I would love nothing more than to report that the 100,000-plus people who lined up for four-plus hours in the scalding sunshine to see Barack Obama give a speech tonight were saucer-eyed suckers, middle-aged groupies with plunging necklines of the type you see at Neil Diamond concerts, or otherwise easily dismissible in a three-word snark. Instead, it was a cajillion of totally normal-looking people willing to wait in the longest line I have ever seen in my life to watch what a pretty good political speech.
On questions of White House-centric inspiration I will always be much more Gene Healy than John F. Kennedy, but there is an exponential difference between seeing political pin-collectors hoarding their access passes on a convention floor and looking at a mass of reasonable humanity sweat in the sun to feel good about getting rid of George W. Bush. While my sympathies will always gravitate toward the people who center their lives far away from the vagaries of American electoral politics, there is something genuinely moving about watching adults wait patiently to watch an adult political speech. We dismiss it as simple-minded jock-sniffing at our peril.
That doesn't mean Barack Obama isn't full of shit. There were two moments in the speech when I almost got one of those Chris Matthews shivers, the second of which was his moving, forceful, and nameless invocation of one of the greatest-ever Americans, Martin Luther King. But just as the salt water threatened to well in the eyeballs, he pivoted, disastrously:
"We cannot walk alone," the preacher cried. "And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."
America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend.
Italics mine, to indicate WTF. I do not want my president to be in the farm-saving business. We had so, so many more farms in 1900 than we had in 2000, and that's because we were busy doing things more interesting and productive than milking cows at 5 in the morning. I do not want a president who sees his job description as "fixing" cities, a job that is done better by those who live nearby, and by those who believe that there are better solutions to our nation's shamefully shitty public education than throwing more "resources" at the problem and hiring five million new green teachers or whatever. Above all, I do not want my president to mend lives (nor end them, for that matter). I would prefer he concentrate on the stuff a federal government can and should do, and do a better job of it.
Toward that end I was heartened, if not exactly mollified, that his other truly impassioned moment came when talking about the subject that is most determinative for me personally, foreign policy:
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.
For while Sen. McCain was turning his sights to Iraq just days after 9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract us from the real threats we face. When John McCain said we could just "muddle through" in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11 and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights. […]
You don't defeat a terrorist network that operates in 80 countries by occupying Iraq. You don't protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can't truly stand up for Georgia when you've strained our oldest alliances.
Promisingish! But then, this pile of platitudinal yet expansionist pablum:
I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.
I certainly won't move to Nova Scotia if Obama wins. But he's sketching out an economic policy and rhetoric significantly to the left (and more importantly, to the dumber) of those who won Democratic nominations before him. His foreign policy still doesn't make any particular sense. He certainly embodies something in the American political system that is fascinating, certainly intelligent, but not necessarily something you'd agree with. Over to you, John McCain.