Friday, August 29, 2008

The Obama party

So we dragged our kids to our friends’ house for an Obama convention speech party. My wife and I were tired as usual on a Thursday night, so we wavered. The debate was Getting The Kids (and us) to Bed at a Decent Hour on a School Night, or The Family Sitting Rapt in Front of the TV Watching History Being Made, and the latter conceit won out. We had beers and sodas, we all ate pizza, and the grown-ups watched the speeches.

We were clinging to the hope that Bruce Springsteen might come out and do a short set. Not really hoping, I guess, more jokingly, saying That’s enough of Tim Kaine and his out-of-control eyebrow, let’s have Brooooce! I noticed that they played a Stevie Wonder record, and soon after that Stevie Wonder himself came out, then later they played a Springsteen record, and I thought I detected a pattern. Plus, I argued, the coolness factor had dropped off when Michael McDonald performed after Stevie, and needed to be jacked back up. A short discussion of the artistic merits of Michael McDonald ensued. Anyway, it was more entertaining than just paying attention to Mark Udall.

Bill Richardson came out. Somebody wondered aloud about Richardson’s prospects: could he have been the VP choice, could he be a Cabinet nominee. Somebody else referenced his so-called zipper problems, which led us to a discussion of John Edwards. Our host, a dyed-in-the-wool North Carolina Democrat and no prude, was scathing in his verdict on Edwards: phony, reckless with the party’s fate, shut down all his vaunted pro-education and anti-poverty initiatives the minute his campaign folded-—my friend, naturally disposed in favor of Edwards, was merciless. Man, what a job of self-immolation John Edwards did.

Al Gore came out, did a fine job, at home in his own skin at last, able to say emphatically how things would have been different with him in office. I thought of Gore and John Kerry, who by all accounts did a great job the previous night, and daydreamed a passage of Obama’s speech: It could easily have worked out differently. We could have been nominating a successor to President Al Gore this week. Or we could have been re-nominating President John Kerry for a second term. That would have been so much easier and more pleasant, and the US would be so much better off. You don’t have to be an over-the-top conspiratorial crank about the Florida recount or the Swift Boat episode to feel that a cosmic wrong has been done. It really is not so much about Obama and his ambition, he has been sent to right the cosmic wrong. Two paragons of so-called electability were rejected by the political gods; Obama is what the gods required.

(Okay, Obama can't say that about himself. Like the Abraham Lincoln comparisons, they need to come out of someone else's mouth.)

Obama finally came on, at 10:15 ET. My youngest had fallen asleep, and my older two were not in the TV room, they were hanging out with their friends upstairs. My oldest said she would watch the speech on YouTube later. So much for the wonder of history being made.

I wanted him to levitate like a dervish, I guess, and he didn’t do that. It’s a pleasure to watch him in action, even on cruise control, he’s so graceful, but he rarely went into rhetorical overdrive. He got quite specific about his economic platform, a bit of a laundry list in my opinion. (Boiling domestic politics down to tax cutting leaves me cold. Are we such a nation of money grubbers? Never mind, don’t answer that.) He hit a couple of points that seemed slightly perfunctory to me: tough talk about Afghanistan (see, I’m not a complete pacifist), fathers’ responsibilities (see, I’m a Bill Cosby sort of black man). But then the thought occurred: so many corners had been clamoring to hear Obama give details and substance, instead of flash, and this is what he was doing. He was listening to the well-intending voices of moderation and conventional Democratic Party wisdom, and obeying them. He was also listening to the malicious voices of the GOP and right-wing media, and throwing their charges back at them.

There were a couple of brief moments of rhetorical flash: when he talked about patriotism, and at the end when he referenced the anniversary of MLK’s I Have A Dream speech. The MLK reference was handled nicely, done but not overdone. Then it was all over but the fireworks and confetti and photo ops of the cute Obama-Biden blended family.

We were tired but pleased. The speech had been a success, the setting and the crowd were unmatchable, the four days of the convention had crescendoed nicely. I carried my daughter to the car in my arms and we drove home.

Josh Marshall’s final word.

Also Michael Tomasky’s.


Word has just come from my co-worker that McCain has tabbed the governor of Alaska as his VP. I had to be reminded of her name: Sarah Palin. I’ll say this for McCain, he sure pulled a surprise: all the talk the last 24 hours has been, Romney or Pawlenty? I guess this is a play for the PUMAs; McCain’s trying to reach out to women who feel dissed by the Democrats.

Here is a way to sum up the campaign so far: with his VP choice, Obama sought to reassure us, convince us of his moderation, and so he turned to a familiar old comfortable shoe of a guy, Biden. (Hideously ugly, hopelessly unfashionable? Maybe. But comfortable and familiar. Washington has never been on the cutting edge of high fashion.) McCain with his choice has thrown a Hail Mary pass way downfield. This move is dramatic but risky. I hardly know the first thing about Sarah Palin, but I know which position I would rather be in: seeking to reassure and demonstrate moderation rather than throwing a Hail Mary.

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