This week I attended the U.S. Open and watched the Republican Convention. Guess which had more spin? Can McCain's pedestrian stump speech Thursday night convince voters that a Bush-look alike for seven years is the change agent? Only in America.
Our panel below performs the Emperor-Has-No-Clothes assignment of saying what should be obvious but what Republicans are hoping Americans don't see. Look at how experienced she is! Who's W?
One way to compare the Republican Convention and our American reality is to list their dozen top hypocrises. Admittedly, politics is often the art of squaring circles and finessing inconsistencies. But as commentators Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy accidentally told us, the level of BS and cynicism in the Twin Cities was mountainous:
*John McCain said that he doesn't work for the special interests. Ok, but they sure work for him, given the lobbyists who run and give to his campaign.
*John McCain repeatedly told us that he was a man of honor and principle, but what was the principle when he belittled then hugged Bush, belittled then hugged the religious right, belittled then hugged tax cuts for billionaires and oil firms, condemned and then allowed torture?
*John McCain had said that foreign policy experience really, really mattered in executive branch office and then chose a person who, based on a google search, knows less about foreign policy than an average graduate student - other than the push back of her supporters that she knows the Russians since they're located right across the Bering Strait from Alaska.
*John McCain condemns the failures in Washington and says that he represents change conveniently ignores that a) the Bush he embraced in 2004 was the president and b) he supports George W. Bush on all his major issues - pro-Iraq, anti-choice, tax cuts for the elite, social security privatization - and of course generally 90% of the time. McCain told hypnotized Republicans that he was saving the damsel in distress, except he had tied her to the tracks and was racing the train.
*Mitt Romney excoriated the "Eastern elites", perhaps like Bain Capital that he ran and Massachusetts that he governed.
*Rudy Giuliani said that Obama had no executive experience, "de nada!" Just like his good friend John McCain. But now that he's mentioned it, let's compare managerial experience: Obama ran a $250 million presidential campaign and won the Democratic nomination after some 50 primaries - while the Goliath of Gotham managed to spend $60 million and win one Republican delegate.
*Rudy Giuliani attacked the media for asking only women, never men, how they could run and serve yet still tend to their motherly duties. Lucky for him that's true, since he's estranged and doesn't speak to his two children. No fatherly duties there to ignore.
*Rudy Giuliani condemned the Democrats for never mentioning "Islamic Terrorism" at their Convention. Actually, a New York Times textual analysis showed that a man named Barack Obama menioned terrorism four times, a woman named Sarah Palin three times and a man named John McCain one time.
*Karl Rove three weeks ago attacked Obama for considering Tim Kaine as VP because the Virginia Governor was so inexperienced, having "been governor only three years" and having been mayor of Richmond, "the 108th the largest city in America" with a population of only 200,000. Palin, Rove later asserted without chagrin, was as qualified as Obama since she had run "the second largest city in Alaska", population 7,000.
*Many podium speakers lashed out at the media elite, which previously McCain had laughingly called "my base."
*All Republicans rightly said that Sarah Palin's unmarried, pregnant daughter shouldn't be an issue in the campaign. Unfortunately, their platform attacked sex education in high school and she gave a culture war speech reflecting the habit of Republicans to moralize against "pinhead parents" (O'Reilly) who have pregnant unwed teens.
*Before party leaders attacked anyone as sexist for questioning Sarah Palin's qualifications to be vice president or president, Palin had attacked Hillary's Clinton's "whining" about sexism in her primary contest,
*A party that mocked Obama as just giving good speeches (which he usually writes) then lionized Sarah Palin for performing as an anchorperson reading a speech from a teleprompter written by an ex-Bush aide.
Are these absurdities a bridge to nowhere? The answer came from another presidential nominee from Illinois - "You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."
7 DAYS PANEL, Sept. 6, 2008, W/ HUFFINGTON, BENDER, VANDEN HEUVEL & GREEN
MARK GREEN: I tried to be an objective student of McCain's acceptance speech, but I found it to be awful - a stale and poorly delivered stump speech. What did I miss?
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Just anecdotally, a number of people I know fell asleep while watching it, which is not a good sign. But I think it was the worst acceptance speech, maybe not in my lifetime, but since (even though I think he's the best ex-President we have) Jimmy Carter in 1980. There was no life, it was shockingly short on any policy, which he was going to speak to. The underlying message of it is so contradictory...I mean, how do Republicans like John McCain talk about change and reform and act like insurgents when they've been running Washington, the White House and Congress for most of the last eight years?
GREEN: What's the chance that he can persuade swing voters by running against the Republicans who ran the government and just nominated him?
DAVID BENDER: Even if anyone believed that, which is a major stretch, it's almost impossible for that to be credible given the last eight years. But let's say you believed that. What that speech showed was that this is not the man to deliver that change, simply because he doesn't have the energy to do it. Joe Klein described it well -- it's more like a valedictory speech than an acceptance speech. This was the speech given at the end of a career, not the beginning of a new presidency. Forget about the words. If you were just passing through the room and saw the lifelessness of his presentation, you'd think, 'this man is not up to doing this.'
GREEN: This week, anyone who criticizes Sarah Palin is being called sexist or part of the liberal media elite -- or both. Can they get away with that?
VANDEN HEUVEL: The media sexism BS, if I might, is part of a larger strategy; you know what's going on here -- they're using this Spiro Agnew, Pat Buchanan kind of false populism, to attack the, quote, elite media. First of all, no one has had a closer relationship with the national press than John McCain in these past 20 years. What they're doing is working the refs. They want the McCain campaign to say that legitimate reporting about Sarah Palin's record is off-bounds. They want to intimidate the media, and they're doing a decent job. But the sexism I've seen is more on the floor of the GOP convention, all these buttons like "Hoosiers for Hottie" and "The Hottest Governor From the Coldest State." It's coming from their own ranks!
GREEN: Drew Westen in The Political Brain says emotion usually beats reason in politics. Are you worried that McCain's POW story beats Obama's professorial substance?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Well, what Obama is offering is not just substance; he's offering inspiration, he's offering someone you believe in. And that's why it's troubling when he doesn't act that way, when he undermines his brand by trying to triangulate. Look what he did on O'Reilly, when he actually said that the surge had "worked beyond our wildest dreams." Why he thought he had to say that, I have no idea, but it was a serious mistake. It's part of the same mistake as telling Fortune Magazine that speaking against NAFTA was overheated rhetoric.... This is not the 90s, and what worked for Bill Clinton in the 90s is definitely not going to work for Obama in 2008. [He needs to give] us that kind of boldness, the kind of anger that he gave us during his own acceptance speech... when he said "enough!"
GREEN: When Palin becomes an attack dog on Obama - falsely asserting, for example, that Obama has no major legislation to his credit in Springfield or Washington - should Democrats push back hard on her inexperience?
HUFFINGTON: Mark, I think Democrats will be making a serious mistake to underestimate Sarah Palin. She's an effective communicator. If you want to be convinced of that, just compare her speech to Cindy McCain's speech. I know Cindy McCain is just a wife and a potential first lady, but it's just amazing: when Sarah Palin spoke, people listened. And that's something that can't be taught; there's thousands of politicians who never learn it despite endless coaching. So my advice to Democrats is to take Sarah Palin seriously and only deal with her on the facts, on the issues, on what she believes, on what she's saying, and not play into the soap opera that is so mesmerizing the American people.
VANDEN HEUVEL: I think, as Arianna said, that she is a very effective communicator: scarily so, if you look at all those one-liners. I thought it did edge close to being mean-spirited and mocking, so that the 'mother' piece of it was sort of undercut....[But] the Republicans have set it up well. One, they have said clearly that this election isn't about the issues, which is brazenly honest. But two, by bashing the media and laying out this trope that the media is elitist - and excuse my elitist word, trope - they will keep her in a cocoon of favorable media environment, and just explain that by saying 'why should she go talk to those elitists?' And they're going to have it all ways. But we do need to keep on the issues, because that's what the Republicans don't want. And if you look at the issues, you can see clearly that Sarah Palin isn't who she says she is. She's much more ferociously ideological than she was made out to be in that speech, nor is she the maverick that John McCain is so eager to latch onto in her career.
GREEN: So how do the Dems criticize her without playing into the story line that they're sexist?
BENDER: Well, Obama has already actually addressed this in the last few days, saying that he wouldn't think that she would want to be treated any differently, and isn't that what this is all about?
GREEN: With the Conventions over, the only remaining major variable - other than gaffes and October surprises to come - are the debates, when even more than the Conventions' 40 million will be watching. Since Obama can be a so-so debater and McCain can be a blustery, effective Town Haller, who do you think will net gain from debates?
HUFFINGTON: Well, it depends on what place Obama is coming from, because he has it in him to be not just inspirational, but also really bold and powerful in a debate, as he is in a speech. Or, he can be very professorial and held-back. So it all depends on what he decides to do. If he is the former, then he will definitely beat McCain. I mean, he has the knowledge, the intellect, the judgment and the issues on his side, so why not?
BENDER: In the debates Obama must focus on the economy and George Bush. It's absolutely clear that the strategy here was to distance [McCain] rhetorically from George Bush. It was not convincing, and Barack Obama can remind people, as he has, that 90, 95 percent of the time McCain has been with Bush. But I come back to something Arianna was just saying -- yes, Barack Obama has a command of the facts. But John Kerry won every single debate with George Bush, there's no question about it, on the merits. But the perception was not about the merits, the perception was, 'he attacked Mary Cheney....' GREEN:Allow me to disagree.... John Kerry had a net gain of some eight points after the debates because he so clearly cleaned W's clock. I remember the Cheney brouhaha, but John - who, of course, is very smart, slightly professorial - won the debates on the merits and it converted into politics.
GREEN: Look how little Iraq came up at the Democratic Convention. Should Obama continue to use Iraq as an issue or is that a political loser because of McCain's military record?
HUFFINGTON: Oh, absolutely he has to. To me, it is really disturbing that the Obama campaign has allowed the McCain campaign to basically frame Iraq and the 'War on Terror' as just about the surge. [They are] making it about McCain having the judgment to be in favor of the surge, and making the surge seem like what has led to victory, and assuming victory when so much in Iraq is still falling apart...you know, all that is basically ceding ground to McCain. Obama cannot do that. I've been like a broken record about the fact that I still believe that, in a post-9/11 world, national security will trump everything come the election. Something will happen - let's hope that it's just a videotape from Osama or something - that will remind people again that we live in a dangerous world, and if people think Obama is not going to be able to keep us safe, that's a major vulnerability.
GREEN: What will a Biden/Palin debate look like?
VANDEN HEUVEL: Mark, come on, she knows a lot about other countries because Alaska's so close to Russia and that proximity is going to enable her to overtake Joe Biden in a debate about our US-Russia policy. No, more seriously, I gather Joe Lieberman is briefing her? That's a good one, and we should use that, because you have, with John McCain and Joe Lieberman, two people who have squandered United States' security.
BENDER: Joe Biden has already lowered expectations on this, he's already said 'don't expect anything other than a great performance from Sarah Palin,' He's been doing this steadily for the last several days. So I think Joe Biden's playing it very smart; he's lowering the bar for himself, and so I think we'll be pleasantly surprised.