ST. PAUL– In September 2006, the Republican National Committee reached its final decision on its 2008 convention city. One of the reasons finalist Tampa-St. Petersburg was passed over was the riskiness of holding the event on the Gulf Coast during hurricane season. I’ll pause to let the irony wash over you.
On Friday morning, I packed my stuff after the final Denver show and winged here to Minnesota. Right now, 48 hours later, the John McCain VP pick of Sarah Palin seems like a month ago.
You could say some things have happened in the intervening days, so I’ll tackle it chronologically.
Friday evening did not crackle with convention anticipation the way it did in Denver a week earlier. Part of that was our divided attention as the winds of Hurricane Gustav intensified. A bigger part was that the RNC is not going to be a protest magnet the way the DNC was.
This may seem odd in view of the fact that most protesters are whacked-out leftists. But think about it. The radical left talking to Republicans is as futile as talking to a wall. But some of the fringe looniness of protesters actually finds its way into the mouths of Democrat officeholders.
This is not to say there is not a rumble of Republican excitement about the Palin pick. But it jumps at you from TV screens as the McCain campaign spends its weekend in Pennsylvania and Missouri. Soon the delegates will convene, the candidates will arrive, and even a hurricane-distracted convention will shower its love on this boldest of running mate picks.
So let’s analyze the Palin choice. Is it courageous and visionary or a desperately craven pander? Will it blossom or bomb?
First to the experience issue. There is no doubt that choosing Gov. Palin inhibits the McCain campaign from going after Barack Obama’s thin résumé. Inhibits, not prevents. There is a difference between a running mate with a modicum of experience and the actual presidential candidate with the same. Anyone on Team Obama daring to question Sarah Palin’s credentials should be directed to the meager accomplishments of their actual presidential nominee.
A governor halfway through her first term has garnered more executive experience than a U.S. Senator one-third of the way through his first term. It is useful to note how these young stars reached their elected office. He climbed onto the shoulders of the seedy Chicago political machine; she slogged through a small-town city council and mayor’s tenure to beat the incumbent Republican in the gubernatorial primary, pledging at every turn to fight waste, fraud and bloat in government, even when practiced by her own party.
Find one time Barack Obama has taken a political risk by wavering from his party line. That’s what a real reformer does, and Obama knows no concept of it.
And while we’re talking about experience, I’ll address the catcalls from uppity Dems who can’t wait for the oh-so-”knowledgeable” Joe Biden to face Palin on a debate stage.
They may eat those words. What good is being “knowledgeable” when most of what you “know” is wrong?
Biden has been forced to abandon his occasionally measured Iraq war opposition to sign on to the Obama fervor to “end this war responsibly,” code language for withdrawal without victory. Palin will call for ending the war by winning it, which seems to be a storyline in progress. So much for Biden’s so-called smarts, and that’s without addressing his genius plan for splitting Iraq into three rival sections.
We may have to wait for the debates to see these issues tackled, since the convention is being morphed from a political event into a Gustav telethon. While this is understandable, I have to confess some bitterness.
The McCain-Palin ticket’s opportunity to shine has ben waylaid, not by God with his current hurricane, but by the revisionist history of what really happened three years ago with Katrina.
The muzzle on the mouths of every Republican here would not exist if Katrina had been handled well. Then it would be relegated to the list of hurricanes we absorbed as normal natural disaster news stories. Memories of Ivan, Andrew and Hugo do not have the power to neuter an entire political party, but Katrina does, helped by the faulty recollection of the Katrina disaster’s real cause– Democrat ineptitude at the mayoral and gubernatorial level.
Sure, FEMA had its share of dropped balls in 2005. But hurricanes are a local story first, a state story second and a federal story a distant third. It is the political bias of the media that has hijacked the story and aimed it at the White House instead of laying it at the feet of Mayor Ray Nagin (who is still absurdly in office), and ex-Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who showed the good taste not to offer herself for re-election.
But for the perversion of our national understanding of Katrina, this convention could go on as planned, with no need for the dog-and-pony show of hyper-concern that we are about to be subjected to.
I’m not speaking ill of empathy for Gustav’s potential victims. Speeches could surely contain a proper measure of concern for Gulf Coast residents, but those speeches could actually be given, and could actually fulfill the pressing need for the McCain-Palin ticket to tell America why it should be in the White House and the Obama-Biden ticket should not.
As it is, a week after Democrats launched a bevy of snotty attacks at McCain, all he can do in reply is tell everybody in Louisiana to stockpile bottled water.
Maybe there will be a benefit to this. The Republican theme needs to be competent, reliable leadership, and maybe they’ll get credit for showing it by restraining the convention.
Other things will probably be restrained as well. I saw a ton of McCain ads during the DNC, and certainly expected to see some this week. Now, not so much. Funny hats and lobbyist parties are suddenly quite unseemly here in the Twin Cities; aggressive political ads probably carry the same stigma. All because Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco screwed up Katrina. This sucks.
But the storm will soon release its mute-button grip on Republicans. We may have to get through, and past, this week in Minnesota’s capital city, but soon it will be time to unleash Sarah Palin into a country eager to see how she performs.
If she is as good as her early appearances suggest, she will be the next Vice President of the United States. If she stumbles badly, it will be viewed as one of the great mistakes in campaign history.
At the Denver airport, homebound conventioneers and partisan attendees of other pursuits were loudly chortling about what they viewed as a horrible pick. “Get your tickets to the Obama inauguration!” shouted one. “Worst pick ever!” replied another.
I could smell their fear.
A new, independent Western brand of unapologetic conservatism is about to sweep across the land, given breath by a hard-working Mom whose values and life story are compelling to a wide variety of Americans.
Joe Biden suddenly looks very stale. And with Barack Obama lapsing into tired old platitudes and gutter-level attacks of the type he trotted out at Invesco, suddenly “hope” and “change” are no longer the meaningless tag lines of the Democrat ticket, but the real promise offered by the Republicans.
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