of Hillary Clinton to make good on their half-idle promises to defect, but, ingeniously, a woman whose conservative credentials were forged in a venom-spewing keynote delivered at the 1992 Republican Convention. Hutchinson would've worried Obama/Biden, and her whereabouts at this hour are not known.

But a funny thing happened along the way to McCain's brilliant counter-punch: The supposedly selfish and "Ego First" Clintons stole the Hillary supporters back from McCain before he'd even properly had a chance to pitch his case to them, with stirring speeches on Tuesday and Wednesday night, with soaring speeches and unflinching support and determination to see Barack Obama in the White House. Today it seems unlikely that a shrill, hawkish, Nixon-throwback Texan will do much of anything to peel the women's vote from Obama, regardless of her gender.

And as for the scheduling itself? What adjectives are left to a sober columnist reaching for the opposite of "brilliant"? The opposite of "deft"? The opposite of "Machiavellian," or "genius," or "skillful"? The decision to try to steel Obama's thunder with a next-day change of subject always seemed just juvenile and petty--but now, this morning, with the stirring words and stunning turn-of-rhetoric carried off by Barack Obama less than twelve hours earlier, it also seems, frankly, stupid.

Dave O'Gorman
("The Key Grip")
Gainesville, Florida Click Here to

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A National Election Turns on a Single Word

You may not have heard Barack Obama's speech this evening (and yes, it's still evening as I write this), but it hardly matters -- if you didn't hear it, you're almost certainly gonna hear about it.

You will hear how Obama took it straight to McCain, directly and forcefully and yet without being shrill or strident or stooping to the level of Republican dirty tricks. You will hear how Obama was supposedly taking some enormous risk by moving the acceptance speech to Invesco field, and how (brace yourself for a shock) the whole thing came off as an astonishingly well-choreographed tableau of patriotism, optimism, and an all but uncontainable enthusiasm for the candidate. If conventions are infomercials, Obama surely got a hell of a lot of sales with this supposedly risky move out there.

Most importantly -- and most surprisingly -- you will hear how Obama, the man who supposedly lacked the mettle to serve as Commander-in-Chief, methodically unwound every facet of McCain's one-issue campaign of attempting to snatch the White House by fomenting fear. It will be, if it isn't already, instantly recognizable as the sea-change in the conversation about who should be our next President.

Most Democratic-candidate acceptance speeches are stirring, well-written, and fun to watch. Even Republican acceptance speeches are mostly well-written and occasionally fun to watch. Most acceptance speeches from candidates of both parties are, at their foundations, good speeches, delivered well. But very few of them impart structural change onto the dynamic of an election. It's too early to say for sure, but this speech -- Barack Obama's acceptance speech -- may well do just that.

After a stirring tribute to the individual members of his family, at once genuine and strategically insightful, followed at just the right moment by a bakers' dozen commitments to the very sorts of policy specifics for which some in the main-stream media had yearned to hear from the Obama campaign, it happened: At roughly the quarter-mark of the text, notice was served with one, single, ingeniously chosen word. And that word, was temperament.

"...And just as we keep our promise to the next generation here at home, so must we keep America's promise abroad. If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that's a debate I'm ready to have."

The argument, plain and simple? That John McCain, of all people, has a lot of nerve saying that anyone else isn't prepared to handle the delicate and complex world to which American Diplomacy must return, in the next Administration, in order for our country not to be pinned down (and bankrupted) by one, or two, or heaven knows how many more, intractable conflicts. It was a brilliant turn of the debate, precisely because it required no further cartoon-drawing by Obama to sell. Even the most ardent of McCain's supporters will generally concede his unfortunate tendency to lose track of his own disposition, particularly when confronted by someone slow to share his notions of how the world should work. Obama, in language that managed somehow to be thrillingly unprepossessing, established in a single sentence the unsustainable irony that is a cranky, seventy-something cold warrior, trying to paint someone else as a bad choice for Lead Diplomat.

By pledging to carry on with many of the most bellicose and least-successful foreign doctrines of the current President -- some of them now abandoned even by that President himself -- John McCain has identified himself, not as the voice of safety and stability in foreign policy, but rather as the man who would as President only deliver further escalation, wider confrontations, and almost certainly new conflicts. And Barack Obama made that entire case, fairly, cleanly, eloquently, in a single paragraph of his speech.

There was much, much more, of course -- all of it targeted with surgical precision and profoundly, at times movingly effective -- from Afghanistan to Health Care. And then back again. But the takeaway from the evening wasn't any of those policy offerings, or any of the rhetorical barbs that packaged each of those offerings like so much playful gift-wrap: Yes, the speech was perfect-pitch, perfect length, rhetorically ideal for its time and place, and, yes, proud and confident and ready for us all to step up and do our part. But tonight won't be the night that any of those things happened.

Tonight was the night that Barack Obama took the other side's strongest argument -- their only argument -- and orated it straight into a two-months-early grave. Tonight was the night that the Republicans will look back on as the official notice that they may no longer rely on fear-mongering about the other guy (and speeches about Georgia that turn out to have been cribbed entirely from Wikipedia). Tonight was the night that Obama acknowledged how his candidacy was being framed by the other side--and then, in a manner that was at once classy, dignified, but make no mistake, forceful, shined the bright light of preposterousness on that one-issue campaign for every persuadable voter left in America to see.

Tonight was the night that Barack Obama took the cardinal step toward securing his near-term future, as our country's next President. Click Here to Read More...

The Hidden Brilliance of the Biden Pick, Revealed

Lots of people are saying lots of things--especially today--about Obama's decision to pick Joe Biden to be his running-mate. Most of those things are positive, and they should be: Joe Biden deserves it.

As you probably know, he is the product of a hardscrabble Catholic upbringing in northeastern Pennsylvania. He was elected to the US Senate before he was even constitutionally eligible to serve -- at age 29. (He turned 30 before the congress was sworn-in.) You probably also know that very, very, very shortly thereafter he lost his wife and very nearly lost his two sons in a grisly car accident. He seriously considered quitting, but the Democrats needed him and persuaded him to stay, whereupon he set out on a no-tricks, no-joke commuter life, transiting back and forth between Delaware and Washington on the train. Unless you've been living under a rock for the past twenty-four hours, you know all of this. You know that he is now and has been on several occasions in the past, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. You know that he's one of a very select handful of United States Senators who are routinely contacted by foreign heads of state. You know that he's quick on his feet, a terrific debater, and manages to connect well with the Joe Lunchbox crowd, despite having served for the thick end of four decades in the world's most exclusive private club. You probably know that he is not an especially rich man.

You also know, with even greater certainty, the big reasons Team Obama might have had serious difficulty picking him: "The hyper-disciplined meets the just-plain hyper," is how a friend of mine put it to me, earlier this afternoon. Biden is loquacious, testy, and has at least one documented case in his past of both moderately serious plagiarism and an even more serious ethnic slur. You know all of this, or else you are so disinterested in politics that you wouldn't still be reading this post. You know, even if you are so disinterested in politics that you are not still reading this post, that Biden has repeatedly and sharply criticized Obama for not being ready for the top job. (And never mind that these statements ceased at the precise moment that Biden was himself no longer in competition for it.)

But here's the thing: very few pundits appreciate the sheer, unmitigated, Machiavellian genius of what Team Obama has just done. It's the biggest story of this election cycle so far, and the smartest people talking about it have completely missed the point. The Biden choice, you see, isn't about foreign policy. It isn't about having a scrappy running-mate who will take it right to the other side. It isn't about connecting with Mr. Bigshoulders in an Ohio Union Hall, or answering the Hillary supporters, or anything else that any of the world's most highly paid political analysts have said it is. No, folks, the Biden pick was always, self-evidently, about the straight-jacket it places on John McCain. And it's already working.

Before the announcement last Saturday, the popular wisdom about McCain's choice of running-mate existed in a unique two-two cadence that said, "McCain goes with his gut and wants it to be someone he likes, such as Ridge or Lieberman, but he's not really planning to pick Ridge or Lieberman because his base would revolt, so all the talk is really just a straw dog to make them happier when he chooses Mitt Romney." It was a credible enough argument that very few people bothered to waste much bandwidth quibbling. And then Joe Biden was announced as Obama's pick, and both the McCain campaign and the RNC instantly responded with television commercials showing Biden criticizing Obama while complimenting McCain. The commercial was literally on the air before sunrise on the east coast.

Unforced error by the Obama folks? Miscalculation? Well, consider what the Democrats would do -- after "letting" the McCain people hammer away about this for a week, so that the public accepts these rules of engagement -- should McCain choose as his running mate the guy who told the voters of Massachusetts that they should give him Ted Kennedy's Senate Seat because Kennedy hadn't done enough to advance gay rights? The guy who savagely attacked McCain and kept at it longer than even Huckabee, during the '08 primaries?

If McCain chooses Romney now (which may already have happened--there's word that mysterious people are following him in un-marked SUV's), the Democrats will toss at him everything they have in their "turnabout is fair play" arsenal, reminding the Evangelical-right once again of McCain's fickle commitment to their values and beliefs, and badly wounding him with the centrists who will buy a lot of Romney's criticisms, to boot. To make a long story short, either Romney is off the table or the table just got set for an enormous Democratic advantage in the fall.

But the sagacity of Obama's choice of Biden doesn't stop there: It cabins McCain down into a much narrower corridor of people he can choose, all of them are even more flawed as choices than Romney. Lieberman or Ridge could easily lead to a literal revolt -- the Rush crowd is spreading the lighter fluid on the bonfires already. Jindal is even younger than Obama and practices amateur exorcisms on weekends. (Paging Mr. Leno? Mr. Leno, your joke-writers on lines one and two, Mr. Leno.) McCain openly despises Huckabee, Crist has been engaged five times without managing to get married (perhaps Mr. Romney could've helped him out if he'd won that Senate seat after all?), Portman is Bush Forty-four, Lindsay Graham couldn't name one difference between McCain and the President -- on national television -- and Guliani divorced his wife so he could marry his secretary, then served divorce papers on his secretary while she was flat on her back in a hospital bed so that he could marry HIS OWN COUSIN. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving.

My guess at this point is that McCain does one of two things: either ritual sepuku in the parking lot, by picking Lieberman or Ridge in the misguided hope that his Saddleback performance can be showed to some of the electorate while the choice of VP is completely shielded from those very same people, or else he does the only thing he really can, now, which is to hit the same note in the 2-slot of his ticket as he hits by himself, and go with a military man like General Petraeus.

And that's the end of Obama's Biden genius, right? Well, guess who's flesh-and-blood son, just in time for this election to get real, will be stepping off a C-130 transport plane to begin his first tour of combat duty, in, of all places, Iraq? You guessed it: Joe Biden. Having someone like Petraeus tell your VP nominee that you're being reckless with your Iraq policy would probably have been a pretty scary proposition for the Obama people if they didn't have a pre-loaded comeback that was both inescapably true and dripping with a father's outrage for the endangerment of his own son. And yes, "would" is the operative word in that sentence.

Oh, and there's one more hidden genius behind Obama's choice of Biden: Of all of Biden's celebrated gaffes, the most infamous -- the plagiarism debacle -- occured in 1987. By taking shots at this issue, the GOP will seem to make hay for the first few news cycles, even though the matter has been well-vetted and long forgotten in the court of public opinion. But it's not that the McCain people will seem shrill and petty by bringing this up, as much as it's the precedent that will be set on the question of how far back in time is still fair game for these guys. You see, two years later, in 1989, five US Senators were accused of taking bribes from Charles Keating to try to help thwart the investigation into the collapse of Lincoln Federal Savings and Loan. Four of those five guys were named Cranston, DiConcini, Glenn, and Riegle.

Guess who the fifth of those five guys was.

I'll give you a hint: he's a Senator at this very moment, he's running for President this year, and he's not Barack Obama.

Dave O'Gorman
Gainesville, Florida Click Here to