Sunday, September 28, 2008

McCain-Obama Debate: The Dance of the Country

Comments by Obama supporter and Executive Chef Kim R. Whittington of Oakland, California. Immediately preceding the September 26, 2008 presidential candidate debate, first of three scheduled.

The interview took place at a debate party at Everett and Jones, Oakland's legendary barbeque where scores of supporters gathered in a festive community atmosphere.

Talking to David immediately afterwards – he had watched the debates in camera at a disclosed albeit secluded location north of New York – was sobering. [See his post below, "Mississippi Mud."] Those in attendance at E & J not surprisingly scored the debate a decisive win for Obama, and although early assessments by the MSM punditocracy suggest a draw, Rasmussen Reports' first post-debate Daily Presidential Tracking poll for Saturday, September 27 gave Obama a 50% to 44% lead over McCain in the race, matching his highest numbers to date. [Note that those numbers held on Sunday, September 28.]

This is the first of a couple of videos from the event. Embedded from Vimeo, an online video site that reaches a much smaller audience, although in higher resolution, than YouTube, where we'll continue to post.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Mississippi Mud

Dispatch 11
Mississippi Mud
David Levi Strauss

No one got hurt in this first debate, and under the circumstances, I think that’s bad for Obama. John McCain limped into this thing after two days of wildly erratic behavior, suspending his campaign and announcing that he wouldn’t show up in Mississippi for the debate, because he had to rush to Washington to solve the financial crisis. After demanding a meeting at the White House with President Bush, Secretary Paulson, Chairman Bernanke, and the Congressional leadership, McCain was ambushed by House Republicans, who decided to oppose Bush’s bailout. After that, McCain reportedly sat off to the side mumbling while Obama asked tough questions of the Treasury secretary and others. When Obama announced that he was going to appear at Old Miss with or without him, McCain decided he could spare the hour and a half to be there, too, after all.

The debate proceeded as if none of this had happened. Jim Lehrer orchestrated an elegant, measured discussion of the issues, with each candidate politely remaining within his time limits. There were no outbursts, gaffes, or zingers, to speak of. The problem with this, for Obama, is that it made McCain look like a perfectly reasonable, august statesman and executive, rather than the reckless, arrogant grandstander he’d been just hours before. McCain looked great tonight, much better than he ever looks when giving a speech. Obama always looks good, so there’s no relative gain.

Even though Obama will always prevail over McCain in any public, refereed debate on the issues, McCain still managed to get his broad, old-fashioned strokes in, painting Obama as a tax-and-spend liberal who will raise business taxes and drive jobs overseas, as a cut-and-runner who will lose the war in Iraq and dishonor the deaths of over 4000 service men and women, and as an inexperienced, naïve upstart who won’t be able to stand up to America’s enemies. Obama is impatient with such broad strokes and doesn’t reciprocate, preferring to draw more precise and subtler connections to make more specific points.

The only real advantage to Obama last night arose from body language and speech tone. From the beginning, Obama often looked at and spoke directly to McCain, while McCain spoke only to Lehrer, ignoring Obama and refusing to look at him. The effect of this was cumulative and significant. As the debate wore on, McCain seemed more evasive and equivocal, refusing to face his opponent head-on. He always referred to his opponent as “Senator Obama,” while Obama called him “John,” and came right at him, honestly and without guile. On a number of occasions, McCain’s tone veered into the sarcastic and even contemptuous, and attentive viewers glimpsed two very different approaches to political discourse.

[Filed on Friday, Sept. 26, 2008, after the first Presidential debate at the University of Mississippi’s Oxford campus.]



When I was 12 I attended a state 4-H Junior Leaders Conference in Fort Collins, Colorado. It was hundreds of teenagers from around the state, mostly rural communities like my own which then had only 1,500 inhabitants. My town is called “Craig,” the way that Indiana has a city called “Gary,” and it was the coldest place in the nation until Alaska was annexed. We had no Main Street, instead it was called Victory Way, a hopeful vision of America—a Christian town with a bar called “The Office” so that husbands wouldn’t have to lie to their wives when they called late at night to report their whereabouts.

At the 4-H Conference the final and inspirational speaker was Marilyn Van Derbur who had won the Miss America Pageant in 1958. She was in her early 40’s, wearing the power suit of the day, and she started off telling us how she entered the pageant with no talent at all. Invoking the ‘power of positive thinking’ she decided to learn one piece on the piano---well actually two, a medley of “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” and “Tea For Two”. She practiced, she said, hours and hours to get it all down, with both hands flying and most of all: a confident smile. She somehow won the Pageant with this combination of moxie and no doubt beaming through the swimsuit and evening gown competitions. I do not know if she was ever asked the dreaded ‘political question’ that now flummoxes so many beauty contestants. Part of what she won, she went on to explain, was an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, then the most popular stage in America. Much to her surprise, Ed suggested they do a piano duet together and a piano miraculously appeared. Marilyn said she pinned on her smile and made sure she positioned herself on the piano bench upstage with Ed facing the audience, then she pretended to move her fingers on the keys and smiled winningly through it all. She had just explained to us how she had faked her way through the pageant, and now she ‘inspirationally’ told us how we could fake our way through any situation when we didn’t know what we were doing by donning a winning smile. She ended her speech by singing acapella “To Dream The Impossible Dream,” which proved that perhaps the piano was indeed her more significant talent. I was dumbfounded. Had we really just heard this woman encourage us to fake our way to the top? But I looked around and many of the young girls my age and older were crying, they had boarded the space ship and were flying off.

I’m afraid when watching Sarah Palin on Katie Couric, and even before on Charles Gibson’s interview, I constantly thought of Marilyn Van Derbur. She had become an inspirational speaker who still circulated the country, a back-up to Anita Bryant, and who had added an instance of childhood sexual abuse to her range of topics in reaching out to rural conference communities. I saw the same smile, the same decision to try to dodge a direct challenge with a faked delivery. I became even more worried that she might someday be in a position of real power.

I have my own pageant confessions, for years later I did enter and locally win a Junior Miss Pageant, which in the small town (as part of a tri-county area) was one of the only things that was like a talent show. It had no bathing suit competition, instead you were judged on your academic grades and had to master a fully-clothed physical fitness routine. For talent I had done 5 paintings about the state of politics in America that I presented with an oratory about the confusions of the day. One was a black-edged 3-D frame of portraits of Bobby and John Kennedy with Martin Luther King, Jr. One was a painting of a wounded Vietnam soldier holding his dead friend based on a Larry Burrows photo, another showed a politician ranting, another a group of protesters with upraised fists; the final one showed a map of America with a thousand worried faces. There are eerie echoes of this same worry now. I had not wanted to win, simply make a statement and had assumed the other girls, far more glamorous than I, would take the prize. I was the shy art student who rarely said anything, least of all at home. When I did win, my parents were called onstage—a newspaper photo shows them looking stunned on either side of me, like deer caught in headlights, with me in my conservative gown and the shining rays from my braces emanating to the four corners of the picture.

At the state pageant, the cold ambition of the other contestants totally frightened me and I tried to make myself into a small ball, like a sow bug avoiding attack. There was a new feature at this level: the judges interview. The five judges of the contest took all of us out to dinner where we table-hopped, spending about 10 minutes with each judge explaining our beliefs. I was asked, sometimes with amusement, why I had been doing independent study the last two years, first researching the tribes of East Africa and the next year learning Swahili from a small plastic record and rare book of its grammar. I thought their questions were serious and didn’t hesitate to reply in my naive way. They assumed, they said, I must want to join the Peace Corps. Yes, well, I’d thought about that I said, Or to become an anthropologist, they suggested. I hadn’t considered that so I thought I should make myself clear: “I’d really like to join a tribe.” I said. One fairly hip-looking bearded judge looked at me in disbelief. “Join a tribe?” “Yes,” I explained how I found the tribal structure and housing, the customs to be so far preferable to life in the American high school that I fervently disliked. “I don’t want to change their way of life,” I added, “I want them to teach me theirs.” Needless to say, I did not win the contest, though they gave me a prize for my paintings. And though the naiveté that haunts all of us growing up in remote small towns (which I thought of as “Nowheresville” with the rest of the world as Elsewhere) rears its head from time to time, it has not compelled me (much to everyone’s relief I imagine) to seek public office.

My mother, however, came to the town as a community organizer and still, at 82, holds a prominent role in a wide multi-county area. Over the years she helped local families deal with financial woes and embrace new ways of doing things to improve the quality of their lives. She is on the board of a large area non-profit that looks to the future and joins businesses with other non-profits, with government organizations and public services like the hospitals and community colleges. She has worked to generate this kind of communication for the betterment of all her whole life and to me and so many others, she is a beacon of what one person can do for their fellow human beings. She has done so selflessly, and is the the real thing, the antithesis of faking ones way through anything. She is not like Sarah Palin at all.

(Photo: Marilyn Van Derbur)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hilda on the line I

As part of a project for the Buffalo ArtVoice I phoned Buffalo public school junior high teacher Hilda Ramos, who was also a delegate at the Democratic National Convention. She is featured in an earlier video interview from Denver – "Obama: Ready for Change."

First of a series.



Monday, September 15, 2008

September 11, 2008: This Is a Test

Dispatch 10
September 11, 2008: This Is a Test
David Levi Strauss

Lipstick on pigs. Comprehensive sex education for four-year-olds. Sarah’s secrets vs. Joe’s loose cannon. John’s temper vs. Barack’s celebrity.

The high scream of Distraction Culture wrapping itself tighter and tighter around the still turning point of the body politic is deafening, now. We can no longer hear ourselves, let alone others, think. D.C. never sleeps, never takes a breath, never blinks. Its imperative is speed, and it is relentless in its pursuit of . . . fuel. If it ever slows down, as it did on this day seven years ago, its moving parts become visible, and people begin to wake up and look around, beyond the Machine.

That was a dangerous time, and a time of great opportunity, politically. Unfortunately, the Democrats were caught flat-footed, having already walked away from a stand-off in Florida and ceded the field to reactionaries, who turned out to be terrifyingly unprepared to govern, but remarkably well-prepared in Machine maintenance and fuel issues. They advised us to “Get back to work, and your work is consumption.” Consumption and distraction.

The standard excuse for Americans letting happen what they have over the past 7 years is that they were scared, and when people are scared you can get them to do almost anything you want, and get away with it. Distraction becomes a obsession, and politicians who interrupt it risk serious, even violent abreactions.

In this Tortoise & Hare race, the old man who can’t send an email and the past mayor of a sleepy Alaskan town are running on the Speed & Distraction ticket, while the skinny fast forward who suddenly became a global star and the fast-talking senator are running on the Slow Down & Think ticket.

As the clock ticks down, this election looks more and more like a final test of American democracy. If American voters pass the test, nothing will be solved, but the slow work of reconstruction can at least begin. If we fail, time may have finally run out on this noble experiment.

Filed on Friday, Sept. 12, 2008, after Sarah Palin with Charles Gibson, Barack Obama with David Letterman, and the ceremonies at Ground Zero.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008



Let us never forget the unknown number of people who have died in the “War on Terror” or whatever W’s misguided attempts to rid the world a' them’ terrorists are being called these days. Never forget the media orgy that occurs on this anniversary of the one time in recent history when AMERICANS felt threatened! The gall! The shame! Never mind the kids in Kandahar, there are ‘Mericans in Michigan suffering, having to recall when the TV showed them the motherland [albeit a place where all them queers and liberals live] being attacked, one day, seven years ago.

The charade of the candidates putting politics on hold in honor of the dead today makes me want to join the Taliban. Putting politics on hold? If you are politics, how do you put yourself on hold? I long for leaders who don’t subscribe to this sham. If you are a politician, you can’t turn off your politics. Just like if you are an imbecile…
In today’s New York Times:

“Ms. Palin told them they would be fighting ‘the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans.’ It appeared to hark back to the disputed connections the Bush administration once made, but no longer does, between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks.” (JIM RUTENBERG)

Today Palin also called “the” war [is there only one?] “a task that is from God". While I admittedly find this one hilarious, it is also a real puzzler. Why does the military-governmental-media-complex broadly refer to "jihad" as terrorism and accept a candidate for VP calling war and occupation "A task that is from God"? [I know, I know, cause OUR GOD IS GOD, what kind of a red-blooded patriot wouldn’t know that?]

Maybe I should shut up now. I think I need to go get knocked up or get saved or something. But, if you haven’t heard about “Sarah Palin's Churches and The Third Wave: New Video Documentary”, do check this out—it may score even you points in the Big House.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008



The refinery is massive, grime-streaked, squatting in the valley under five massive stacks. No fires can be seen flickering through the windows and no long flames weave and dance from the tops of metal flues. No steam rises in clouds from vents and chimneys and the utter silence of it all is amplified by the falling snow.

In the foreground is a street -- COLUMBINE STREET -- which inhabits the bottom of a narrow ravine and plunges directly down the hillside, straight at the mill. Columbine is a sad looking street, a grim-looking street, a street hanging on by the skin of its teeth. Dilapidated stores hug the narrow sidewalks. Battered signs squeak in the wind. Sandwiched between the stores and scattered on twisting roads along the hillside are narrow Victorian houses. These houses, which run to three stories or more in height, all seem on the verge of toppling over, and undoubtedly would, except that they are all connected one to another by a mad arrangement of utility lines which cross and re-cross between them with occasional aid from a leaning pole.

MUSIC COMES UP -- dissonant, rather frightening music -- as we watch a snowmobile come charging up through the slush on Columbine Street. As it nears CAMERA the snowmobile falters on the slippery grade and slides out of sight. A figure appears, huddled against the driving snow. The figure disappears AS CAMERA HOLDS ON THE REFINERY AT THE END OF THE EMPTY STREET.



Everything's going to slip. Everything's going to slide. Everything’s going to crash!

JOHN McCAIN’S MOTHER puts her hand to her mouth and bursts into tears.

I can't believe this... My own little boy... with a stranger!


Snow is falling heavier and heavier as another snowmobile lunges up the hill, gets about halfway and slides back. As the snowmobile disappears, the door to one of the houses bursts open and a group of giggling REPUBLICAN PARTY DELEGATES begin scampering across the street. They have all been working on their dresses, which are not completely finished, and they all carry ribbons and scissors and pieces of material. As they make their way to the other side of the street they all wave away the snowflakes and grab each other for support. One of the REPUBLICAN PARTY DELEGATES loses her dress entirely and with everyone laughing she rushes back to retrieve it in her slip. When the garment is repossessed a door comes open and the REPUBLICAN PARTY DELEGATES disappear inside.

CAMERA HOLDS ON COLUMBINE STREET. The snow slants across the little stores and piles on the gables of the tipsy little houses. Another snowmobile appears, lunges at the hill and slides back. Snowfall is now approaching blizzard white-out conditions. Screen slowly fades to white as opening credits begin to roll.

Friday, September 5, 2008

No Country for Old Men

Dispatch 9
No Country for Old Men
David Levi Strauss

John McCain returned to form last night, snatching defeat from the jaws of a victorious convention. His speech was remarkably tone-deaf and stale. “Everyone has something to contribute”? Don’t worry, we’ll find you “a new job that won’t go away”? “We’re all God’s children and we’re all Americans”? Karl Rove must be tearing out his ear hairs. His minions had decked the hall for two nights with fresh red meat, and McCain poured warm milk all over it. The only hope left for his part of the Party is for the revenge and resentment agenda to leapfrog over Grandpa’s corpse.

McCain’s speech had “Old & In the Way” written all over it. He veered from platitude to bad attitude like a drunken sailor. When Thompson and Huckabee and Giuliani and Palin recounted McCain’s moving story as a P.O.W., it sounded noble and true. When he told it himself, it sounded like Gramps nattering on about his glory days.

When he was finally finished, his image men projected big flowing red and white flag bars behind him, recalling George C. Scott’s last speech in Patton, in decline, having become a caricature of his former self. Signal the balloon drop.

The youngest Palin daughter did her plucky best, appearing briefly onstage in a brown sack, looking like Joan of Arc, but it was too late. Her mother now looked for all the world like McCain’s third wife, elbowing aside his current fake glamorous billionaire CEO second wife. And McCain’s mother looked lost in a hail of red, white, and blue balloons. C-e-l-e-b-r-a-t-e Good Times, Come On!

It was all very sad. McCain retired early, leaving Sarah Palin behind to sign autographs, contemplating a future that will, God willing, never come.

Filed on Friday, Sept. 5, 2008, after the last night of the Republican Convention in St. Paul.


Are you guys freaking out as much as me?

So is it just me freaking out here? Usually I have a lot longer time to look at someone's face before I draw it and this one just like appeared KAZAM! and I wasn't even home, was at a really long dog show and then I get home and it's like, here. Draw her. Since you broke both your cameras and it's down to all pens and paper now, all the time. I'm like YAY she was a MISS CONGENIALITY OF Miss Alaska. Will be EASY to draw. And maybe even end up being a president in the sad or happy case of President John McCain dying of natural or unnatural causes. Would we be sad or happy about that? I am totally confused now. A religous Alaskan now could be our president instead of Barack? What the hell happened here, I was only gone for a few days??

Look at her little oil sniffer. That little sniffer can sniff out oil All over the place! And her big smiley fangs, so white and smiley they are calling her Sarah Barracuda! Little glimmer in her eye. And has all those kids and even a baby and no bags under her eyes that I can find ANYWHERE! Is that nice Alaska clean air? No damaging particles? Her skin Way Better than mine and we are ALMOST same age but HA! I am actually younger than you Sarah Palin. Um, take that? OK. Wow. Official freaking out over here at my house.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

How to Field Dress a Donkey

Dispatch 8
How to Field Dress a Donkey
David Levi Strauss

So a hockey mom carrying her special needs child walks into a bar, and says to everyone in and outside the joke, “What are you laughing at, asshole? Here’s what I think of your European Ideas.”

Hillary Clinton must be wondering what she did to deserve this. John McCain has, with one deft stroke, made a mockery of her campaign and everything she stands for. You want a woman tough enough to be Commander-in-Chief? Sarah Palin is so tough she doesn’t need to wear pantsuits to wear the pants. She can stand by her man and stand up to the terrorists, while her lily-livered opponent is standing around “worried that someone won’t read them their rights.” And as she marches into history, Palin has picked up the fallen banner of Hillary to use as her own petard.

Unlike Hillary and Joe Biden, she’s “not a member of the permanent political establishment”. . . yet. She’s just been a small-town mayor, which is “sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities,” and a big-state governor. Voters like governors, especially of big states. She sees this as a race between “a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single law or even a reform” and the “only man in this campaign who has ever really fought for you.” The sound of Styrofoam Greek columns falling was deafening.

Even Palin’s youngest daughter is so innately media-savvy that she turned Paul Wolfowitz’s telling rough gesture of licking his hand to smooth out his hair (in Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11) into an endearing image, using hers to straighten out her baby brother Trig’s. Bristol and Levi looked independent, unrepentant, and fierce, like they could eat the whole Washington Press Corps for breakfast, even without the help of brother Track, who’s on his way to Iraq.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden suddenly have a tremendous problem on their hands. Sarah Barracuda is the new fresh face of revenge and resentment politics, and if enough white evangelical blue-collar and middle-class voters buy it again, things are going to get very ugly. It will no longer be about ideas, European or otherwise. Making sense, telling the truth, and being right just won’t cut it anymore. John McCain has, at least for now, turned the tables, back to a Karl Rovian image- and symbol-storm, in a skirt.

Filed on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008, after the third night of the Republican Convention in St. Paul.


I Never Meta Phor That Didn't Turn Me On.

As skeptical & uninterested in Obama Mia! mania as I am, I am still hoping that the handsome young phenom, the hot prospect from the minors, Barack "Babe" O'Bama can step up and close out this game - before it goes into extra innings - where, as we know from the Florida world series, anything can happen. The other team's equally green* and "hot" prospect, Slammin' Sara Palin**, has been pretty impressive swatting pop flies out to the warning track during batting practice. She's been hitting so many solid base hits that nobody's even talking about "Lefty" Obamayer's "perfect" game*** anymore. And even the Pachyderm's runty little Italian shortstop has been smacking some sizzling grounders through the gap, with attitude. Giuliani's taken to saying something stupid as arrogantly as he can, opening his eyes and hands wide, and waiting for the laughs. It's a page out of GWB's playbook: tell a lie with enough condescension & people will believe you. It's a team we've loved to hate for a lot of years now, and they are the underdogs this season, but don't count them out. They are solid hitters and they make me nervous with the way they have rolled out**** a distinctly American rhetoric of the mundane & cheesy: the moose, the downs syndrome, the pregnant teenager, the bangs, the hockey, the oil, the oil, the oil. Our oil. They have energized their team as much as Obama has his, and more importantly they are hijacking the terms of debate. We are all talking about Sara Palin right now, only a couple days after Obama's "triumph" he has been wiped from the headlines. Sara Palin has finally given me a way into writing about this campaign, she's elicited some incisive thought & writing from Mark NeuCollins, below; she's Danica Patrick with a rifle instead of a car.***** The Republicans may very well have succeeded in snatching Homeland field advantage. They have stumbled, with a little help from dumb luck I think, onto the one approach that can potentially sink the unsinkable U.S.S. Obama deeper than the Titanic: the huge submerged iceberg of American stupidy & cupidity as it latches onto what it perceives as "the proud underdog" standing up for American Values in the face of overwhelming odds. The Democrats are offering us 1960: Martin Luther Kennedy's pragmatic messianism nut to the Republican's it looks like - what - Gore Vidal or Boss Tweed or something vaguely French. Foreign & threatening anyway. Sara Palin is offering us 1897: My oil. My gun. My car. My world. I'm King of the World. (The problem with American Values being, of course, is that so many of them are destructive, self-destructive, unethical, anti-civilization.

*not in the environmental sense.
**I'm thinking she has some Tammy Faye Baker in her, and a little Jane Curtin.
***the first one pitched since the days of the Kennedy brothers. (ps. Hillary as the new Ted Kennedy? I wonder how Diane Feinstein feels about that. In that she would get bumped to the Walter Mondale spot.)
****via Bush speechwriters & Palin's mouth.
*****Walked into Safeway or Long's the other day & saw the most perfect example of co-branding: Harlequin's Nascar series. Absolute genius.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Country First

To be honest, I'm a bit in awe of Governor Palin's ability to field-dress a Moose. I imagine her as vice-president reaching up with a survival knife inside the still warm body of a placid animal, shot with a high-powered rifle that was, moments before, standing knee-deep in a lake munching on plants; reaching up to sever its trachea and spill its guts on the ground --and simultaneously with a satellite phone in the other hand, conducting intricate foreign policy negotiations that affect the future of mankind-- and there is a certain awful poetry to this image. Having grown up in rural America, I am privy to the practice of "meat processing" (that is, watching the trusting look in the cow's eyes being replaced by fear, being replaced by eyes rolled up in the head, with the sound of the substantial body falling to the ground). I cannot look in a cow's eyes and do that, hence, my vegetarianism. It takes a certain type of person who can put all empathy aside and make the killing cut.

While watching the Republican convention coverage, I could not help thinking of the VFW post in Solon, Iowa. Solon is a small midwestern town like so many others. The names of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country are engraved on a concrete monument in the center of town, and their names are familiar. In the VFW post, there is a photographic mural that covers one wall. It shows a deer (actually a prime buck) silhouetted in a misty forest. We, as viewers, are the first-person-shooters in this picture. It is not the misty forest, but stalking and killing that buck that matters. Surrounding me in the VFW post are ghosts from wars that were fought, purposes unclear, for which youth and dreams and bodies were sacrificed. They are drawn here by the light of the fluorescent sign outside, to drink and smoke and talk of other days. Theirs is a commonality of experience that excludes all others. They pull themselves from their chairs and into the bright sunshine to march in the Independence Day and Memorial Day parades, carrying flags and guns that shoot only blanks. And I am left with the with the feeling that there is something fundamentally wrong with the slogan "Country First." Countries have neither reverence for life nor empathy for those that they roll over.

The Other Side & Their Friends in the Media

Dispatch 7
The Other Side & Their Friends in the Media
David Levi Strauss

When the Bush/Cheney regime seized power eight years ago, I would not have predicted that they would prove to be so adept at the deployment and control of images to shape public opinion. In fact, they turned out to be better at it than any previous American administration.

Watching the first (delayed) night of the Republican National Convention on TV tonight, I was struck by how different the image rhetoric in St. Paul is from what I saw first-hand in Denver last week. The images projected behind speakers tonight were more subtle and yet more iconic than anything I saw in Denver. Joe Lieberman stood before a clear blue sky broken only by a flag waving from a single pole. The film narrated by Gary Sinise was less mawkish and more moving than any of the Democrats’ films. Only George W. Bush’s visual broadcast from the Oval Office was substandard, and that may very well have been by design. For McCain to win, he must distance himself from the Bush/Cheney image.

The verbal rhetoric of each party is less distinguished and less distinguishable. Like John Kerry, Fred Thompson gave a great speech, much better than anything he did on his own behalf as a candidate. Did he have access to better speechwriters tonight, or does he just perform better in a supporting role? “John McCain knows about hope. [When he was a POW] that was all he knew.” “This is the kind of character that civilizations from the beginning of our history have sought in their leaders.” “Character you can believe in.” “Not because of a teleprompter’s speech designed to appeal to America’s critics abroad.” “The Democrats present a history-making nominee for President; history-making in that he’s the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee ever to run for President.”

The overall message was clearer in St. Paul because it was less complicated. Fred Thompson painted a compelling portrait of the candidate and threw out partisan red meat, and then Joe Lieberman appealed to disaffected conservative Democrats and Independents by saying partisanship isn’t enough. It is strange to see both campaigns running against their respective parties. Both McCain and Obama realize that they cannot win with only traditional party loyalties, that they must extend their reach. And they’re both reaching toward the same undecided voters, from opposite ends of the spectrum.

Filed on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008, after the second night of the Republican Convention in St. Paul.



Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What's happening outside the convention center?

Anyone able to weigh in on what's being talked about via link below? - ie. arrests of journalists etc. (I'd write more but I just heard two gunshots coming from the vicinity of my backyard...)

The Calm of the Storm

Dispatch 6
The Calm of the Storm
David Levi Strauss

So far the meeting in St. Paul is the Unconvention, and that may be the best thing that possibly could have happened for the Republicans. Bush & Cheney couldn’t make it? Fantastic! The Republican delegates are, after all, the only people left in the world who still think the current Administration is competent (71% of them approve of Bush’s performance). Much better to have Cindy McCain and Laura Bush (decked out in gold and white, respectively) show up only as fundraisers for hurricane relief efforts, although that line about how it’s time to “take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats” begs the question: are the two mutually exclusive?

The reason for the postponement of the convention was succinctly stated by David Brooks: “They couldn’t afford that split-screen image” of party-hearty Republican celebrations juxtaposed with homeless hurricane survivors recalling Bush/Cheney’s criminal neglect during Katrina. It just wouldn’t look right. Some lobbyists couldn’t help themselves tonight, and threw lavish meet-and-greet-and-bribe parties anyway, but they at least tried to lock out the press.

To fully capitalize on their good luck, the Republican ticket should disappear for the next 68 days, perhaps to Wasilla, or South Assetia.

Filed Monday, Sept. 2, 2008, after the first night of the Republican Convention in St. Paul.


Monday, September 1, 2008

A Ship in the Harbor

Dispatch 5
A Ship in the Harbor
David Levi Strauss

Who says we can’t afford another big election about small things? Isn’t it the little things that matter most? Like Bristol Palin’s teen pregnancy, and her mother’s little gun? Like John McCain’s age and Barack Obama’s secret Muslim heart? After all, the big things—war, environmental catastrophe, the energy crisis, economic ruin—are too immense to contemplate. So let us turn deftly away, as George W. Bush taught us with 9/11, and the Iraq War, and Hurricane Katrina, and Global Warming. Play some golf, dance a jig, cut some brush in Crawford. What we don’t think about can’t hurt us. Leave it to someone else. One day at a time.

Trivialize women’s rights. Make a cute little button-nosed joke out of the Vice Presidency. Turn the tables on those oh-so-serious Dems, with their sober assessments and dire predictions, and all that downer talk about mutual responsibility. Please. What ever happened to the happy-go-lucky, irresponsible Negro, anyway? Those were the days, remember?

When Blacks and women knew their place and were happy to be there? When the U.S. was the sole super-power and could conduct foreign policy from the air, no matter what Moscow or Beijing or anyone else thought about it? When economic policy consisted of deregulation and privatization and spending the government into bankruptcy? When energy policy consisted of removing all barriers for the oil companies? God created Anwar for us, didn’t he, so we could drill there?

The Democrats’ hand-wringing only encourages the worst tendencies of a Nation of Whiners. It’s Morning in America, my friends. Don’t worry, be happy. Let Sarah and Todd and Bristol and Levi and Cindy and John show you the way, Back to the Future.

Labor Day, Sept. 1, 2008. First day of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.