Democratic Convention 2008

There's Been a Chay-hee-ayyy-hee-ainge

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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.

NEXT: Signs of the Apocalypse...

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  1. “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.”

    Had they read their constitution, they’d have realized they didn’need to.

  2. I just hope a President Obama re-opens that picture tube factory in Marion Indiana.
    Our typewriter industry could use a boost as well.

  3. I think once people start looking closer at the speech and what he’s saying, they’ll realize he’s not really saying anything, or rather, he’s saying everything and nothing at the same time. We need save farms? Whatever, no one thinks he’s going veto a farmer aid bill that comes across his desk, Bush certainly hasn’t and he’s supposed to be the defender of “the market.” I didn’t expect him to be fiercely pro-market (he wasn’t) but at least he talked about things like self-reliance and and helping people help themselves or something like that. Can’t ask for much more than that sadly from a democrat.

    With that said I think your issues with the speech are relatively minor given what could have come from a major democratic candidate. For example, at least he’s not spending 20+ minutes talking about universal health care, which is what Hillary would have done. This speech struck me as a very good, middle of the road speech.

  4. Lawd knows I cannot cha-yee-ai-ee-ainge !

  5. What precisely about the foreign policy that you’ve outlined above “doesn’t make any particular sense”? I voted for Badnarik in 2004 and Browne in 2000 and I don’t find it that offensive. Are you saying the US *shouldn’t* cooperate with other countries to reduce the risks of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, etc? I already spend half my time explaining that libertarians are non-interventionists, not isolationsists.

  6. Obama’s daughters are beautiful. Biden’s daughter-in-laws and granddaughters are beautiful. Al Gore’s daughters are beautiful.

    Amy Carter. Chelsea Clinton. Just sayin’.

  7. What precisely about the foreign policy that you’ve outlined above “doesn’t make any particular sense”?

    Bad language on my part, for which I apologize. Basically, these are goals being masqueraded as policy. I for one would love the goals, but I want to know the policy.

  8. Sure, that’s all well and good, Matt, but we still can’t get a damn hit with runners in scoring position.

    Amy Carter. Chelsea Clinton. Just sayin’.

    Actually, I think Chelsea’s grown into a pretty decent looking woman. She’s no supermodel, but she’s not unattractive. She was a little homely as an adolescent, but so are a lot of people at that age.

  9. “I for one would love the goals, but I want to know the policy.”

    You are not the only one Matt. He gave the Democrats what they wanted; a lot of red meat promises and attacks on Republicans. He should get a bump out of it because it will firm up his base. But as they say the devil is in the details. As the fall goes on, people are going to ask the same question you just asked.

  10. Sure, that’s all well and good, Matt, but we still can’t get a damn hit with runners in scoring position.

    I take that back. Bases loaded triple. With two outs no less.

  11. “Actually, I think Chelsea’s grown into a pretty decent looking woman. She’s no supermodel, but she’s not unattractive. She was a little homely as an adolescent, but so are a lot of people at that age.”

    Fuck you.

  12. Eh, the Bush daughters are pretty good looking, so that’s not entirely true.

  13. “I take that back. Bases loaded triple. With two outs no less.”

    Time to steal second base.

  14. On the plus side, politicians don’t actually fulfill campaign promises, so whatever he said (I did something useful with my time) won’t actually be enacted.

  15. My wife had an interesting insight; this convention had characters and story lines that people where interested in, like a TV show. Does Michelle hate America, or is she nice? Will Hillary make trouble? Will Bill make trouble? Can the plucky kid give the speech of his life? What’s up with his world-weary partner, Joe?

    And guess what? They all had happy endings! Even nerdy John Kerry got the girl. Like, a hot nerdy girl. Yay! Wonderful television.

    Didja see the shot of Obama’s daughter with her blonde cousin, about the same age, in their dresses, with confetti blowing past them? I want to live in that country.

    What’s on after this? Oh.

    I’m gonna turn in.

  16. Fuck you.

    Sorry Amy. It’s just that you’re a little old for me, and I haven’t seen a picture of you in quite a while. I’m sure you’re quite a handsome woman.

  17. I think Matt articulated what I felt during the speech — and from every other speech I’ve heard Obama deliver.

    He starts on a good note and moves strongly. But, just when I’m about to say “Amen!” he adds something that makes me say “WTF?” too. He takes it at least one step too far into, well, liberal weirdness. Go figure.

  18. “I promise you, America, as president I can be liberal, conservative, moderate, libertarian and populist all at the same time. As president, I will cut taxes for 95% of Americans while giving you every government program you could have ever wanted and still eliminating the federal deficit. Americans know they can’t trust themselves and the global economy, but know that I am always there from the Oval Office looking out at the poor, the oppressed and the outsourced with community activist eyes. I promise you anything you could even want, even stuff you don’t even need but might be nice to have. I can’t stand an America where some children are denied the privilege of an education, despite the fact that every child is mandated by goverment to attend school for 12 years of their lives. Like my rival John McCain, I believe in American exceptionalism, the idea that America must be the beacon for the world and interfere whenever we see something we think is wrong. Unlike McCain however, I will make sure we only engage in foreign adventurism that has Europe’s seal of approval…”

  19. “Italics mine, to indicate WTF. I do not want my president to be in the farm-saving business.”

    Really? Because there is a Libertarian solution to that.

    A friend of my will be unable to succeed her father as the owner/operator of a generation’s-long successful dairy farm. Because the farm is now near what has become a large exurban area, the estate taxes she would have to absorb make the business model untenable. She has an agricultural degree and dearly wants to be the fifth-generation dairy farmer of her ancestor’s nineteenth century homesteaded, but the business model, with its onerous tax burden, simply does not work.

    I would be greatly in favor of legislation that allows farms to be passed on to the next generation tax-free. Are you opposed to that?

    If so, why?

  20. so great speech, but you’re left stammering that he doesn’t conform to your particular ideology or set of ideals? gee…

  21. A friend of my will be unable to succeed her father as the owner/operator of a generation’s-long successful dairy farm. Because the farm is now near what has become a large exurban area, the estate taxes she would have to absorb make the business model untenable. She has an agricultural degree and dearly wants to be the fifth-generation dairy farmer of her ancestor’s nineteenth century homesteaded, but the business model, with its onerous tax burden, simply does not work.

    I would be greatly in favor of legislation that allows farms to be passed on to the next generation tax-free. Are you opposed to that?

    If so, why?

    I think repealing/reducing the Estate tax is something to consider. But if they do so, that repeal or reduction should be across the board, not just for farms.

  22. We dismiss it as simple-minded jock-sniffing at our peril.
    Look, let me go back in there and face the peril.

  23. “there is something genuinely moving about watching adults wait patiently to watch an adult political speech”

    Yeah, every once in a while, democracy gives us a nice moment or two…

  24. Am I the only one to notice the obvious cross over his soldier the whole night formed “accidentally” by the window panes?

    So do you think they did that to
    A) Convince people he’s the Messiah
    B) Convince people he’s no Muslim
    C) Both

  25. I can’t stand an America where some children are denied the privilege of an education, despite the fact that every child is mandated by goverment to attend school for 12 years of their lives. Like my rival John McCain, I believe in American exceptionalism, the idea that America must be the beacon for the world and interfere whenever we see something we think is wrong. Unlike McCain however, I will make sure we only engage in foreign adventurism that has Europe’s seal of approval…”

    “Barack Obama” winds the thread.

  26. Oops, extra letter in there.

  27. Wherein the candidate reveals himself to be a dark-hued simulacrum of George McGovern and Michael Dukakis.

    Big surprise.

  28. Michael Dukakis! George McGovern! John Kerry!

    George McGovern, goddammit! Why aren’t you falling down yet!?!

  29. No one got the Tom Petty reference? You all suck.

  30. despite the fact that every child is mandated by goverment to attend school for 12 years of their lives

    Actually, you can drop out at 16, which means that technically, only 10 years are mandated. Even if it was 12 — are you fucking kidding? Have you talked to a recent high school grad lately? They’re drooling morons.

  31. Whenever a candidate says something that 100% (or nearly) of people agree with, they are stating a meaningless aspiration. Anyone can do that.

    It’s when they talk about HOW to get there that they lose 50% or more of the audience.

    That being said, I always like to imagine what if the other party were actually for the opposite of everything the other guy says. With that in mind, my wife and I cracked up last night speculating on McCain’s counter to the quoted portion of Obama’s speech:

    “America, we must turn back. We must give up. Lay down and accept that we will never solve all these problems. There are too many obstacles to overcome and, frankly, I’m old and tired. Children, veterans, the economy, terrorism, geez … I get depressed just thinking about it. It’s too much.”

  32. Leela: Look, I know there are no car chases but this is important. One of these two men will become president of the world.

    Fry: What do we care? We live in the United States.

    Leela: The United States is part of the world.

    Fry: Wow! I have been gone a long time.

    [One of the candidates, Jack Johnson, begins the debate.]

    Johnson: [on TV] It’s time someone had the courage to stand up and say: “I’m against those things that everybody hates”.

    [The other candidate is John Jackson.]

    Jackson: [on TV] Now I respect my opponent. I think he’s a good man but, quite frankly, I agree with everything he just said!

    Fry: These are the candidates? They sound like clones. [He looks a little harder.] Wait a minute. They are clones!

    Leela: Don’t let their identical DNA fool you. They differ on some key issues.

    Johnson: [on TV] I say your three cent titanium tax goes too far.

    Jackson: [on TV] And I say your three cent titanium tax doesn’t go too far enough!

    Fry: If I were registered to vote, I’d send these clowns a message by staying home on election day and dressing up like a clown.

  33. “there is something genuinely moving about watching adults wait patiently to watch an adult political speech”

    Really? Why?

  34. The only discernible difference between a political convention and a comic book convention is the grooming.

  35. And a libertarian convention arguably doesn’t even have that.

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