The confetti has drifted to the floor, the little plastic elephants swept into dustpans, and little cupcakes shaped like Alaska have been digested. The Republicans have descended and departed from Minneapolis, the pristine capital of the north and a rather unlikely place for a conservative to thrive. But as John McCain has shown, he thrives in hostile environments, whether it be Hanoi, Arizona, or the Republican Party.
Coming into this week, John McCain didn’t have a whole lot to lose. The Democrats had put on a solid if not spectacular show on in Colorado, and Barack Obama was basking in a muted post-convention bounce in the polls. The Republicans—a brand name tarnished by the unpopular Bush years and a fanatical devotion to such popular ideals as the war in Iraq, Social Security privatization, and cracking open the Rockies and scooping out any carbon-based form of energy in order to burn any excess food or housing so it wouldn’t make it into the hands of the poor, the poor being defined as those who failed to make their first million before they were born—had a rather tall order convincing the American electorate that they had something better to offer than the Democrats.
Things did not start off auspiciously—and given the trajectory of the McCain campaign, when his early operation had so little money Cindy McCain was popping generic Percocet and was polling behind the reanimated corpse of the much younger Warren Harding, this boded well indeed. Hurricane Gustav threatened to rain down torrential winds and destructive precipitation, but more importantly threatened to blow gusts of the memory of Katrina. With this would come memories of FEMA, New Orleans, and a stark, unwelcome reminder that Louisiana is still, alas, part of the United States. Thankfully for everyone involved, the storm, after promising to tear the roof off the metaphorical state, kind of petered out and landed with an unceremonious thud, and it almost, but not quite, got renamed Hurricane Fred Thompson.
In many ways Obama framed the debate to which McCain reacted. By holding his acceptance speech on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he set expectations rather unceremoniously high. As such, his speech was somewhat of a letdown, being more of the breakfast-cereal platitudes of “hope” and “change” he’s been dragging out about as often as we’re reminded that John McCain was busy shooting down the Viet Cong back when a certain Illinois senator was still learning his multiplication tables than any extraordinary feat of rhetoric.
Entering this was McCain, who upset the political balance of Everybody Being Really Comfortable With Where They Were At by selecting the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his running mate. Here are a few notes you may not know about Governor Palin, especially if you are either refusing to listen to anything anyone has said about anything for the past week, or are terminally dumb:
1. She is a woman.
2. Holy crap!
3. Seriously, turns out she is a woman. Just like, oh, I don’t know, say, Hillary Clinton.
4. I think John McCain has a little crush on someone!
5. Don’t tell Cindy.
6. I think it would be even money she would win a fistfight with Joe Biden. I’m just sayin’.
7. She has like a bajillion kids, all of whom are adorable
8. But they all have creepy names, like she lost a bet or something.
9. Like Piper.
10. Really? I mean, c’mon.
11. She’s from Alaska.
12. Yes, THAT Alaska.
13. The one that has more moose than people.
14. No, I don’t get it either.
The members of the GOP see all of these important points as absolute positives for the Republican ticket this year. Many of them weren’t quite sold on McCain to begin with. Sure, he was sort of a Republican, but they caught him hanging out with the Sharks a few too many times for everyone’s liking. The Christian Right in particular has not warmed to the Senator from Arizona, mostly because of the fact that while McCain agrees with the religious factions on nearly every issue, he once made the mistake of verbalizing the idea that maybe blaming 9/11 on feminists and homosexuals instead of, you know, actual terrorists, was not the most tactful thing to say. For this, he was anathema to them, something akin to watching Will & Grace reruns by “accident” or Dr. Dobson recommending therapy instead of beating yourself on the head with a 2×4. Choosing Palin, a strong supporter of religious causes, allayed their fears somewhat.
The remainder of the Republican convention was otherwise normal, with safe, unremarkable speeches punctuated by shoving anyone with skin darker than Deepak Chopra or at least one vagina up to the stage to talk about hope, struggle, and repealing the estate tax.
Most pundits classify the convention as a relative success. While the Democrats seemed to focus on making broad swipes at McCain by linking him with Bush, McCain captured the concept of “change” and molded it into his own. This is a somewhat risky behavior, since he’s effectively telling Republicans that Bush screwed the pooch and he’s there to clean up the inevitable mess. Whether this will appeal to the independent voter that has yet to make up their mind has yet to be determined. At least McCain now knows that Alaska is safe—and, as always, thank goodness.