So what did we learn from the Midwestern love-ins of the last two weeks?
The single most salient point, I suspect, is that we should all stay away from nuclear power plants in California for the next sixty days. This whole election has been the seventh season of The West Wing for a while now; a young, oratorically gifted man from a central state making a historic run for people of his race against the wily political veteran from the west with cross-party appeal? Are you kidding me here?
But it was the two pieces of actual news from the whole process, the Vice-Presidential nominees, that sealed the deal; Joe Biden is Leo McGarry, the Washington insider who's really an outsider, while Sarah Palin is Ray Sullivan, the acceptable face of right-wing firebrandom. Of course, because of the unique way the West Wing ran the Democratic Convention, Leo never gave a speech. You suspect, however, that he'd have been about as workmanlike as Biden was. Ray Sullivan, by contrast, played the attack dog to a tee in the fictional universe.
Sarah Palin just didn't. Paul Walter got it absolutely right last night; is there anything she read off the autocue that wouldn't have been done a hundred times better by Kay Bailey Hutchinson? Rarely have so many pundits spouted so much utter guff as they have in the last twenty-four hours in trying to mention Palin's speech in the same breath as Obama's from 2004.
For the record, the two most remarkable speeches by non-principals were both on the Democratic side. Senator Bob Casey would have been the best had he gone beyond endorsing Obama despite their disagreement on abortion and made a firm statement that such disagreement does not utterly compromise the other side's judgement. As it is, the real star was Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, the best attack dog of the whole thing.
And while we're here, let's deal with the Sarah Palin issue. Yes, there are some who are attacking her out of sexism, but the vast majority of her are attacking her out of plain old hypocrisy. Does Bristol Palin's pregnancy or Trig Palin's age matter to us on the left? Of course not. But it sure as hell matters to those on the right, in Sarah's own party, and that is hypocrisy and it deserves to be called out.
In any case, I don't need to invoke sexism to know that she couldn't and shouldn't be President, a serious threat when the top of the ticket is more likely to die in office than any major party candidate since FDR. Sarah Palin isn't pro-capital punishment, pro-creationism, anti-gay, pro-gun, anti-abortion even in cases of rape and incest and (despite her pathetic protestations that she's tough on corruption) in the pocket of the oil industry because she's a woman, she just is all those things, and that is disqualification enough.
As for the experience argument, here's the comparison; would you want someone who'd served six years as mayor of Cullompton, four years for an oil quango and two years as mayor of Glasgow commanding the most powerful armed forces in the history of the world? Barack Obama was spending eight years in the Illinois Senate (a state twenty times bigger than Alaska) and four years in the United States Senate while concurrently Sarah Palin was running a town and a state whose policy priorities are oil, oil, oil, oil and oil.
Mind you, the Sarah Palin fuss has done a tremendous job of keeping the other women of the campaign out of the headlines. And speaking of sides of the same coin, the Michelle Obama/Cindy McCain contrast couldn't be more vivid. Michelle had a great convention, but it's difficult to know which group it will play to more; the sense that she'll be another Hillary as First Lady was only reinforced, but that could easily turn off more anti-Hillary independents than it turns on pro-Hillary democrats. As for Cindy, it was only really at the convention that we learned that she might almost have Michelle's credentials as an activist and humanitarian. The contrast I can't shake off, however, is the thing John is meant to have over Barack; authenticity. Michelle was an engaging speaker and looked like a human being, Cindy was dull and looked utterly fake.
And then we come to the candidates themselves, and what is still clearly the key to this election. John McCain is a decent public speaker, but he just isn't inspirational, not even at a basic level. When they go head-to-head in the debates, if Obama can turn McCain's record on its head and lead with the inspiration we have seen he can generate, we might see a different West Wing metaphor. What I am sure we have seen these last two weeks is that Barack Obama can give John McCain the sort of butt-whupping we haven't seen since Bartlet over Ritchie. And that really could be a sight to see...