Friday, August 29, 2008

Bombs Bursting in Air

Things have been quiet here at Communicative Action recently. The fact is, I've been a spectator more than a commentator for a while, limiting my conversations on the net to microblogging via Twitter and comments on other people's work. I'm back and ready to talk about two things that are important in the current news cycle.

1. The Democratic National Convention

Several things stick out to me about the convention. First, the media coverage was built on the Clinton-Obama rift, party unity, and hitting McCain. Narratives that are pre-determined are the stuff of modern, institutional media coverage but fail the public in a fundamental way. Like the Downing Street Memos and the Bush administration's case for war, the media narrative is a way to fix the coverage around the story. The story is determined by pundits and insiders and everything that unfolds is fit to that story. Barney Frank sneezes during Hillary Clinton's speech and suddenly there's a story up somewhere about a fractured Democratic Party on the issue of gay marriage.

The story that comes out of the convention from my perspective, based on what happened rather than what happened in relation to pre-determined narratives, is a story of legacy. It's a story of leadership. The convention was most effective in driving a line between the Kennedys, Clintons, and now the Obamas. I felt that the party would almost be better served including the Roosevelts in the mix, but I think that must be ancient history for too many viewers and likely they couldn't find anyone to take the stage with that mantle. The Democratic Party brand has suffered through long periods of leadership void. The charismatic qualities that provide enduring legacies of leadership in American history books are difficult to find and almost impossible to fake. The GOP has done a very good job of building a late-20th century Reagan legacy that was supposed to run through the Bush's and now McCain. The problem is, that legacy is basically lost. Both Bush presidencies were pale in comparison to the large shadow of Reagan and McCain just can't stack up. The GOP will need to reinvent itself in the same way the Dems did with Clinton if they hope to start any kind of lengthy tenure at the head of the nation again.

Obama capped off a forceful, and vibrant convention with a masterpiece. The Ted Kennedy speech, the Clintons dueling speeches, Governor Schweitzer, and the Kerry/Biden 1-2 punch provided lasting memories and excellent branding opportunities for the party. They were reminders of past success, links to the legacies of successful Democratic leadership, and forceful defenses and projections of our ideals. Obama had a tough task to live up to the building momentum, but he delivered his most impactful speech, if not his best. It is a moment of historical significance for America on so many levels, but the immediate importance was the ability of the nominee to take the torch for its final leg and make his case as a logical successor to the Democratic leadership. He did so and more, and I think he gave America a reason to trust him and support him, and yes, to follow him.

I would be remiss in failing to mention the gracious and powerful moment that Hillary Clinton provided in ending the roll call to the nomination. In the primary campaign she hit Obama hard. Yes, there are probably some hard feelings and some bitterness, but she put her nation and her party ahead of herself. She stands to gain respect, power, and future opportunities for her selfless act, but historically that moment will be remembered for its symbolic importance. It will be remembered as one of the great moments in party history. That brings me to the second issue in the news cycle.

2. Sarah Palin

Others are already saying it for me, but this pick for McCain VP is an unmitigated disaster. There are a few sparkles of potential brilliance behind the pick, but I'm tempted to stand firmly in my assessment of this pick as a huge political blunder. This was a desperation pick. It was a pick aimed at attracting disenfranchised Clinton supporters, but actually demonstrates why the GOP is all about appearances rather than substance. They don't get that the Clinton support wasn't a gender-based support alone. It was the notion that a woman of her qualifications, and 35-years of hard work in a male dominated society could crack the glass ceiling and take what is rightfully and deservedly hers. Obama proved to overcome that by offering something a bit different. His story was equally compelling and came at a time when a fresh start is on the minds of the American people. Clinton, otherwise, would have been crowned in Denver.

Palin is an outsider and an interesting character. She could help to rebrand the GOP in a way that is desperately needed. They are the party of the old white hawk now, with ties to big oil, big business, and Minneapolis men's rooms. Palin is a person with an interesting back story and the label of reformer. She's sufficiently weak a political character that neither of those points would actually get in the way of the good old boys network that runs the GOP, but appearances are everything in branding. The Clinton network, however, understand that Palin has done nothing to deserve the VP spot. She has no qualifications for the office, or for potentially being president when a 72-year old former POW with skin cancer is in the top spot. She hasn't earned it. She is everything the anti-Affirmative Action naysayers criticize in condemning the practice. She is taking a position that she has no business occupying simply for the purpose of advancing the image of the GOP with women.

Time will tell if McCain can sell this choice as a part of his mavericky-goodness, but I think the stakes in this election are too high, and the American people know it. I have a theory about the vice presidency for what it's worth. It's called the "close your eyes test" and it helps to easily determine whether the choice was good or not. Let's face it the VP is really only important to people because they're a heartbeat away. Otherwise, the person is a figurehead or a sidekick or a foil. That's the perception.

The "close your eyes test" asks you to close your eyes (surprise) and picture a situation where the president has died, become incapacitated, or is unavailable in some way. A crisis has emerged of dire proportions. A Cuban Missile Crisis type event that is turned over to the VP and the Cabinet. The VP is in the Oval Office delivering an address to the American public in an attempt to inform and project confidence in the government. If you can picture the person in question handling this effectively, they pass the most basic test of the VP position. If there are doubts about their capacity to deliver that address believably, they are a negative in the position. Biden clearly passes that test. He might not be the guy we choose to run the country on a daily basis in a generic situation, but the "close your eyes test" is a no-brainer with him. He can handle it, inspire some level of confidence, and project presidential qualities in sufficient measure to hold down the fort. For the GOP, Romney would be the same kind of character, as would Tom Ridge or even Condi Rice for that matter. I would be upset and I'd have my doubts, but they would be ideological rather than practical.

Those GOP types may even be incompetent and screw everything up, but the projection of authority and leadership are important to maintaining order in the nation. Chaos is bad. Pawlenty doesn't pass the test. Bayh didn't either. Kaine really didn't. Bill Richardson might. Clinton clearly does. guess. But, Palin? Not in a million years. Ask the American people, Democrat, Republican, or Independent if they would feel comfortable with her as president in a time of crisis. The answer is brutally obvious, and that's what makes this choice a disaster for McCain. The short term purpose of this pick is a huge failure, I believe, even if the long term success is a perceived inclusion in the GOP brand. I just think he shot himself in the foot. Time will tell.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Vote From Abroad

Just a quick note today about people like me, living abroad and voting in the 2008 election. Watch.