Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama Hits A Home Run While McCain Goes North to Alaska

by Norman Markowitz

The Democratic Convention ended yesterday and without doing unpaid PR work for the Democrats, I would say it was as these things go a huge success. Hillary Clinton's unity speech was much much better than her campaign and much more in tune with the thinking of the core constituencies of the Democratic party. Joe Biden stuck it to the Republicans as traditional liberal Democrats have since the first convention that saw in TV in 1952, when Stevenson was the candidate and the Democrats were trapped with the unpopular Korean War which had infected sections of the country with the reactionary political virus called McCarthyism.

Michelle Obama spoke clearly and eloquently about what it meant to be an American women of African-American heritage in the 21st century.

And Barack Obama addressed a crowd of eighty thousand forcefully, separating himself from John McCain without resorting to polemics, drawing the line clearly between the two candidates on major issues and talking like a serious leader, much more so tthan Bush or McCain or for that matter the recent candidates of both parties.

I was struck by the faces of the delegates and the interviews with them. The majority were progressive people, humanist people, people supporting Barack Obama because they saw their hopes and dreams in his insights, understanding, and leadership potential. The convention was more than an infomercial as recent conventions have been. It was or rather can and should be a mobilizing tool for this crucial election.

Meanwhile, McCain has surprised many people by choosing Governor Palin of Alaska as his running mate. My first response was that this was an attempt to reach out to female voters who supported Hillary Clinton. While Palin from what I know of her is not especially a rightwing Republican, she is also an unknown in the party from a state that is geographically and politically distant from what used to be called the "lower forty eight." Unlike Joe Biden, who brings a long political career in national politics and a leadership role as a legislator on foreign policy issues, she brings nothing to the ticket but her gender.

As someone who has studied and written about the choice of Vice Presidents in U.S. history, it appears to me that McCain has gone back to the machine politics tradition of choosing a non-entity from a specific region or faction of the party to "balance the ticket" and
appeal to alienated voters. Rarely was the defeated opposition leader chosen because he would be too much of a rival for the victorious candidate. For these reasons, the Vice Presidency until the post World War II era was seen as a political dead end, a final political resting place from which the Vice President could only advance through the demise of the president.

The only innovation here is that McCain has created a balanced ticket based on gender. There is no regional balance unless he has designs on Siberia (which, given his statements about the continuing Russia-Georgia crisis some Russians might take seriously).

While Senator Obama goes forward, Senator McCain celebrates his 72nd birthday by going, as the song of that old tacky Hollywood movie went, "North to Alaska, North to Russia's Door" to find a running mate. I don't think the ploy will work with female voters, and it may even backfire with rightwing Republicans who don't think a woman's place is to be presiding officer of the Senate, even if that is mostly a ceremonial job.