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Cheering Deceit in St. Paul

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I'm still convinced that attacking the Republican candidate for vice president is dumb politics. John McCain's fund-raising surge and Wednesday night's frenzy in St. Paul would seem to confirm that. So I'm not even going to type her name here.

Instead, let's shift to something that has nothing to do with her: all those words a former Bush speechwriter crafted for her to read to the convention delegates. The speech-writing betrayed a fundamental contempt for Americans -- contempt for our common sense, for our reading and comprehension, for our ability to do basic math. It's the same brand of mushroom-cloud-smoking-gun rhetoric that bamboozled us into Iraq.

Take this bit of Wednesday's staged reading:

"I was mayor of my hometown. And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involved. I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities."

OK. Let's look at what happens in the space of less than 50 words there.

Most notably, the speechwriter dangles this idea that we're actually going to hear "what the (mayoral) job involved" and how it prepares a person to be VP. But that never happens. Instead, the speechwriter distracts us with a gratuitous, crowd-pleasing insult -- a slap at young Barack Obama's years trying to help people in a Chicago neighborhood hit by job losses and tough times.

But it's not just a gratuitous insult. It's a breathtakingly misleading insult.

Translated into plain English, the speechwriter's words mean this: The job that my candidate held six years ago is more impressive than Senator Obama's first job out of college roughly two decades ago. So vote for her!

The speechwriter counts on us not knowing the candidates' job histories. And if we happen to know the chronology, the speechwriter is betting we're too dumb or too lazy to do some arithmetic. And if we happen to do the math, the speechwriter is counting on the relentless applause from the convention delegates to work us into such a state of delirium that we no longer care that we've just heard apples compared to oranges.

Because once you're delirious enough to toss a Sunkist into a cider press, you're ready for the part of the speech where the governor who was for the pork-barrel Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it utters these earnest, erroneous words: "I told the Congress, 'Thanks, but no thanks,' on that Bridge to Nowhere. If our state wanted to build a bridge, we were going to build it ourselves."

And you're also ready for the part of the speech where the candidate with no foreign-policy experience cuts through the humbling complexities of the Iraq War and tells us in just a dozen words what's really going on over there: "Victory in Iraq is finally in sight, and (Obama) wants to forfeit."

For a great summary of what I mean by my pompous phrase "the humbling complexities of the Iraq War," everybody should take the time to read The General's Dilemma, Steve Coll's nuanced piece on David Petraeus in the latest New Yorker. Whether you believe in MoveOn's "General Betray Us" caricature of Petraeus or you're a GOP speechwriter peddling the myth that Petraeus endorses McCain's dogmatic view of the war, you're likely to find something in Coll's piece that challenges your preconceptions. Like this quote from Petraeus about the U.S. political tightrope he walks every time he gives an update on the mess of a war he's been assigned to clean up:

"You have to be so precise, so that neither side can use it against you. Either side is trying to use what you say. The idea is to stay away from this whole optimism-pessimism thing."

But you can't rile up a convention crowd by staying away from the whole optimism-pessimism thing. So the speechwriter gives us an Iraq victory that's "finally in sight" and a Democrat who wants to become president so he can "forfeit" the war.

And the candidate speaks the speechwriter's words.

And the crowd cheers so long and so loud that the presidential candidate can't say much of anything once he joins his VP pick up there on the stage.

So what does it all mean? What next?

Roger Simon, in a post-speech article packed wall-to-wall with withering sarcasm, suggests that all the lingering questions about the VP pick really should stop now: "She gave a really good speech. And why go beyond that? As we all know, speeches cannot be written by others and rehearsed for days. They are true windows to the soul. Unless they are delivered by Barack Obama, that is."

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