On Obama’s Speech and Palin’s Selection

And now, some disjointed thoughts.

Obama gave a grand, eloquent acceptance speech at the DNC Thursday night, appealing to American history and ideals to express the core principles of the modern Democratic party. He alternated between combative and conciliatory, attacking the Bush administration’s policies and the McCain campaign’s smears on his character, while also offering an olive branch of compromise to political and ideological opponents — among them Republicans, Clinton supporters, both sides of the abortion and gay marriage debates, and even small-government Libertarians.

At no point did I see him resort to fear. There was reference to 9/11 but no attempts to rouse national trepidation by invoking the spectre of shadowy evil poised to attack.

I was especially struck by his description of “the ownership society,” his party’s argument for increasing government’s role in defending the little guy, not leaving the disadvantaged “on their own” — an argument those on the far right frequently dismiss as “nanny state socialism,” but which, when balanced with good judgment and real world personal responsibility, offers Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s promise of “Freedom from” as well as “Freedom of.”

There were a few sticking points for me:

  • Of course there’s abortion; Obama’s compromise gesture on this is that while he maintains a woman’s right to decide, he also wants to see fewer abortions by addressing root issues — poverty, hardship, irresponsible parenting. This does little to convince those who think stopping implantation is tantamount to infanticide and denial of human rights.
  • Obama is opposed to nuclear power because of his concern about leaky nuclear waste storage causing environmental damage like at Yucca Mountain; but you wouldn’t know that from his speech unless you carefully listened to his phrasing.
  • No mention (that I noticed) of Guantanamo Bay, torture, wiretapping, or telecom immunity.
  • Obama did not mention the space program, whose immediate future is uncertain with the Shuttle Program ending in 2010 and Project Constellation not starting till 2015 at the earliest. We have an International Space Station in which the US has invested much time and money, orbiting with a huge load of contractual baggage and unrealized scientific potential, and a gap of at least five years in our ability to get astronauts there thanks to the current saber-rattling with Russia. Of course, given the more immediate concerns of economy and war, I can understand a candidate skipping over something like space for now.

The next day, John McCain announced that his running mate would be Sarah Palin. After putting out so many ads smearing Barack Obama as an inexperienced celebrity, it hasn’t escaped anyone’s sense of irony that John McCain chose to run with a former beauty queen who has been governor of Alaska for shorter than Obama was a senator. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if he continues to air those “ready to lead?” TV spots even after completely undercutting his own campaign’s negative angle — all it takes is a healthily selective attitude of doublethink to keep calling Obama inexperienced while at the same time pulling for even less experienced presidential backup. If this is just a bone thrown to the most rabid Hillary supporters who would vote for McCain just to spite Obama, then it’s obvious that such voters would have gone Republican anyway if Hillary weren’t a factor.

With Biden and Palin, we now have both major party running mates coming from states with only three electoral votes each. And I’m not the first to see the Battlestar Galactica resemblances.

I was in a doctor’s waiting room this morning when the news broke. The general tone of conversation went, “Palin? Palin?! He’s been callin’ Obama inexperienced and not ready to lead and now he gets Sarah Palin? Oh, you see Obama’s speech last night? I cried! He’s gonna be president!” And I looked on in amazement as the talk went on to Obama and his speech and Palin was forgotten.

(Well, maybe not too much amazement, this is DC after all.)