One thousand four hundred miles later, when my plane touched down in Cleveland, someone near the front said: "Fired Up!" There was a pause, and then a handful of people said: "Ready to Go!" A world away from the convention, the call and refrain started up again. And that's how we made our way into the airport.
I knew, even before I got on the plane, about Sarah Palin. My wife called to tell me, just as I was boarding in Denver. The consensus on the plane seemed to be: Huh? I have to admit, my first reaction was: We just won this thing. After bashing Obama on experience for two months, McCain picks a VP with under two years governing a state with a smaller population than the city of Austin, Texas? She had been elected governor with 110,000 votes; Obama had 90,000 people at his convention speech.
It wasn't until my mother-in-law called, later in the night, that I started to sense something amiss. She owns a business here in Akron, and she has a good pulse of the people in this swing state -- and she was worried. By moring, with these New York Times headlines ("ALASKAN IS McCAIN'S CHOICE; FIRST WOMAN ON G.O.P. TICKET," "A Surprise Pick; First Term Governor, Social Conservative and Mother of 5"; "An Outsider Who Charms"; "A Bold Choice, With Risks") -- I was, too.
NeuroticDemocrat that I am, I quickly sized up McCain and deduced that he was nothing short of a genius. After an early career of spurning the religious right, and a later career of kowtowing to it, he had in one fell swoop locked up -- and most importantly -- thoroughly energized the GOP base. (He's already raised $7 million in the day since the announcement). This, I thought, neutralizes Obama's biggest assest -- the passion gap. Not only that, but McCain laid claim (some say) to the change mantle, and did it in a way that will appeal -- if not to Hillary voters -- than to the one democraphic (white, working class women) that Obama has the toughest time reaching. Her biggest liability -- inexperience -- is one that we can't point out, effectively, given Obama's weakness on the issue (and he's at the top of the ticket). And while Biden should be able to roll her in the VP debate, expectations are absolutely everything in these affairs -- Palin wins by not losing, and Biden loses, big time, if he's perceived as even the slightest bit sexist or condescending.
For a few hours -- on the heels of one of the most compelling, meaningful displays I'd ever witnessed in my life -- I seriously considered changing the name of this blog to DepressedDemocrat.com. I envisioned Obama's ten-point convention bounce evaporating overnight (I'm not sure it hasn't). And we had this thing locked up! I glanced forlornly out our playroom window at the McCain sign recently put up in our neighbor's yard, and knew, in a whole new way, that what my mother had always tried to teach me was utterly, depressingly true: Life, it turns out, isn't fair.
It took me awhile to come around. What finally did it was a discussion with my aunt and uncle in Dayton. They were not simply undeterred -- my uncle was going to an Obama rally near Columbus this afternoon, and my aunt was preparing to volunteer, locally. My uncle pointed out that, historically, VP has very little impact on the presidential race. And, gaining a second wind, I told him that, according to a Rutgers study, gender voting historically mirrors party, not gender. (Democratic women tend to vote Democratic, regardless of whether the Republican is a woman, and vice versa.) Furthermore, I said (I was on a roll), this election is going to turn on the economy -- everyone knows that -- and Palin brings McCain nothing on economics. (Think: He could have picked Carly Fiorino or Meg Whitman.) At best, she brings a rep as an ethical crusader. But McCain already has that rep. He doesn't need it reinforced.
All politics is guesswork though. One thing I've learned over the course of this election -- and I mean this -- is that right now, nobody knows who will win.
Have you peeled yourself up off the floor?
It's true. Even (especially) the pollsters. Nobody, in fact, has any clue at all.
This was brought home to me in dramatic fashion two weeks ago -- the media foaming at the mouth about who Obama would pick as his running mate had reached a fevered pitch -- when a very well-connected friend of mine pulled me aside to tell me that he'd received a call from a Congressman, who told him that he'd been approached by the Obama camp just that day about his interest in the VP slot. It was a serious entreaty, late in the game. What struck me most was that the congressman himself was totally shocked by it -- he himself had no idea he was even in consideration, let alone on anyone's shortlist -- and he had never been mentioned in a single publication anywhere as a possible Obama running mate. (And with all that frothing about who McCain would pick -- think of all the words of conjecture -- did anyone anywhere seriously give Palin a shot?)
So I'm going to leave the politics behind for a moment, and discuss two things that I think are substantive here, as opposed to stylistic (see post: Jewish Values and Going Negative).
1. I think people are missing the boat on the "experience" question. Democrats so far have focused on McCain's lack of judgment in making this choice, which is certainly fair. The pundits seem to be stuck on the genius of the political move -- i.e., that Obama and his camp can't question Palin's inexperience, without reminding everyone of his own. Dan Schnur writes in the NY Times today: "By Monday morning, assume that every Republican in the country who believed that experience was important will no longer think so, and that every Democrat who didn’t think it was a big deal will now decide it is absolutely critical." No, Dan -- that's not what we will decide. We have always been comfortable, more or less, with Obama's experience. Eighteen million of us voted for him. We will, however, understand that McCain's selection of Palin is hypocritical.
Here is what McCain said June 3, from the Times:
“You will hear from my opponent’s campaign in every speech, every interview, every press release that I’m running for President Bush’s third term,” he said, trying to pre-empt one of the central Democratic strategies of tying Mr. McCain to the unpopular president. “You will hear every policy of the president described as the Bush-McCain policy. Why does Senator Obama believe it’s so important to repeat that idea over and over again? Because he knows it’s very difficult to get Americans to believe something they know is false. So he tries to drum it into your minds by constantly repeating it rather than debate honestly the very different directions he and I would take the country.”
“But the American people didn’t get to know me yesterday, as they are just getting to know Senator Obama,” Mr. McCain said.
As they are just getting to know Obama, dripping with condescension.
Here is what McCain said yesterday, about Palin: "She's not from these parts, and she's not from Washington, but when you get to know her, you're going to be as impressed as I am."
Putting aside the fact that, according to most reports, he had only met her twice (how well could he know her?), and putting aside the fact that America in fact is not just getting to know Obama (he came into the public eye in a major way four years ago, with his convention speech; he has two books on the best seller list, one of which gives his life story, and the other outlines his political philsophy; and he has been running for president in a 24-7 news cycle for 20 months), my question for him would be: "Sen. McCain -- why is it suddenly okay to have someone a hearbeat from the oval office who America needs to 'get to know'?"
The Republican National Committee has launched a Web site, notready08.com, mocking Obama on his experience. "A mile high, an inch deep." The McCain campaign has made every attempt to paint Obama as inexperienced as foreign policy, drawing contrasts between the two candidates at each turn. For McCain to now pick as a running mate someone with decidely less foreign policy experience than Obama, suggests either that he was lying to us before, when he said it was critically important, or, more likely, that he is being a hypocrite: If I need someone with no foreign policy experience to energize my base and give me a shot to win this election, then it's perfectly fine. Is it a risk to America Sen. McCain, or isn't it?
I heard one GOP pundit say yesterday on CNN that most doctors say McCain has at least four years in him, and, after learning at the foot of a master foreign policy wizard for those years, Palin will have plenty of experience. Puh-leeze. What happened to the importance of "Ready on Day 1"? (It was Hillary's slogan initially, but the McCain boosters greedily adopted it.) This suggests to me a new slogan that perhaps the McCain-Palin folks want to employ: Ready on Day 1,460. (Take it -- it's yours. No patent pending.)
2. For months, the McCain camp has argued that Obama is no friend of Israel. They have said, over and over, that the only criterion for friendship with Israel is action, and voting record, over years of service. Pretty words of support, they said, won't cut it. Obama, for his running mate, picked a self-described Zionist. A few hours after the selection of Palin, I spoke to the head of a major Jewish organization. He said that his organization had done a Google search of "Palin" and "Israel" -- and gotten no hits. Zero. Which means that should McCain die in office, we will have a president with no real track-record of support for the Jewish State at all. Two days ago, that was all that mattered to my Israel-first friends. A few minutes ago, my wife emailed on of those folks, asking about her take on Palin. This is a woman who lives and dies for Israel. She wrote back: "I like her."
I hope to have more on the Israel issue later this week.
I have more to say, but it's getting late, so I'll just say this. My cousin, an Obama organizer in Philly, told me today that in response to Palin's selection, more volunteers than ever before have been pouring into his office, offering to help. Another cousin, a feminist who lives in Ann Arbor -- who has never really had an interest in politics or this election -- now finds herself exercised and insluted by McCain's pick (her parents tell me).
By day's end, I've realized that instead of being all NeuroticDemocraty on this one, I can do something. I can act. I've been planning on continuing my involvement in this campaign at the strategic level -- 30,000-feet -- for instance, organizing drives targeting the Jewish community in swing states. (I've been doing this for some time, mainly behind the scenes.) Before I got off the phone with my aunt, she said: "Let me know about your organizing activities in Akron."
I hadn't been planning on getting involved locally. Thanks to Palin -- no more. I'm going to the local office first thing Tuesday morning.
I can't control the pundits and the venting and the polls. But I can roll up my sleeves and get to work. We all can. And I'd urge you -- in response to this cynical, hypocritical play -- to do the same. Join up. Help out. And then come to this blog and write about your experiences. Tell us who you meet, what they say, how you respond. Tell us what it's like out there in the trenches.
Obama is fond of quoting Martin Luther King, who said: "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice."
People -- we have to bend it.