This entire last week was devoted (news-wise) to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) and the anointing of their candidate, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. As a whole, I thought the convention went quite nicely for the Dems, despite a pretty boring first day. I doubt that the enthusiasm and intensity of the last night will be duplicated by the GOP next week, but that remains to be seen. I've undergone some interesting changes in the last several years. I've always followed politics somewhat and I've been watching the Conventions (both sides) since I was a teen. However, this is the first time that I've watched the Democratic Convention without getting ticked about everything they said! There are two reasons for this, I think:
First of all, I've come to realize that these are not "bad people" - at least no worse than anybody else. As a matter of fact, I've come to appreciate the passion they have for their country. Granted, I think they are missing the mark on several key issues, but these are people we are truly love their country and want it to be the best it can be. Secondly, the Democrats (at least this go around) are bringing up some extremely valid points. I find myself aligned more closely with the Democrats on some issues than I am with the GOP. This is not enough to get me to cast a vote their way, but I do cheer as they make their case on some issues. Bringing these things to the debate floor is certainly healthy and will (hopefully) bring some much needed reform to several parts of our government regardless of who wins this year.
I watched as much of the DNC this last week as I could. I caught a lot of speeches from people I'd never heard of - some good, some lousy, some outstanding. The only "headliner" I didn't get to hear was Al Gore, but I read the entire text of his speech later. What follows are my thoughts from each day.
There was only one "non-headlining" speech that got my attention. But before I get to that one, I'll mention one of the more disappointing "under card" speeches. I had never really heard her speak before, but when the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi of California, came to the lectern....I guess I was expecting something exciting. I was sorely disappointed. Her speech was mind-numbing, both in content and delivery. How she continues to win her seat back each election cycle is a mystery to me.....
The one under card speech that got my attention was Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. of Illinois. I liked his enthusiasm and delivery and, while he only spoke for a few minutes, he delivered a very encouraging and upbeat speech. Towards the end he said, "I know that while America may not be perfect, our union can always be perfected. I know what we can achieve when good people with strong convictions come together around a common purpose. And I know what a great leader can do to help us find common ground." Good stuff.
The mains speech of the night was supposed to be Michelle Obama (wife of the candidate) but she ended up getting "upstaged" by the surprise appearance of Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. The tribute to Senator Kennedy was moving and his subsequent appearance on stage gave the night a much needed emotional boost. I have a lot of respect for Senator Kennedy. He's a reminder of a different era in America. He had that ringside seat as his brothers guided us through the Cuban missile crisis. He's seen tragedy after tragedy after tragedy in his family. One brother killed in a war, two others slain by the assassins bullet, and a nephew tragically killed in a plane crash. Yet through it all, Senator Kennedy has continued to serve his country. Off hand I don't know if I can think of a single social issue upon which the Senator and I could find common ground, but that doesn't detract from the respect I have for this individual who has given his entire life to public service. His speech was powerful and surprisingly energetic. You could almost seem the life rushing into him more fully as the audience cheered him on. This was likely the last DNC that the Senator will be alive to take part in, but it may well have been his most memorable performance. His strongest line was, "Yes, we are Americans. This is what we do. We reach the moon. We scale the heights. I know it. I've seen it. I've lived it. And we can do it again. There is a new wave of change all around us- and if we set our compass true, we will reach our destination-not merely victory for our party, but renewal for our nation." Poetic and motivating.
The headliner on Monday was Michelle Obama. Frankly, I found nothing remarkable about her speech. She speaks extremely well - terrific delivery and expression, although she seemed uncomfortable with the teleprompter. We learned a bit about her and how she met her husband, but not much else. Although all the networks seemed to be gushing over her and her delivery, I think it quite forgettable. But I also know that she's not the politician in the family! The scene that played out afterwords with her little daughters on stage with microphones talking to their father (via satellite) was precious and quite cute. That moment may well have saved her speech!
I'll only mention a couple of speeches from Tuesday.
First of all, Tuesday was the day that my Governor, Kathleen Sebelius, spoke. I thought she did a horrible job. She's given better performances and better speeches.
One speech that I enjoyed, not so much for delivery or content, was that of Robert Casey, Jr. A decidedly pro-life Democrat who touched briefly on that position. He spoke close to the prime-time speeches, so it was certainly a calculated move by the Dem's to show that the pro-choice stance isn't necessarily something that all Dem's need to follow in lock-step.
Now obviously, Tuesday night was dubbed "Hillary's night". But right before she got up to speak a little-known Governor from Montana spoke. His name was Brian Schweitzer. He is a rancher who came to the lectern with cowboy boots and loose bolo tie. He had too many good lines to pick just one to put on here, but his energy and enthusiasm was great! I found myself laughing out loud as he started to get the crowd energized. The C-Span camera kept going to former-President Clinton during Schweitzer's speech and you could see his interest changing the longer the speech went. When Governor Schwietzer first began to speak very few people were paying attention (this is pretty common at these conventions....most folks carry on their own conversations until the headliners take the stage). But the longer Schweitzer spoke, the more people listened. Pretty soon they were all cheering and chanting along with him, "4 more years? How about 4 more weeks.....4 more weeks....4 more weeks.....". By the time he left the lectern, people were cheering, laughing, yelling, and whistling. And nearly everybody who saw the speech thought, "Wow! I'd like to make friends with that guy!" He breathed life into a convention that was, up until that point, fairly flat.
The headliner of the night was Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. This was a much anticipated speech, given the nature of the tight run she had against Obama throughout the primaries. This was maybe the best speech she's ever given. Her delivery was phenomenal and she seemed to connect with the entire assembly there. Her speech seemed almost Presidential and, indeed, some even said afterward that she was "hedging her bets" so to speak....ensuring that she had a clear path for 2012 should Obama lose this year. She didn't have a whole lot to say about Obama, but instead focused on her achievements. She said just enough about Obama to make it appear that the speech was about supporting him. I'm guessing that, by the time she was done, the majority of Democrats around the country collectively said, "Oops"!
Wednesday was "officially" the night that the Democratic candidate for Vice-President was to speak and accept the VP nomination. However, it was perhaps the most memorable night of the convention highlighted by 3 of the best speeches.
First of all there was Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. Senator Kerry was the Democratic nominee for President who lost to President Bush 4 years ago. I never heard him give a speech during that election that was as good as the one he gave on Wednesday night. His comparison of "Senator McCain" to "Candidate McCain" was absolutely brilliant! The best line of the speech was, "Candidate McCain now supports the wartime tax cuts that Senator McCain once denounced as immoral. Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCain’s own climate change bill. Candidate McCain says he would now vote against the immigration bill that Senator McCain wrote. Are you kidding? Talk about being for it before you’re against it. Let me tell you, before he ever debates Barack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate with himself." This was brilliant! He even managed to turn one of his most colossal mis-statements of the '04 election around on McCain.
My nest favorite speech was actually two speeches. Both Beau Biden and his father Senator Joe Biden of Delaware - the Democratic VP nominee. Beau Biden's speech, when coupled with the tribute video to his father, was powerful. It would be impossible not to watch those scenes without respecting Senator Biden's dedication to his family - even above politics, it would seem. When Senator Biden got up to speak, I found myself wanting him to do well.....and he did. As the speech kept going and you saw the depth of the man, you began to think that maybe Democrats should be running a ticket that has Biden on top rather than Obama. He ended his speech with these words, "Millions of Americans have been knocked down. And this is the time as Americans, together, we get back up. Our people are too good, our debt to our parents and grandparents too great, our obligation to our children is too sacred. These are extraordinary times. This is an extraordinary election. The American people are ready. I’m ready. Barack Obama is ready. This is his time. This is our time. This is America’s time." Biden did a great job of showing the stark differences between the two parties. It was an impressive speech.
Perhaps the greatest speech of the entire Convention took place earlier in the evening. It was a short speech, but a good one. The last Democratic President and the only two-term Democratic President still living, Bill Clinton. There was a lot of intrigue leading up to his speech because of the various news leaks detailing the fact that Obama and him just do not like one another. Reportedly, both the Clinton and Obama camps were afraid that there was a chance that the former President might actually get booed when he took the platform.....such fears were quickly put to rest by a three-and-a-half minute standing ovation. He delivered several powerful lines and towards the end of the speech had his most memorable, "They actually want us to reward them for the last eight years by giving them four more. Let’s send them a message that will echo from the Rockies all across America: Thanks, but no thanks. In this case, the third time is not the charm. My fellow Democrats, sixteen years ago, you gave me the profound honor to lead our party to victory and to lead our nation to a new era of peace and broadly shared prosperity. Together, we prevailed in a campaign in which the Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be Commander-in-Chief. Sound familiar? It didn’t work in 1992, because we were on the right side of history. And it won’t work in 2008, because Barack Obama is on the right side of history." Like him or not, Bill Clinton can certainly deliver a speech.
This was Obama's night. It was to be an historic occasion marked with much pomp. I missed most of the speeches, but have heard soundtracks and read transcripts. Al Gore seemed more animated than he did during the 2000 election...his many plays on words seemed to border on the ludicrous (at least in the transcript of the speech). I was a bit disappointed to see and Susan Eisenhower - a woman with blood ties to both Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon - giving a speech in support of Obama. It would be like Caroline Kennedy showing up at the RNC next week.....it's just not right.
Barack Obama was the star on Thursday (obviously). The moved the Convention out to the open air Invesco Field on this night. One of the unspoken reasons, in my opinion, was to move the Convention from being a "Clinton Convention" to being an "Obama Convention". The immaculate set was a bit over the top and there was certainly a "rock star" quality to the entire spectacle. I listened to many of the analysts at the more liberal networks fawning over Obama after the speech saying that he'd finally answered his Republican critics who said that he never tells us how he is going to get anything done. His supporters in the media said that he listed nearly 30 specific policy items in detail. In actuality, Obama listed a lot of things he would do, but there was little detail to it. The speech was unremarkable, but the display was quite remarkable. A lavish set complete with fireworks and Stevie Wonder - it was certainly made for television. Some of Obama's soundbites were quite good. For instance, when he said, "Enough!", I said, "Ooohhhh, that was good." Later, in speaking about McCain voting with Bush 90% of the time he said, "Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time? I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a ten percent chance on change." Well that was quite clever.
While Obama didn't get into too much detail about any of his stances, he certainly did a decent job of drawing a clear line between what McCain stands for versus what he stands for (at least on selected issues). I was honestly expecting a more enthusiastic speech than he delivered. There was one point where it appeared he was about to beginning "channelling" Dr. King, but he quickly backed off. I suspect that McCain is going to cream Obama in the debates....Obama is the better speaker, but McCain won't let him get away with his "cotton candy" approach to an answer (all fluff with no real content).
I am eagerly anticipating the RNC this upcoming week. The McCain/Palin ticket is an interesting one, to be sure. I'm a bit nervous about Sarah Palin.....we'll see how she does this week with her first real "big stage" speech. And in case some of my remarks here have made you curious......McCain / Palin 2008!!!!!