Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Can anyone here play this game?

Really liked the HRC intro video, liked the speech itself, and her performance reconfirmed that she would have been Obama's best running mate. Hillary's become a very persuasive speaker and performer over the course of the campaign, and would have been a terrific candidate if she were even remotely competent in running a campaign.

But the speech, however good the delivery, did not make a very compelling case for Barack Obama or make a strong case against McCain. In fact the structure is the same: I ran for president because of issue a/b/c/d/e. Obama believes in a/b/c/d/e. Since I'm out, you must support Obama. Bush did terrible things. McCain supports Bush. Therefore vote against McCain.
The law of transitivity may be unassailable logically, but let's throw some red meat out here too.

The only significant line is when she called out the idol worshipping of some of her supporters ("were you in it just for me?"). As noted below, some of the voters needed partisan reminders. But she did not speak to Obama's central problem for many, many Clinton supporters, a problem that she exacerbated: she never made a case about him being qualifed for President.

This is what you hear from Clinton supporters. Click on the comments section of any political news article and any blog. You see the same points. They know that they agree more with Obama, but don't believe he's ready to be commander-in-chief. Someone -- maybe not Clinton herself, but somebody -- needs to make the fucking case that the greatest presidents don't necessarily have a long resume. There's no relationship between a long pre-election resume and a successful presidency. Let's hope Bill take the ball and gets to the finish line on the experience issue. Look, if voters only vote based on agreement on the issues, the Democrats would never lose. So how many fucking elections will they lose before they understand that national elections are about much more than The Issues?

Can anyone play this game here? I've listened to about four hours of this convention so far, and Michelle's moving testimony aside, this is lackluster, aimless stuff. How hard is it to:

* Find a fucking character frame to attack McCain, and keep going. Notice how the GOP one or two character attacks on Obama that they repeat over and over? "Barack Obama is a celebrity who doesn't relate to you. That's why he will raise your taxes/take away your guns." "Barack Obama is a cocky ambitious neophyte who puts his ambition above our troops." I mean, if Dukakis had ran with Ann Richards' "George Bush was born on third base and thought he hit a triple" frame, maybe he would've won.

Here's one: John McCain loves being on the teevee playing pundit, but like pundits he's always wrong. (Hypothetical ad: ten different clips of John McCain on various talk shows saying something proven to be wrong on Iraq, Iran, North Korea, etc. "John McCain loves being a TV commentator. And like TV commentators, he's always wrong. John McCain. Wrong for the country.") Okay, maybe that's too complex, but whatever. You push one or two caricatures over and over and it'll stick. Maybe he's so confused or ambitious that he'll be the puppet of anybody, including the Bush flakies now running his campaign.

It's not enough to keep saying that McCain and Bush have the same policies. Find a character rationale to explain why he's not fit for the office. I have yet to hear one speaker get at McCain on a character level.

* Find someone to reframe the "qualifications" issue. Poll after poll show that this is among Obama key weaknesses. Of course, nobody can give a speech that will boost his resume. But why aren't people talking about Teddy Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, Abe Lincoln, John Kennedy and pound it into people's heads that a long resume has no connection to being a good president.

* Destroy the "cultural elitism" meme. Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy. Astonishingly, these presidents were elected even though they did not affect the kind of pork-grind munching, bruch-clearing persona that connects to "real Americans". To paraphrase Jon Stewart, don't we want presidents who are embarrassingly superior to ourselves?

Books have been written about how the GOP sold this crap to the country. Now the president folks want to barbeque some ribs with has turned out to be the worst president of the last hundred years, the Democrats have a huge opportunity to reframe this issue. You have a guy in Barack Obama who's an electrifying speaker, an extremely smart, sensible guy with a first-class temperament. Instead of spending all your time normalizing him, why haven't people started to push back on this right-wing bullshit? Hey, you want a president who is a smart achiever, not some fucking schmuck who fucking wears cowboy boots but failed at everything he's touched in his life. You know, like that douchebag in the Oval Office. Jon Stewart mocked this kind of idiocy relentlessly. The Democrats would do well to start mocking the GOP for their dress-up populism.

Maybe Barack Obama is the Theo Epstein of the Democratic Party, and this band of losers will finally find a winning formula. Based on what I've seen from this convention, I'm not that optimistic.

Addendum: I just saw James Carville on CNN, and he made a whole lotta of sense. 25 million jobs created under a Democratic president. Real income growth. Budget surplus. When are people going to talk about this? He said, when are the Democrats going talk about how John McCain wanted to put "social security money in subprime mortgages?" Yes! Great way to frame this issue. Hit a couple of these and stop with the fucking litany of traditional liberal goals, and please, please, please for the love of god please fucking stop with the fuzzy paeans to bi-partisanship.

Addendum 2: To put in something positive, I really liked Brian Schweitzer's theatrics. This is the dude I'll be supporting in 2012 if Barack doesn't make it (and I gotta admit, for the first time in this election, I'm not entirely confident about his chances). Watching Schweitzer, I finally understood why I like this guy. Because stylistically he's kind of a Republican in the sense that he can mock the opposition mercilessly and unapologetically. He doesn't need to preface his attacks with some high-minded "John McCain is an honorable man, and I admire his service, his suffering, his devotion to the country, his formerly Mavericky ways, his wonderful wife and children" garbage you get from some others. And he made some good points about energy, a key issue for me.

Addendum 3: Ezra Klein makes a good point about Hillary basically structuring this speech as a party first Democratic call to arms. Which makes this speech perhaps more effective than I initially gave it credit for -- that is, if Obama begins running a more party-oriented campaign as he should.