My pet theory these days is that, as swiftly as the news cycle now moves, it’s hard to fathom the real impact of an event until days, weeks or months later. The instant analysis of a speech, debate or convention so often looks wrong, even silly, a short while later.
Bush landing on an aircraft carrier and speaking before a “Mission Accomplished” banner didn’t seem so nifty a few years and a few thousand dead U.S. soldiers later. The military hero theme and John Kerry’s “reporting for duty” shtick at the 2004 Democratic Convention looked like a big mistake — pinning a giant “Kick me” sign on his military fatigues — after the Swift Boat guys had their say. The immediate praise of Barack Obama’s March race speech in Philadelphia became something of embarrassment in light of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright-Obama breakup shortly thereafter. The candidate’s “Ich bin ein President Kennedy” speech before the Berlin multitudes, grand as it was, quickly became synonymous with Obama’s presumptuousness and celebrity status.
So what’s the impact of the Democrats’ week in Denver? Hard to tell, especially since John McCain unveiled his running mate Friday and the Republicans kick off their jamboree Monday. The major speeches leading up to Obama’s Thursday night acceptance speech/fundraiser at Invesco Field all seemed ho-hum, pro forma to me, but then I’m not the intended audience. Did the Clinton-Obama wounds heal? Mostly it was the cooing of doves in Denver — Hillary and Bill delivered, as anticipated — but we won’t know for sure until the leaves turn and opinion polls become truly meaningful.
What we do know now is that Democrats did something that all Americans should take delight in. They nominated the first African American to head a major party’s ticket. It’s a good thing for the country in general and the African American community in particular. It’s been too long in coming.
How should the GOP respond in St. Paul and beyond? By paying Obama the compliment of treating him the same way they would treat any other Democratic candidate with a similar record. By laying into his meager experience, his liberal voting record, his far-left, far-out associations. By pointing out the mismatch between his grandiose post-partisan rhetoric and his slim, largely partisan record.
How did Obama do Thursday night?
News flash: He gave a stirring speech!
But he restated his case; he didn’t advance his argument. He offered little to put skeptical voters at ease. The soaring specifics-lite words mixed with his anger (”McCain said he will follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but he won’t even follow him to the cave where he lives . . .” “I’ve got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.”) seemed more designed to rev up voters already in the bank.
All that said, Invesco Field’s Greek-Roman set for the Obama speech was the handiwork of the same set team that worked on Britney Spears’ last tour — well, you can’t make this stuff up.
Meanwhile, Denver quickly became so yesterday with the news of McCain’s vice presidential selection Friday. In picking 44-year-old Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain doubled down on “maverick.” The first-term governor is a self-described maverick who’s earned the right to use the term, taking on her state’s own party on ethics and pork-barrel spending.
In many ways, it’s an inspired pick. McCain makes history of his own — putting the first woman on a GOP ticket, making Palin the first woman of either party to have a real shot of becoming vice president — while taking aim at Clinton’s disaffected sisterhood of the traveling pantsuit. Yet he does so in a way that will only energize the GOP’s conservative pro-life base. He also chose someone from outside Washington. About as outside of Washington as you can get. A reform senator who’s actually reached across the aisle and clashed with his own party selects a reform governor who’s reached across the aisle and clashed with her own party. We’ll see your “Change you can believe in” ticket and raise you.
Is this a gamble? Absolutely. Alaska’s a big state, but Palin is, as they say down South, “in the big water now.” We’ll see over the next few days if she’s up to it, though her introductory speech was promising. The fact is, returning to my pet theory, we won’t know for a while whether the gamble will pay off.
But aren’t mavericks supposed to be gamblers?
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