Of McCainiacs and Barracudas

September 7, 2008

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.
15. Seriously.

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.

Welcome to Obama Nation!

August 26, 2008

Welcome to Denver, where the elites and working class join hands and celebrate the nomination of Barack Obama for the Democratic National Convention. No flash photos, please, and if you must smoke, please do so at the nearest designated non-smoking area, officially known as Utah.

The theme of this year’s Democratic convention is “One Nation,” a sentiment somewhat contradictory to 2004’s vice presidential candidate, John Edwards. His idea of “Two Americas” presumably includes those in which his wife has terminal cancer and one in which he has a mistress; alas, for Edwards, the times have changed, and those two worlds have now become one.

The selection of Denver as the city for the convention was no accident. Surely, the cold, unforgiving masses of Colorado are rather unwelcome to those Democrats weltering in the south or at least have the benefit of the gentle gusts of wind emanating from Martha’s Vineyard, Puget Sound, or Joe Biden. Colorado is seen as a potential swing state. While Bush and the Republicans have safely won the state over the past few decades, the Democrats have slowly been gaining ground. What used to be the standard-bearer of western rugged individualists has found droves of environmentalists, immigrants, and rich urbanites looking to get away from the exact sort of city they voted to create in the first place settling in and, worse, registering to vote and, even more worse, actually voting.

This year, then, the Democrats are hoping to pick up its nine electoral votes. While small in the grand scheme of the electoral college, it’s a gold mine (quite literally) in the razor-thin election results we’ve seen lately. Someone, somewhere, on hearing about the selection of Biden as the vice presidential candidate, wiped their brow, squeaked a “3” on the dry erase board, and was glad to secure Delaware’s otherwise safe three votes.

This was shaping up to be one of the few political conventions in recent years that might have some legitimate drama. Conventions used to be full of brokered deals: cabinet positions auctions off to the highest bidder, legislation hammered out and agreed to in exchange for favors; party platform statements used to score internal political points but largely ignored by pretty much everyone else in the history of mankind. These slowly drifted away in importance as primaries determined the nominee, and the only thing left to do at conventions was get drunk and accidentally cast vote for Dennis Kucinich.

This year, with the primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama so close for so long, it was rumored that there may be a brokered convention once again, just like the olden times of Eugene McCarthy, Adlai Stevenson, and a long, long, depressing list of extremely capable losers. This trend, as it were, was the impetus for the creation of superdelegates, individuals empowered to vote for whoever they pleased. In effect, this was to ensure a voice within the party apparatus, but, in reality, it was to prevent the Democratic faithful from nominating Walter Mondales for the next 2,000 years, which seems quite likely even today. (The Republicans have no such issue, and no superdelegates; they simply run an auction.)

Obama has also made a historic decision: to give his nomination acceptance speech not at the Pepsi Center, but at Invesco Field, where the Denver Broncos play. This echoes john F. Kennedy’s similar decision when he accepted the nomination in 1960, one of the few ways in which Obama has likened himself to Kennedy. And by “few” I mean “about as many times as John McCain has reminded us that he spent five years in a POW camp.”

Whether the convention will be a grand success, playing on Obama’s strengths while downplaying the historically bitter primary or descending into chaos and strife, remains to be seen. Several protest groups with an unfortunate grasp on exactly the sort of political spectrum they are protesting against have already planned on attempting to create the 1968 convention in Chicago, where Hubert Humphrey got into a fistfight with Mo Udall in the men’s room, and Mayor Daley roamed the floor with a steak knife he stole off of Lyndon Johnson personally garroting anyone he found giving him the ole crook eye.

Ultimately, it is going to be up to Obama to determine how this convention is viewed by the unwashed undecideds. Given that Obama’s campaign theme has been largely about the rather blandly generic terms of “change” and “hope,” it seems rather strange to latch on to another quite lukewarm concept as “One Nation.” While political themes have always been broad and undefined—Ronald Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill” could mean the optimism of a renewed America or another damn Starbucks being built next to the dentist’s office—the Obama campaign seems to be striving for optional definitions with a politically constructed premise to be named later. Obama should do what every Democratic campaign in the past century has done: grasp the universal theme of peace, fairness, and pandering to labor unions, environmentalists, and Hollywood. It works every time.