Democrat & Republican Conventions - 2008
Blog Commentaries

by  Dennis Foster 

     For years, I been a political junkie.  In junior high school, I followed the 1968 presidential primary campaign fairly closely.  In 1972, as a freshman at Drake University, in Des Moines, Iowa, I did volunteer work for the Nixon campaign.  The resignation of Spiro Agnew, and the impeachment of the president led me to change my party affiliation.  In 1976, I saw almost all of the Democratic candidates - somehow, I missed Jimmy Carter!  I supported Shriver, but he faded fast, and I turned my support to Udall.  In the fall of 1976, after graduating, I did some legwork for the independent campaign of Eugene McCarthy.  I still think that his stance against campaign finance reform should stand out as one of the finer moment of principled politics.  I decided that third party candidacies are rather futile, but still I think I voted for John Anderson in 1980.  His bolting of the Republican party was quixotic, but his embrace of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism served as my entree into libertarian political views.  I recall voting for Reagan in 1984 because he seemed likable, and Bush in 1988, because he seemed competent.  I decided that competence was not necessarily desirable, given that he squandered away his huge favorability ratings.  I voted for Clinton twice, as he did seem to be a more reasonable Democrat; after all, just recall all the carping that most still engage in over NAFTA, which is probably his premier accomplishment.  Then, I turned to the younger Bush for two terms, although I have been quite uneasy over his big spending "compassionate" conservative ways.  And, I supported McCain despite his awful free speech record and his embrace of cap and trade for bogus global warming reasons.  Well, it's not a perfect world.  Some may say that I exhibit a fierce independence when it comes to politics; others may say that I am obviously quite confused!  Regardless, the blogging experience gave me the opportunity to comment on the daily events at the conventions during the summer of 2008.  Here they are, altogether in one place.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

   Dem Con 1 - Hollow I have pretty much always been a political junkie.  I usually make it a point to watch the conventions, even if I know who I am supporting.  This year is no different, but I now have the opportunity to comment on these affairs.  So, first up are the Dems who are convening in my, more or less, hometown of Denver, Colorado.  Day one I have decided can best be summarized as "hollow."

     Of course, the highlight of the evening's show was Michelle Obama, wife of the candidate.  She was personable and gave a good speech.  I would echo Juan Williams comments, made on Fox, that it held special cultural significance and that it served as a role model for a stable middle-class black family.

     But, when it came to content, we heard only the same shallow rhetoric that filled the primary season.  I really don't know what is meant by saying that Barak Obama will "bring about the change we need."  This was especially awkward in the context of Ms. Obama's rousing story of her success - strong, hard-working father, close knit family, the wherewithal to send both kids to college, etc.  One would think that her story is an example of what is right with this country, and not the foundation for the "change we need."  I just don't get it.

    Her funniest line, which was unintentional, but I don't hold it against her, was that Barak "grew up way across the continent in Hawaii."  Once you pass by California, you're no longer on the continent.

     The star of the night was really Ted Kennedy.  Man, can the guy talk a good line.  I don't buy the whole "health care is a fundamental right, not a privilege" nonsense - as Ayn Rand pointed out so many years ago, if you have a right to something like health care, then someone is obliged to provide it, and that obligation is going to come at the point of the gun wielded by the government.  Still, he seemed in his usual top form and gave a stirring talk.  The video tribute, done by Ken Burns, fell flat for me.  It is hard to feel some special connection to someone who owns a giant sailboat and is able to flit about the ocean with his family.  It just doesn't resonate with the lifestyle of the common masses.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

   Dem Con 2 - Humdrum - Last night it was time for the Dems to chip away at McCain and for Hillary to have her moment in the spotlight.  The delivery was fine, but on content, I was not impressed.  The rhetoric got sharper, but it almost always sounded like nonsense.  But, I guess when you're the party of redistribution, the whole notion of wealth creation is unimportant.  Otherwise, it is hard to fathom how anyone can believe the ranting.   So, my take on the night - humdrum.

     The keynote speaker was Mark Warner, candidate for the Senate from Virginia (and former governor).  Boring.  He didn't seem especially passionate and his message was convoluted - from his participation in the cell phone revolution (hmm . . . he's starting to sound like Al Gore, who invented the internet) to 100 mpg hybrid vehicles for all.  The worst was his "complaint" that George Bush's major flaw was that he failed to rally the American spirit after 9/11.  Awful.

     Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer was more animated and did a much better job of rousing the crowd.  Still, the content of his message was weak, from arguing for tax credits to consumers that buy hybrid cars (ouch!) to his remark that "petrol dictators will never own American wind and sunshine."  Well, that kind of talk is bound to make us friends and influence people.  Not!

     Hillary was the highlight, naturally.  She gave a great performance, although she could have paused at times when the crowd was all riled up and thunderous in their applause.  Instead, she kept surging through her speech, which struck me as unusually short, ringing in at just a tad over twenty minutes.  I doubt that Bill will be that brief tonight!  Here are some of the parts that caught my attention . . .

"18 million cracks in the glass ceiling" - The reference is to the number of votes she got and the invisible barrier to women that want to climb to the top of the corporate ladder.  Well, she got to run for President!  Isn't that a sign that there is no "glass ceiling?"  Apparently not; only if she won would that ceiling have shattered.  Oh, give me a break! 

"I've spent 35 years in the trenches" - This reference really should be phased out in politics.  It is so over the top and denigrates the blood, sweat and tears of those that really do spend time in trenches (i.e., our military). 

"We've suffered 8 years of failed leadership" - She makes it sound as if we live in a gulag, or something.  Brit Hume, on Fox, made the same kind of comment, in a more general fashion, as part of all conventions.  Yes, but still it is just rhetoric.  This got worse at the end, when she said that with this election, the "fate of the nation hangs in the balance."  You mean, we might actually privatize social security?  Woo hoo!  Of course, even if the Dems lose the presidential race (and, I think they will), they are certainly going to keep control of both houses of Congress.

"No way.  No how.  No McCain." - One of the highlights and, really, kind of funny although it doesn't rhyme. 

"We will create a world class educational system and make it affordable again" - Ouch!  If we don't already have a "world class" system, what do we have?  And, isn't this more than a little bit contradictory?  A Hummer education for the price of a Yugo?  I don't think so.  

"Stop padding the pockets of energy speculators" - If a politician doesn't understand the role that speculators play in stabilizing economic conditions, then they just don't understand anything about the economy. 

     I think one thing was clear from her performance - she would have been a much stronger candidate against McCain than Obama will be.  Will she run against a President McCain in 2012?  Probably.  Will she run in 2016 if Obama gets two terms?  Probably not.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

   Dem Con 3 - Stooge Night - Last night, the marquee speakers were Kerry, Clinton, and Joe.  Hmm . . . perhaps the program should have been billed as "Three Stooges Night."  With apologies to Larry, Curly and Moe.

     Clinton was in fine form, feeding off of an appreciative audience.  He speaks well, and carries it off with a great deal of conviction.  But, since we know that little of what he says is actually true (yes, yes, yes, I know it all depends on what the meaning of "is" is), we can write him off as stooge #1 for the night.  Some of his antics included:

"The American Dream is under siege here at home." - Oh, give me a break.

"People around the world have always been more impressed by the power of our example rather than the example of our power." - Hmm . . . the power of his examples did little more than fuel the continued rise of radical Islam until it culminated in the 9/11 attack.  During his eight years, we could have used some more examples of power!

16 years ago, critics said he was too young and inexperienced to be commander-in-chief - I thought the fact that he was dope-smoking, draft-avoiding hippie was the reason.  Shows you what I know.  But, two more points here - first, he had actually been a governor for multiple terms, unlike Obama's weak resume, and second, he only won in 1992 because Ross Perot's third party challenge siphoned off way more votes from Bush than from Clinton.

     Next up was John Kerry, the last standard bearer of the Dems.  It's too bad Fox cut away from this exercise in tomfoolery - it must be their liberal bias showing.  CNN and MSNBC showed this speech, although I watched it on C-SPAN (as I did with all the speeches).  He was a bit humorous in his attack of McCain, essentially calling him a flip-flopper [Before McCain debates Obama, "he should finish the debate with himself."].  I think that Kerry was poking fun at himself, the king of flip-floppers, but maybe it was just subtle advice.  His throwaway line about being in "the wrong war, in the wrong place at the wrong time" begs the question of what the right war/place/time would be.  He didn't specify, naturally.  Finally, his attempt to tie Obama to the military by referring to Obama's grandfather and great uncle was laughable.

     Joe Biden gave the final speech for the night, in his acceptance of the Vice Presidential nomination.  I have watched Biden for years - well, he has been in the Senate for 36 so far - and, sometimes he says sensible things.  Then there are times when he is just a loon.  He made a few minor slip-ups, but otherwise carried off the style portion of the competition well.  His shtick with the Obama/McCain contrast ("That's not change, that's more of the same" and "That's the change we need.") was entertaining.  I suspect we'll hear more of this over the next two months.  Otherwise, some of the oddball things he had to say included:

"Failure is inevitable, giving up is unforgivable." - This sage advice from his mother seems to have fallen on deaf ears for someone that voted for the resolution that sent our troops into Iraq.

"Anyone can make it if you try hard enough." - More sage advice from his mother.  Yet, he seems not to understand what it means!  Especially, when you consider this next one . . .

"People worked hard on the promise that their tomorrows would be better than their yesterdays." - I don't recall ever seeing any such "promise."  And, doesn't it just take hard work anyway?

Obama would help to rebuild Georgia. - Yikes!  Granted, we have an interest there, and will probably help, but it would seem that this is way down the list of our priorities.  And, if this spending is really going to take place in earnest, let's not hear any more about federal deficits!

Obama wants to send two more brigades to Afghanistan. - OK, insofar as a careful consideration of policy goes.  But, I can't believe that the base of the Democrat party will embrace this platform.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

   Dem Con 4 - Histrionics - Thursday evening, the Dems wrapped up their convention with Obama's acceptance speech at Mile High Stadium in Denver, about a mile from where my dad lives.  While there were a number of speakers during the night, the show featured former Vice President Al Gore and a "surprise" visit from current the VP candidate, Joe Biden.

     For a while, I thought Al Gore might actually downplay his whole global warming crusade, as his talk began with lots of regular partisan rhetoric.  He did mention the "borrow from China to pay for oil from Saudi Arabia" line and did so in a way that made me think that this was his line to begin with.  Well, you never know with this guy!  I thought his most memorable, and funny, line was about how "Big Oil and Big Coal have a 50 year lease . . . on the Republican Party."  Of course, most of his immediate audience certainly took it as literal truth rather than as a witty turn of a phrase.  I did not remember him ever mentioning either of the Clintons, although he made a point to say that Joe Biden's acceptance speech was great (which, of course, it wasn't).   Still, the former Veep was at his pompous "best" when he compared Obama to Abraham Lincoln.  Maybe Obama should start wearing a stovepipe hat . . . ?

     Obama's fifty minute speech was, as usual, articulate and had more of the kinds of specifics he used in his primary speeches.  The short biographical video was interesting, although the attempt to downplay his ivy league education just continues to astound me.  While there had been some hubbub about the Greek columns, the backdrop looked like a stylized version of the White House, which I think was smart.

     As to content, we were once again made to believe that our economy is worse than the Great Depression.  How ironic that second quarter GDP figures came out that morning, showing robust growth of 3.3%.  Well, we wouldn't want anything like economic growth get in the way of our fairy tale narrative!  Indeed, as he went through a litany of personal stories of economic hardship all I could think of was that here was the ultimate lazy social activist.  If some people need help, start a charity to help them; don't try to shove a hugely wasteful government program down our throats just because you and your friends are too lazy to do something about these "problems."

     Obama went on and on about something called the "American Promise."  Exactly what that means, and how it differs from what we generally call the "American Dream" escapes me.  He did mention a few points here which just sounded like our existing system (e.g., that the market should reward innovation), but other points were disturbing - "Business has the responsibility to create jobs and take care of workers."  Delusional.

     Obama did spell out what kinds of changes he would promote.  Here are some of them:

Cut taxes for 95% of all "working families." - Impossible, given the enormous amount of additional spending he is proposing.  It is quite likely this "promise" would be operationalized as cutting income taxes for 95% of all working families, but then raising a host of other taxes that would more than offset this reduced tax burden.  Well, he is a lawyer!

End our dependence on oil from the Middle East in ten years. - So, I looked up data on where we get our oil (find it here).  It turns out that Canada is #1.  Of the top 15 countries, the only Middle Eastern countries are Saudi Arabia (1.5 million barrels per day - mbd), Iraq (700 mbd) and Kuwait (200 mbd).  So, why on earth would we want to stop importing oil from Kuwait and Iraq?  So, it really comes down to just Saudi Arabia.  OK, lets do this.  We will just import more oil from our other oil trading partners to make up for this difference - Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria and maybe even Libya and Russia!  Well, there's a statement!

Tap into natural gas, clean coal and nuclear. - Yikes!  Do his supporters know this?  

We have a moral obligation to give every child a world class education. - OMG!  He told us, early on in his speech, that his mother made him get up at 4 a.m. to work on his studies.  Is that lesson not meaningful?  Barack Obama's journey from a bi-racial union to the ivy league to the nomination to be President of the United States is truly remarkable.  He has lived the life of personal responsibility and hard work.  Yet, he wants to use the government to make these lessons impossible to learn.  Like John McCain, I guess, I just don't get it.   

Insurance companies must stop discriminating against sick people. - This shows how Dems in general, and Obama in particular, have not a smidgen of understanding about what "insurance" means.  

Paid family leave; change bankruptcy laws to protect pensions; equal pay for equal work. - As one commentator remarked, it seems like Obama wants to turn us into another European country.  

     There was more, of course, but these were some of the lowlights for me.  I thought that his deferring on a Martin Luther King reference until the end of his speech was also smart.  The more he tries to take on the mantle of the portion of black America that descended from slaves, the worse he looks.  The only one in his family background that ever had suffered any racial prejudice in America is him, and he is running as a major party nominee for President.  So, I give him some kudos for drawing some of these connections in a subtle manner (versus, say, a Jesse Jackson).  He did much to make this election a "crossroads in history" and he pledged to "march into the future" which makes this historic event one that may be better described as histrionic.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

   Re Con 1 - Class - What a difference a week makes!  While the Dems talked the talk all of last week, after the "first" night of the GOP convention, all I can say is they certainly walked the walk.  Technically, it started with the all-but-canceled first night (Monday) - due to the Gustav goose egg - when Laura Bush and Cindy McCain exhorted convention-goers and television viewers to contribute to various hurricane relief funds.  But, Tuesday night's show was an exercise in class, from the video tribute to Navy Seal Mike Mansoor to the keynote comments of Joe Lieberman ("I'm here to support John McCain because country matters more than party."), I thought that the tone was just right.

     President Bush gave an effective speech, but it wasn't especially rousing.  Fred Thompson, on the other hand (pictured to the right) was in top form, detailing John McCain's wartime experiences and telling the audience that McCain has "character you can believe in."  I thought it was quite powerful, as I did not know much of the details of McCain's imprisonment in the Hanoi Hilton (except that he was and it was for many years).  Unlike his performance at the Defending the American Dream Summit last fall, Thompson was lively and engaged.

     While Obama was not often identified by name, I thought that the subtle dismantling of the aura that surrounds him was masterful.  When Laura Bush talked about Cindy McCain's trips to various world hot spots, all over just the last eight months, Obama came off looking even more superficial.  And, the unrelenting criticism by Lieberman, the Dems Veep candidate of just eight years ago, were stinging.  Well, my view is that Obama entered into the race thinking he would lose to Clinton, but that he'd have created a national following that would propel him into the White House in 4, or 8 years.  In an odd sort of way, it is unlucky of him to have beat Hillary!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

   Re Con 2 - Palin KOs BO Day two of the Republican convention took off right where the first day ended.  [Technically, this was day 3, but since day 1 was shortened to about a half hour, due to hurricane Gustav, it hardly counts.]  I caught most of Michael Steele's speech - I still think he would have made a good veep choice.  He extended the whole "country first" theme to its logical, and untenable, conclusion - country, community and family before self.  Yeech.  This flies in the face of "individualism" and I can't imagine that many true conservatives would really embrace this altruistic notion.  Indeed, there is an inherent paradox here - why do we extol the sacrifices made by others in the name of country, community and family?  Usually, it is so that others can pursue their own self interest.  Hmm . . .  The ultimate goal of any sacrifice must be that the individual is important.  That doesn't mean we can't honor sacrifice, nor that we can't actually sacrifice ourselves.  But, let's not lose sight of the true purpose.

     Mitt Romney was OK, but not his usual self.  The quip about keeping Al Gore's private jet on the ground was a good one, but we've heard this before.  Mike Huckabee was personable and his defense of the notion that not all conservatives are rich was well done.  His best line was about how Sarah Palin got more votes for mayor of little Wasilla, AK than Joe Biden got running for President.

     Laura Lingle, governor of Hawaii, was fine, but not an especially rousing speaker.  Rudy Giuliani was looking quite comfortable at the podium and relaxed as he goaded the crowd with his commentary against Obama.  Finally, we have heard from someone that has taken Obama to task for promising to use public financing for his campaign and then changing his mind on that - for obvious reasons.  Rudy's litany of how Obama had broken many promises ended with this snortler: "If I were Joe Biden, I'd want to get the VP thing in writing."

     The highlight, of course, was VP nominee Sarah Palin.  Her speech was nothing less than a knockout, especially considering that reports out today say that her teleprompter was malfunctioning midway through her presentation.  She came across as just a regular person, but one that can see through all the smoke and mirrors of the campaign.  From her blasting of the media to the shallowness of Obama, she was on target and has really made a great first impression.  Her digs at the Obama campaign's denigrating her tenure as mayor of a small city was being played over and over again on TV ("I guess it's kind of like being a community organizer, except with actual responsibilities.").  She did a good job of telling the audience about herself, and a good job of talking about McCain.  If one were to look at the speech not knowing anything about the current political landscape, you'd bet a great deal that she had been a well-regarded national politician for some time.  Not yet, but it seems she will be.  In fact, my wife opines that she can easily see Palin as President down the road.  We'll see.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

   Re Con 3 - McMaybe - Although almost two weeks have passed, and numerous events have unfolded (Ike, lipstick on a pig, non-debate on service, 9-11, et. al), it seems like just yesterday the Republican convention was wrapping up.  So, past time to comment . . .

   Speeches by Lindsey Graham and Tom Ridge were, well, not especially riveting.  I found that my attention was easily diverted and missed a lot of the specifics of what they were saying.  But, they weren't the main course anyway.

     The video on Cindy McCain was well-done.  She has an interesting background, and her experiences around the world are quite inspiring.  Likewise, the video on John McCain was powerful and had its moment of humor - "John McCain is" . . . (somber music) . . . "a mama's boy" (cut to his mother).  I don't recall the same kind of easy-going humor at the Dems convention.  Did I miss it?

     McCain's speech was strong and I give him lots of points for style.  He shrugged off the protesters well enough ("Ignore the ground noise and static."), who did a good job of making fools of themselves and their worthless cause.  His rhetorical flourishes - "Change is coming" and "We believe ...," and "Stand up; Stand up" - were comparable to the skills exhibited by Barack Obama, which I didn't think would be possible.

     As to the substance of McCain's remarks, I give him a resounding "McMaybe."  He was clearly appealing to the middle ground, which he must do in order to win the election.  Post-convention data show that he actually had a bigger audience than Obama, which is a shocker.  The nuts and bolts of his speech included the following:

"We have the strength, experience and backbone to keep our word." - Yes, an excellent point.  Nobody seems to make much of the fact that Obama is not going to get his way with Congress and is likely to change his mind on a number of issues (either further to the left or further to the middle).  I'm not sure that is a bad thing, but McCain is spot on with this remark.

"The first big pork barrel bill that comes across my desk will get vetoed."  - Good, but it does beg the question of what "big" means.  Still, I think he is honest in steering a much different course than G. W. Bush, but, then, he is likely to have to deal with a Democrat-controlled Congress, so he can afford to be more confrontational.

"We need to help workers whose job won't come back find a new one that will stay." - Yikes!!  This is the Republican convention, isn't it????  And, by the way, no job will "stay" over time.  It isn't the nature of our economy.  Don't workers have an incentive to acquire skills that will be demanded over time?  I really don't know where he's going with this one.

"Education is the civil rights issue of this century." - Well, it all depends on what he means.  If he wants to dump the Dept. of Education, then "Yes."  If he want to end the socialization of education, then, "Yes."  If he wants to increase government spending here, then "No."  He talked about competition and choice, but I have this sinking feeling that this isn't really where this issue is headed.

He promotes an energy plan that will "create jobs." - Impossible.  Any government program in this regard will only rearrange the economic landscape.  It can't add to growth, and, more likely, it will take away from growth since resources are redirected in ways inconsistent with market outcomes.

"Nothing brings greater happiness than to serve a cause greater than one's self." - Well, maybe.  If he feels this way, then fine.  But, it can't be the touchstone of our society.  Down that road leads totalitarianism.  We have a country that is premised on the "pursuit of life, liberty and happiness," not one devoted to service to the state.  His remarks at the forum on 9/11 were unambiguous - service is a voluntary matter, not a mandated one.  That make's me feel a bit better.  Still, his campaign theme - "Country First" - does not resonate with me.  We don't fight for a place; we fight for the ideals of a place.  The terrorists of 9/11 weren't attacking just some place when they ran those planes into the World Trade Center; they were attacking American ideals - liberty, freedom, markets.  As I listen to John McCain, I'm not always sure that's what he means.

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