It's hard to think of a speech that was more eagerly anticipated and subjected to as much prior commentary as the one Barack Obama will deliver tomorrow night at Invesco Field in Denver. Given the track record of Obama and his speechwriters, chances are that the speech will be eloquently written and skillfully delivered, and as it reaches its climax, hearts will swell, goosebumps will rise, and Democrats will find themselves putting aside their cynicism (at least for a while) and hoping for grand things from the next presidency.
This February, Michelle Obama caused a spasm of faux outrage on the right when, in attempting to argue that her husband's campaign had brought something new to a political climate that had been so ugly for so long, she said that for the first time in her adult life, she was proud of her country. Though she obviously meant her country's politics and not her country per se, the reaction was predictable. One voice joining the chorus of condemnation was that of Cindy McCain, who made sure to say that she has always been proud of her country.
By the time it's over, this presidential campaign may set some kind of record for the sheer quantity of silliness, trivia, and stupidity. Sometimes, a tire gauge is just a tire gauge. But not this time.
By the time it's over, this presidential campaign may set some kind of record for the sheer quantity of silliness, trivia, and stupidity with which the news media becomes temporarily consumed. From flag pins to Britney and Paris to the latest round of feigned outrage at a campaign surrogate's statement, it's enough to make you pine for the days when candidates argued fervently about the fate of Quemoy and Matsu. But before we throw up our hands in despair, we should note that even the dumbest of campaign controversies can be quite revealing of the symbolic undercurrents that flow beneath our politics.
When Barack Obama announces his pick for vice president, one set of questions will be asked, in various forms, over and over: Does this candidate adequately address Obama's weaknesses? Does he or she compensate for the nominee's relatively brief time on the national scene? Does the VP pick make some potential attacks on Obama harder?
It's a lot to ask of some senator or governor -- maybe too much. But the day of the running-mate announcement could be truly revolutionary, if Obama has the courage to offer to the public more than just a running mate.
For years, Democrats have marveled at Republicans' ability to create compelling visuals. When Ronald Reagan's advisers began treating his every appearance as a tableau that required careful attention to lighting, perspective, and composition, it was revolutionary. The series of attack ads George H.W. Bush used to eviscerate Michael Dukakis were so intricately structured and layered with symbolism that entire dissertations have been written about them. George W. Bush's team continued the visual artistry with a careful eye toward placing its lead actor in manly costumes and heroic poses (take this remarkable bit of framing). Democrats, it seemed, could never keep up.