McCain’s Town Hall "Advantage"

Before the debate, we heard a lot about how good McCain is in a town hall format. There wasn’t much evidence of that last night. Time’s Swampland does a good job of explaining why:

In the classic McCain town hall, differences of opinion are expressed, and McCain works to build a conversation, so that everyone develops respect for him and each other, even if there is disagreement. In this debate, McCain was trying to convince voters and the audience that Obama was not worthy. So there was a stilted element to the affair. Finally, the key to the classic McCain town hall is that McCain is having fun. He did not appear to be having fun tonight. Obama, meanwhile, did not seem interested in having fun. He was there to make his case, and he did it clearly.

I’m starting to get used to the idea of President Obama. The economic crisis seems to have sealed McCain’s fate, even though he’s the one who warned two years ago about the problems of Fannie and Freddie, while the Democrats were saying everything was fine. After eight years of spending increases, the Republicans have squandered their reputation for greater financial responsibility.

I’m just grateful that Obama was not President in 2007. By the time he takes office, it looks like it will be too late to surrender in Iraq. Once it becomes Mr. Obama’s war, I doubt he’ll be eager to lose a war that is being won.

Playing Politics by Suspending Campaign? Of Course.

Is McCain’s call to suspend the campaign over the financial crisis an example of leadership? Is it a political ploy?


Neo-neocon (I like her blog, but I LOVE her blog’s name) sums it up pretty well:

Just because there is some political posturing does not mean there’s not also some sincerity. Each candidate is revealing something about himself even as he jockeys for position, and they are running true to type.

McCain is an action man who doesn’t like to dither. He’s been in the Senate for a long time and has done a great deal of hammering out of deals, and he is comfortable in that arena. …

Obama is not a decision-maker, nor does he really feel comfortable in the Senate, having spent very little time there. He likes to sit back and study all the angles, and even then would prefer to let things emerge rather than taking a leadership role.

Read the whole thing.

Update: Now McCain has said he’ll participate in the debate (about 150 minutes from now as I write this at 6:30), and this is being reported as a cave-in and an embarrassment for McCain. Maybe. But blogger Nate Silver made the point a day ago (hat tip: Taranto) that McCain’s gambit has served to focus attention on a debate that nobody was talking about much.

If McCain does much better than Obama tonight, that will swamp the effect of the flip-flop on suspending the campaign. And while Obama is dramatically better with a teleprompter than McCain, there will be no teleprompter tonight. In a give-and-take discussion, my money’s on McCain.

Gay Republicans Make Their Peace With Palin

This article is a response to gay friends who have taken issue, quite civilly, with my support of John McCain for President. (Disclaimer: there is a comment on the article from someone named “Kirk,” who is not me.)

While John McCain’s “selection of the Alaska governor has energized the GOP’s socially conservative wing,” it has also inspired a lot of gay and lesbian Republicans. It has brought together left-leaning lesbians and Hillary-supporting gay men concerned about Barack Obama’s qualifications with gay conservatives unhappy with McCain’s frequent departures from party orthodoxy.

We see in Sarah Palin John McCain’s real commitment to reform. That is why, despite her mixed record on gay issues, we are excited by her nomination.

The article is by a co-author of GayPatriot, which has been my favorite gay conservative blog ever since Andrew Sullivan let his Bush Derangement Syndrome morph into McCain Derangement Syndrome.

The reference to Sarah Palin’s “mixed record” is a euphemism at best — the only things on the positive side of the ledger are that she vetoed an anti-gay law (because she believed it was unconstitutional), and apparently she interacts respectfully with openly gay individuals. But there’s nothing really “mixed” about her stand on gay issues — she’s simply on the wrong side.

For me, and for some gay voters, national security is a more pressing issue in selecting a president. I think Palin was a bad choice on the basis of experience (although she is better qualified on that basis than Obama). But I think her reform record is admirable, and since for now at least she clearly is helping the ticket, I’ll take my chances on McCain’s continued good health.

Along the same lines, I also want to note estimates that nearly one out of every four gay voters pulled the lever for Bush in 2004 (as did I), despite Bush’s odious support for the proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. (As for this year’s GOP nominee: “In the Senate, McCain has been an ardent opponent of a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, arguing his case on federalist grounds.”)

His & Her Candidates

My lovely wife, the self-taught Web Goddess, supports Obama (as does almost everybody we know in our blue-town/blue-state of Maplewood, New Jersey). I support McCain, primarily on the basis of the Iraq war issue. As I’ve discussed before, this makes for some careful-but-substantive conversations as the election drama unfolds.

Tempting though it may be sometimes to mock the opposing candidate, we know it can easily feel like mocking each other by proxy. Because we have an extraordinary personal bond, there is no worry that political differences might damage the relationship. But out of simple respect, we avoid excessive harshness and look for common ground, even as we state and stand by our opinions.

This model cannot, of course, be replicated in the broader society. Democracy depends upon the clash of ideas, and negative campaigning can be a highly effective way neutralize an opponent’s strength. However, excessive harshness can cause a backlash, as the Democrats and the media (but I repeat myself) have found in their initial feeding frenzy over Sarah Palin.

Palin may have gone too far herself in mocking community organizers in her acceptance speech. Less than a day after Palin’s speech, Daily Kos launched the meme of Jesus vs. Pontius Pilate, and it’s gaining a lot of traction. On Facebook, if you search the popular Flair application for “Community Organizer,” you’ll find more than two dozen buttons making this point. The button at left is the one that comes up first, indicating more people have chosen that than any other similarly themed button. I mention this because this button was created by my wife Nina, whose graphic design skills led her to design a button more readable than the alternatives, featuring a red-blue color scheme that helps tell the story.

The Republicans are seeking to buff some of the harsher edges off of the meme — McCain’s acceptance speech made a nod to community organizing without using the term, and then on Face the Nation he explicitly said that community organizing is “very honorable.”

But I think the Jesus-vs-Pontius debate helps the Republicans much more than the Democrats. The downside for Republicans is it helps establish a High School Mean Girl image for Palin that will cost her some sympathy. However, what it does much more powerfully, I think, is emphasize two story lines that cannot help Obama: the experience issue (by all means let’s argue until Election Day about whether Obama has more experience than Palin), and the Obamessiah image that undermines the ability of many voters to feel comfortable with the idea of Obama in the very pragmatic and secular role of leader of the free world.

McCain: Nine-and-a-Half Extraordinary Minutes

I had an event to attend in New York City last night, so I didn’t watch McCain’s speech. On the brief drive home from the train, I heard snippets of it live on the radio, and I wasn’t impressed.

It was the section in the first half that started, “I fight for Bill and Sue Nebe from Farmington Hills, Michigan, who lost their real estate investments in the bad housing market.” He went on to name other couples from other states, and of course the state delegations broke out in applause when he named their state. It seemed formulaic and tired — and I was tired, after staying up way too late the prior night writing about Palin. When I got home, I left the TV off and went to bed.

I didn’t want to sit through the entire video, so today I found the full text online and read it. I was glad to see him say ” I hate war. It is terrible beyond imagination. I’m running for President to keep the country I love safe, and prevent other families from risking their loved ones in war as my family has.” The Democrats will try to pin a warmonger label on him, but among all the presidential hopefuls this year, he is uniquely qualified to hate war.

As a former speechwriter myself, I look for the craft as much as the content, and as I read along I thought it generally was a solid speech. Then I got to the section on his experience in Vietnam… and I found myself in tears, right about here:

I always liked to strut a little after I’d been roughed up to show the other guys I was tough enough to take it. But after I turned down their offer, they worked me over harder than they ever had before. For a long time. And they broke me.

When they brought me back to my cell, I was hurt and ashamed, and I didn’t know how I could face my fellow prisoners. The good man in the cell next door, my friend, Bob Craner, saved me. Through taps on a wall he told me I had fought as hard as I could. No man can always stand alone. And then he told me to get back up and fight again for our country and for the men I had the honor to serve with. Because every day they fought for me.

I found myself thinking that this may be a rare example of a speech that is more moving when you read on paper than when you hear it delivered. Then I realized I had to listen to him deliver that section. And I was blown away.

In the video on the GOP Convention site, that section starts precisely at minute 42. The speech ends at 51:30, everything after that is applause and balloons. Obama is still the better orator, but for nine-and-a-half minutes, McCain more than held his own. I loved the way he talked over the applause at the close, so the ovation lent energy to the words.

Obama supporters say that just because McCain was a POW doesn’t mean he should be President, and that’s certainly true. Keep on supporting Obama, if that’s your inclination — he’s a good man too. But if you didn’t watch the speech last night, give Mr. McCain nine-and-a-half minutes of your time. Vote against him if you will, but take the measure of the man.

So THAT’S Why He Picked Her – What a Speaker!

I take back everything I said or hinted or even thought about Sarah Palin being a drag on the ticket.

She did several things she had to do in her speech tonight:

  • She established that her record of actual office-holding achievement compares very favorably with Obama’s. (Obama’s achievement of winning his party’s nomination for president is extraordinary and admirable. But as Palin said tonight, “this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform – not even in the state senate.”)
  • She demonstrated the combination of combativeness and populist appeal that have given her an 80% approval rating from her fellow Alaskans.
  • She showed she was ready — more than ready — to fill the customary VP role of attack dog on the stump. She even claimed the dog imagery for her own. I had already read the line, which she has apparently been saying for years, that the main difference between a Hockey Mom and a pit bull is lipstick. It seemed a little contrived when I was reading it on the screen, but when she said it, she owned it.

She took lots of hard shots at Obama, but by my count only one cheap shot. I wish she had left out the snipe that Obama’s worry about Al Qaeda terrorists is “that someone won’t read them their rights.” I don’t think that’s fair even as an exaggeration of anything I’ve ever heard Obama say.

But I loved the line that “Victory in Iraq is finally in sight … he wants to forfeit.” The “wants to forfeit” part isn’t literally true either, of course — but it’s certainly true that Obama’s pre-surge proposal to retreat-no-matter-what would have forfeited any chance at a positive outcome in Iraq.

My Obama-supporting wife — whom I love with a love that transcends space and time, let alone politics — didn’t like the speech. We both reacted negatively to the cheap shot on Miranda rights. But Nina was clearly pained to hear a man she admires attacked again and again, first by Giuliani and then by Palin. We watched the speech through different filters. Because I want McCain to win, I felt good about the effective, substantive, sarcastic hard punches being thrown at Obama — a man whom, as I’ve written before, in many ways I admire also.

Nina and I have virtually identical views on social issues. We both think the Republicans are on the wrong side of the abortion issue. Even more strongly, we both think they’re on the wrong side of marriage equality for same-sex couples. She was as angered and appalled as I was by the attacks of 9/11, and she knows the danger isn’t over. But we’ve reached opposite conclusions about which candidate to support. We respect each other’s decision, and we respect each other. We have in-depth, substantive discussions on the issues, but we’re careful not to mock each other’s candidate when we talk. That’s the way it should be in a marriage

But that’s not the way it’s going to be on the campaign trail. Unfortunately, negative campaigning works. Because it works, both sides have to do it. I wish it were otherwise — but no candidate has ever won a major election by staying entirely on the high road.

And so to bed.

McCain Strategist Describes the Vetting of Palin

I’m skeptical of the partisan contention that McCain did little or no vetting of Palin in advance of the announcement. Here’s an extended response from the McCain camp — according to an unidentified senior McCain strategist, the vetting

“included her filling out a 70-question questionnaire that was highly intrusive and personal. She was then interviewed for more than three hours by A.B. Culvahouse [head of the VP selection team]. There were multiple follow-up interviews. … There was a public records search and political vet. There was a private life and financial vet. Everything that has come out was known by the campaign through the vetting process.”

Because of America’s bizarre process for vice presidential selection, the safest pick for a running mate seems to be someone who has recently run for president (Obama-Biden, Kerry-Edwards, Clinton-Gore, Reagan-GWBush, etc.) If the prospective VP has not already been through the campaign crucible, the vetting has to be accomplished in strict secrecy, and the secrecy inherently limits how thorough the vetting can be.

Five Stages of Adjusting to Palin

As a socially liberal McCain supporter living in one of the bluest towns in a blue state, I’ve learned how to reconcile myself to various aspects of his candidacy. The most glaring example is abortion rights, where I think McCain is on the wrong side of the issue. But for me the issues that trump all others are the Iraq war and the war against Islamic extremism. Obama has many appealing qualities, but of the two, McCain is the candidate I want as Commander-in-Chief, and everything else is secondary for me.

I paid very little attention to the pre-announcement VP discussions in either party. When Biden was named, I thought it undercut Obama’s change message, but that he’s a safe choice and I could imagine him as President. Then came the Palin announcement.

Stage 1: Confusion

Hm… First-term governor of a sparsely populated state — doesn’t that undercut the most potent argument against Obama? I saw the first Palin headlines just before I got on the treadmill, and this stage lasted throughout my half-hour workout.

Stage 2: Rationalization

OK, so it’s not a great pick, but maybe it will help McCain get elected by shoring up his relationship with social conservatives, and attracting disaffected Hillary voters who already are considering McCain.

This stage lasted the rest of the day Friday, while I hunted for reasons to reassure myself that she’s not a terrible choice.

  • Social conservatives are my least favorite part of the Republican coalition, and I also have little patience for people who attribute Hillary Clinton’s loss to sexism rather than to her own baggage and the appeal of her rival. But while placating these groups is a low priority for me, their votes count as much as mine do, and my candidate needs every vote he can get.
  • Inexperienced though she is, Palin has electoral appeal (80% approval rating in Alaska) and some steel in her spine. She ousted a sitting governor, then took on the corrupt senior officeholders of her own party. I’d vote for her for governor of Alaska in a heartbeat.

Stage 3: Annoyance

I woke up in this stage this morning. Why couldn’t he just have picked Romney? I don’t particularly like Romney, but the guy came in second — the positives and negatives about him are already well known. It would have been a safe choice, certainly by comparison, and the VP contest would have become irrelevant, as it normally is.

Stage 4: Gloom

I slipped into this stage later in the morning while talking with my Obama-supporting wife. Nina and I share common values and we would never mock each other, even by proxy. She respects my reasons for supporting McCain, but she’s going to pull the other lever in November. She was very gentle when she said, after I watched video of Palin’s remarks, “I’m sorry, honey, but it doesn’t look good for your team.”

I agree, it doesn’t. Maybe things will look brighter after the convention, where we’ll get to know Palin better and hear more about why McCain picked her. But right now I see her as a net drag on the ticket. She’ll gain votes among social convervatives and maybe among some Hillary fans, but she saps the life out of the experience issue. Even some social conservatives have qualms about tokenism — Ramesh Ponnuru said “Can anyone say with a straight face that Palin would have gotten picked if she were a man?”

Stage 5: Reconsidering My Vote

I haven’t quite reached this stage yet. Maybe I won’t. I think McCain made a bad choice, but anybody can make a bad choice. Obama has made bad choices. The top of the ticket still matters most, and I still prefer McCain over Obama. But I’ve never been an Obama hater, and I don’t subscribe to the idea that he would be a disastrous president. Issues aside, I would be proud to have a black president, as long as it’s Obama and not Jesse Jackson.

A vice president only really matters if the president dies. I hope McCain lives another thirty years or more, but he turned 72 yesterday. Sarah Palin seems like a decent and courageous woman, and she might do a great job as president. But the heartbeat-away factor — the most relevant question for a vice president — clearly favors Biden. I’m talking here not about issues, just about readiness to step in and do the job.

The fact that I’m even thinking along these lines doesn’t bode well for McCain’s ability to pick up voters like me, who if not for the war would be inclined to vote for Democrats.