Friday, August 29, 2008

The choice gets even easier. A lot easier.

There I was contemplating Barack Obama's nomination acceptance speech (Andrew has helpfully offered a version that is complete and doesn't necessitate clicking from one segment to another...continuity is important, you know) when some other important news interrupted the news cycle.

I speak, of course, of Liz Hurley's upstaging of Eva Herzigova at the Venice Film Festival.

Yes, like all of you, no doubt, I'm shocked and utterly bewildered, believe me.

Elsewhere of course, John McCain has named the unknown-in-49-states Sarah Palin to be his vice presidential candidate.

But more on that in a moment.

I agree with Andrew and lots of other people that Obama's speech was extremely effective. There were bits that I found a tad cringeworthy--such as the relentless 'only in America' exceptionalism --but these are the same bits that are pretty much standard equipment for any American political speech. And while they're a minor irritant in Obama's speeches, they'll be full-on vomit-inducing at what is likely to be an entertaining right-wing freak-show in Minnesota.

Many things are relative, you know.

I also found the laundry list of policy initiatives to be both welcome and strategically necessary. Nevertheless, I couldn't help thinking that in 4 (or with any luck 8) years they might be replayed as a reminder of what was not accomplished during the Obama presidency.

Still, it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, and all that.

Thus, despite the above I'm willing to admit that I succumbed to the inspirational qualities of the speech: there are parts of it (the scathing repetition of 'you're on your own' to summarise Republican social policy, that single word 'enough!', the 'America is better than this' trope which, I think, effectively combines critique with optimism) that even made me think this campaign might actually work.

You see, I've been quietly despairing for some time now that Obama has no chance of winning. In some way or another, I think I have internalised the Deleuze-Marvin Spectrum Theory that Andrew so persuasively put forward some time ago and combined it with my sense that any president who might really appeal to me has no chance in most of America.

So, it was great to see Obama come out swinging, whether via sarcasm or direct attacks, against the other guy and to assert--in language that, yes, was somewhat overblown, but this is not a context for intellectual subtlety--that liberal values are American values.

I have known for some time that I would be voting for Obama. But I have to say that after the convention I--for reasons I can't quite articulate at the moment--will do so with far more optimism than hitherto.

The fact that there are indications that the Democratic Party has also learned to play tough in a practical sense is also very encouraging.

I, for one, am tired of seeing the Democrats in the position of the noble losers.

So, now for the Republican newsflash.

I am among those many, many people who have never heard of Sarah Palin. So I have no special insight into her personality or policies.

At LG&M, Alaskan 'davenoon' has a collection of quick thoughts about her that are helpful in thinking about what her selection brings (or doesn't) to the McCain ticket.

She is apparently 'likeable'--an absolutely essential quality for running the world, don'cha know--but that might be the only thing that sane people find to like about her. There are, after all, a few negatives, of which the two most important might be:

She's fanatically anti-choice and believes my wife's colleagues in the public school system should be teaching their kids to doubt the existence of dinosaurs. Which is of course why she's with McCain right now in Ohio. She's not going to yank any women from the Democrats; she's there to mobilize the nutter base of the Republican party. But since the nutter base of the Republican party will be mobilized enough by the knowledge that Barack Obama drinks pureed fetus each morning before throwing himself prostrate to Mecca, I don't see how Palin is going to accomplish anything more along these lines.

Sarah Palin is profoundly, staggeringly ignorant about foreign policy. It's impossible overstate this. When President McCain strokes out over some third-tier international crisis, the erstwhile Mayor of Wasilla will be responsible for bombing Iran, maintaining our century-long imperial project in Mesopotamia, and delivering the severed equine heads to Vladimir Putin's bed.
John Dickerson, at Slate, puts this latter point slightly less vividly but no less succinctly:

But Palin is 44 and has been governor for less than two years. She has no foreign policy experience. For a candidate who turns 72 today, the heartbeat-away question carries weight. It also seems to undercut a key line of attack against Obama. If Sara Palin is ready to be commander in chief, then so is Barack Obama.

Bing points us to some information about Palin's views on abortion and creationism (that first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News):

A significant part of Palin's base of support lies among social and Christian conservatives. Her positions on social issues emerged slowly during the campaign: on abortion (should be banned for anything other than saving the life of the mother), stem cell research (opposed), physician-assisted suicide (opposed), creationism (should be discussed in schools), state health benefits for same-sex partners (opposed, and supports a constitutional amendment to bar them).

As Bing correctly points out:

This seems about as "maverick" as anything George Bush supported. Hell, she's as conventional a Republican as any I have ever heard of. Plus, she is a religious wackaloon, exempting herself from reason and compassion in the name of a parasitic meme.

Of course, I have no idea--pretty much like everyone else--how this is going to play out.

But, while I can appreciate the choice of Palin will generate some short-term buzz as the first female VP candidate chosen by the Republicans (for which they shouldn't necessarily get all that much credit, it being a bit late and all...), I can't see her advantages--which seems to be essentially confined to her sex and appeal to the Christian right--outweighing her shortcomings.

Anti-abortion, creationist true-believers are likely to be thrilled...but I find it hard to believe they weren't going to vote against Barack 'Anti-Christ' Obama in any case. Meanwhile, could it be that more than a few centrist voters might wonder whether taking the risk of handing over the nation to someone with absolutely no foreign policy experience is a Good Idea?

I can't see how this can give the Republicans more than a bit of a brief buzz that will disappear--at the latest--by the time of the first VP debates.

Having watched video of Palin's acceptance speech, I have to say that she comes across as a bit...insipid. A lightweight. And her gushing reliance on the John McCain-as-hero meme suggests that she's representing a party that has run out of ideas.

Put me down with the geeks as cautiously optimistic as of today.

On another issue, Dahlia Lithwick makes a point worth keeping in mind when perusing the rightish sector of the media over the coming weeks:

What would Chris Matthews and Rush Limbaugh be saying about Palin had she been Obama’s veep choice instead of McCain’s? Would we be seeing Sarah Palin nutcrackers by the weekend? Would Fox News be airing a segment next week about her “nagging voice” in which so-called experts opine that ‘“men won’t vote for Sarah Palin because she reminds them of their nagging wives.” Would Chris Matthews liken her not-yet-ready for primetime voice to “fingernails on a blackboard?”
No, I don't think we'll see that, for some strange reason.

But I do think we'll see a lot of not very good-faith right-wing commentary labelling any liberal criticism of Palin as a betrayal of feminism.

And I think this will make me laugh very hard.


The Wife said...

Aahh ... but you don't seem to appreciate the subtle signals of true maverickdom sent by Palin's style!

Down from the neck she seems to like to leave a "The Andrew's Sisters meet Blade Runner impression" that might cater to a certain Pearl Harbour nostalgia still present in American culture. Yesterday's bleak and threatening model was called "An Andrew's Sister Returns from a Funeral".

Her retro-sixties coiffure in a state of subtle dissolution no doubt was meant to suggest the kind of casual smartness that appeals to working mothers looking for a sisterly role-model and to men who like their country girls honest and homely - but capable of handling a shot gun and a barrette with equal competence. Mrs P., we learn from her hairstyle, is at the same time easy-going, clean and hands-on.

Her specs are the only tribute to modernity and a certain style européen, though - as with many Americans - in her case this leads down the road to Dieter.

If you ask me, she needs to drop her voice by an octave (like a certain British PM), and stop waving her little fists about in a babyish imitation of joyful triumph. It's simply unconvincing. Angela Merkel had to be chancellor for quite a while before she could display similar half-arsed gestures of unfelt enthusiasm in public without losing face. In yesterday's speech, Palin's hands only came up to her shoulder pads and even though she thereby got her republican cronies to chant "U-S-A, U-S-A", I'm not convinced that she will have the same effect upon the rest of America.

I hope.

canada said...

I am getting all my post-Democratic Convention/Welcome Sarah Palin news second-hand from brief news accounts and blogs like this. I simply can't bear the audio/visuals of these debacles anymore in the years left me.

McCain is crazy and Palin sounds like a right-ring shrew. Obama's charm and eloquence have worn thin after 18 months. I expect disaster in the wake of either man who wins. Both appear to have extraordinary potential for self-sabotage and danger.

I so want to be wrong.

Meanwhile, I'll be briefly occupied with the snap election snide PM Stephen Harper is certain to call here in October, breaking his own law against calling early elections. It will all happen quickly. Compared to the U.S., Canadians have political premature ejaculation when it comes to elections (bless them). I can then return vicariously to our regularly scheduled program down south.

BTW: Do you know how ex-pat votes are counted in the U.S.? My partner is convinced they're meaningless unless the election is close. I was under the impression they counted like any other vote from your last State of residence.

J. Carter Wood said...


As far as I know, absentee ballots 'count' just like any other vote, and they are counted in the state of last residence, as you say.

When they are counted varies a bit state by state, or, more precisely, how long after election day they may be submitted is a bit variable.

Wikipedia has some info here.

It appears that the state I'll be voting 'in' (Maryland) will still count my ballot if it arrives by 10 a.m. on the second Friday after election day.

Obviously, if things are wrapped up by then, my vote's not going to make that much difference....

I don't share your despair about Obama. As I mentioned, I presume I'll become somewhat disappointed as inspiration turns into day-to-day governance. Still, I think Obama-Biden is likely to be far superior to McCain-Palin on any number of counts. And I don't think Obama is going to take the country into 'disaster'.

I also think that he's gotten to be far better, and more interesting as a candidate, as time has gone along. I haven't gotten tired of him yet.

Enjoy your snap election. Ah, the joys of a parliamentary system, in which elections are mercifully quick and to the point.

Of course, they don't provide nearly as much long-term entertainment.

Best wishes for this most electoral season...