Republican Off The Rails

I just woke up nauseous and panicked from a nightmare -- what I thought was only a nightmare at first. Then I remembered it could be real. In it, I saw hundreds of screaming people lining a small roadway, waving (poorly-made) signs, begging the candidates to stop their campaigns and fix the economy.

This is absurdity. Suddenly, Pres. Bush is feeling left out of all the excitement, so he calls an urgent press conference and requests the two Presidential candidates return to the Hill and save the day. John McCain has jumped on his horse, slung his six-shooters on his hips and is ready to ride to the rescue, eschewing Friday's Presidential debate and, hell, the entire campaign until this problem is solved. Why?

Do we really need Mr. McCain trying to dig us out of financial crisis that was already visibly underway when he was telling us "the fundamentals of the economy are still strong"? Is the man whose candidacy was bolstered at the GOP convention by Fred Thomson's mocking Democrats for worrying over the health of the economy really who we need trying to fix this mess? The man who spent his career fighting regulation on Wall Street will suddenly save the day by implementing regulations on Wall Street? Suddenly, now that Sen. McCain has finally been convinced that there's a problem with unfettered financial gambling when it imperils his campaign, everybody has to stop what they're doing? The man who, at a Republican primary debate last December, was quoted as telling reporters: "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should," McCain said.

But even so, even if we really need all our legislators involved on this immediately, why cancel the debate? Does Mr. McCain need more time to study? Can he not work on legislation for two days and then handle an hour-and-a-half debate? A President needs to be better than that.

Sen. McCain would have us believe that canceling the debate and suspending the campaign would be a selfless choice. But simply by saying that, by claiming to put politics aside to work together, Mr. McCain is making a solely self-serving political move. He bets that the American public won't see that he's just trying to use our financial woes to gain points in the polls based on his character, his willingness to sacrifice, to work out a problem everyone else has already been working on for days while he's campaigned. Sen. McCain's suggestion isn't really a suspension of the campaign, it's rather an attempt to bring the campaign to Capitol Hill. As Rep. Barney Frank said about the impending arrival of the candidates:

"We're going to have to interrupt a negotiating session tomorrow between the Democrats and Republicans on a bill where I think we are getting pretty close, and troop down to the White House for their photo op," said Frank, the House Financial Services Committee chairman. "I wish they'd checked with us."

Harold Meyerson suggests that McCain, realizing that Obama is more right on the economy than he is, will use the pressure of pseudo-bipartisanship in national crisis to erase the distinction between them in the minds of the public.

And, by avoiding debate with Sen. Obama, Sen. McCain is continuing the traditional Republican ploy of hiding from scrutiny, hiding from the people. Now, when we need to hear from it most, the so-called straight-talk express tries to slip into a dark tunnel. If the Democrats -- and we the people -- don't nail McCain's ass to the wall on this, they might as well roll over now. And that would make for a real nightmare.


No More Moose-Stepping

"The Media" has always received its criticism -- charges of bias and spinelessness and unfairness all at once (even on these pages). That's fine. Mostly, it's deserved. It's necessary, even if not always right. (Even when revelatory reports make the front pages, we the people still re-elect George W. Bush. At some point we citizens hold responsibility.)

Currently, as always in campaign season, the press is drawing allegations of unfairness to the candidates. But the allegiance of the news media lies not primarily with fairness but with truth and justice. If only we adhere to that amongst the calculated maelstrom of accusations of bias from the Right and pussyfooting from the Left, if we could stand on moral high ground and respond to charges of unfairness with "But it's true, so shove off", rather than, "Oh, no, sorry; we didn't mean to upset you; we'll fix it", we can allow the flaming arrows of criticism to rain upon us without concern. The media's job is not be liked after all. If we're nice to everyone -- or indiscriminately derisive -- then we fail.

This is not rec-league soccer where everyone plays the same amount regardless of the benefit to the team. We are here to lay bare the machinations of government and advocate for the best for the American people and the world. Sometimes one side deserves more rebuke than another.

Let's take this page from what Gov. Palin spat at us at the GOP convention: "I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion - I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country." We do not exist to please our readership. Nor are we part of anyone's PR machine. We defer to no one but blind Justice and bright-eyed Truth.

Of course this is idealism. Those in the business of news also have other concerns and agendas -- legitimate and il- -- that compromise their work. So, those of us who serve no corporate master now can bear the realistic burden of truth telling.

So, with that, Open Veins officially endorses Barack Obama and Joe Biden of the Democratic Party. (As if that weren't obvious.) These are, of course, not perfect politicians. We hold certain concerns with them and will continue to make those known and look for others. To keep them honest as we can. We will attempt to maintain H.L. Mencken's perspective of politicians, looking at them only down.

But the Democratic is without hesitation the better ticket for America and our global co-habitants. Better by miles than a once-principled politician who, running on his integrity and authenticity, has now sold many of those principles and flipped positions on many issues in his heat for the Oval Office. And the provincial boss who despite her cries of revolution brings with her more of the fanatical, proud-to-know-nothing bullying that has blundered through the White House, the country and the world for the past eight years.

Sen. McCain touts himself as an agent of change, yet he has served in politics for nearly 30 years after more than 20 years in the military, which surely must be counted as part of the much-derided Institution. John S. McCain III is both son and grandson of Navy admirals. He is hardly new blood. His campaign has proven himself just another GOP cutout. Even on the topic of rebellion, first he criticized Sen. Obama as not having spent enough time in Washington; now he criticizes him as being a Washington insider. ABCNews nicely lays out some of the basic contradictions in the Republican campaign here.

One of the foremost concerns recently has been McCain's multiplicity of positions about the economy, which even after the collapse of Bear Stearns he said was still strong. After a career of pushing for de-regulation in financial markets and then his almost unbelievable lack of awareness of the already-underway financial catastrophe, McCain suddenly became Mr. Regulation only after disaster struck (the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and AIG), to the point that claimed he would fire the head of the SEC, a power the President does not have. A President must surely have greater foresight than that -- and a greater sense of reality. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek goes further in depth on this here.

Both the ABC and Newsweek pieces lead us to another great concern about McCain. He has gone from a true straight-talker to just another shifty politician who hides from public inquiry. ABC says that the formerly constantly available candidate has given way to one who hasn't held a press conference since Aug. 13, has diligently avoided the reporters covering his campaign and rarely speaks in public without a script. Who else has been famous for this? Presidents George W. Bush and Richard M. Nixon. Haven't we learned enough from those two men to shun the promise of an opaque White House?

In addition to its failings on policy, despite its incredulous rhetoric about hope and strength and change, this Republican ticket and its campaign -- often disingenuous; playing traditional, self-serving party politics; not sticking to its guns as promised; playing to our fears and delusions and hatreds; thinking that Americans will buy an anti-feminist as VP just because she has the correct private parts -- is mired in cynicism, and that's no way to lead America.


Pulling Back the Curtain: In Their Own Words

On The Daily Show from Sept. 3, Jon Stewart lets GOP honchos -- including Sarah Palin herself -- expose their own hypocrisy in their bashing of the media for even talking about the GOP VP nominee in anything other than flattering... deference. Hypocrisy is a moral issue. The real revelation here is what the hypocrisy illuminates: That the pick of Palin is purely a self-serving, political move by the GOP, intended to put their interests as the Republican Party above those of the nation. It also reminds us of what we all claim to know but seem to constantly forget: Politicians are lying to you. Especially when they tell you they're not lying to you.

For those who can't watch the video, here are some highlights:

In one clip, Karl Rove lauds Palin for having been mayor of -- "I think" -- the second-largest city in Alaska. In a clip from last month, Rove blasted Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia for having been only governor for three years (Palin has served 1.5) and mayor of Richmond, which he derides as being "not a big town" (it has more than 20 times the population of Wasilla) and called Obama's considering of Kaine an "intensely political choice".

We then see a clip of Bill O'Reilly telling people to back off the issue of Palin's having a pregnant teenage daughter, that it's a "personal" family issue. Then we see a clip of Bill O'Reilly talking about the teenage pregnancy of Jamie Lynne Spears, in which he concludes that her pregnancy proves that her parents are "pinheads" and obviously have no control over their daughter.

Top McCain adviser Dick Morris, on the floor at the GOP convention derides the "deep sexism" that has resulted in the media's talking about Palin. Then a clip from a few months ago: "When a woman wants to be President, she shouldn't complain based on gender....This is what Hillary always does when she's under fire: She retreats behind the apron strings."

We even get a nip from Palin herself. Just watch. This is good journalism.

(Thanks to the three of you who brought this clip to our attention.)

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Opening the Doors of Reason

In Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders, a book released in May, Wall Street Journal editorialist Jason L. Riley debunks some of the main arguments for restricting immigration -- and does it primarily from a pro-free-market perspective. We've pushed these facts for a long time, here on Open Veins, but it's nice to see them validated by people who, judging from our current political climate, should stand on the opposite side of the wall.

Speaking of reason, Riley took his stance to ReasonTV. (Nice transition!) He says that a general increase in population has no real tie to a nation's prosperity: He cites the rich though densely populated Hong Kong and the sparsely populated but desperately poor region of sub-Saharan Africa. Riley says that because there is no fixed number of jobs in this country immigrants aren't stealing jobs from other Americans.

As for homeland security issues, he argues that if we were to let economic migrants in legally, they would cease to function as potential shields for people entering the country who might actually threaten us.

He agrees that there are of course costs in health care and education associate with illegal immigration -- though they're generally overstated. But he thinks the benefits outweigh those costs. The problem, he says, is that the costs of immigration happen on a local level but many of the benefits go to the Federal government -- payroll and other Federal taxes paid by undocumented immigrants who will never collect those benefits and a majority of whom, according to Riley, work on the books. In my mind, this explains much of the reason why so many localities have attempted to pass their own immigration laws. They see the costs only and not the benefits. This is compounded by the propagandizing by those using the issues for their own political gain, as Riley says. Generally, as we know, those are conservatives.

But, in this talk that he gave at the "market-liberal" CATO Institute, Riley says this:

"No self-respecting free-markets advocate would ever dream of supporting laws that interrupt the free movement of goods and services across international borders. But when it comes to laws that hamper the free movement of workers who produce those goods and services, too many conservatives today abandon their free-market principles.... Ronald Reagan gives way to Pat Buchanan." (I agree with Reaganites? More evidence that political parties and ideologies are generally counterproductive to reason. How much better if we could all operate only on the level of issues.)

In his talk at CATO, Riley makes arguments that debunk the reactionary hysteria created by Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly and their ilk that we're suffering some massive, illegal-immigrant crime wave:

"Numerous studies by independent researchers and government commissions over the past 100 years have repeatedly found that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be behind bars than the native born."

He mentions that welfare case loads have fallen during the years of the current illegal-immigrant boom and that "it's clear that immigrants have benefited the U.S."

I won't go through all of his talk. It's short. Watch it. But I leave you with his closing, after he explains that the immigration wave of the early-20th century was much more massive in relation to the U.S. population than what we have now and didn't destroy the country: "Today's immigrants aren't different. They're just newer."

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On The Trail: Defending the Fourth Estate

By now, a lot of people have seen this video of Sarah Palin in which she exhorts an audience at her church in now-famous Wasilla to pray for her natural-gas-pipeline project. And I just couldn't help but be reminded of one of my favorite moments in the life of another wildly charismatic, oil loving Westerner -- "family man" Daniel Plainview who submits himself to a maniacal baptism in order to get himself… an oil pipeline. Watch Gov. Palin (starting at around 2:02), then watch this scene, paying very careful attention to what Plainview smugly mutters to himself in the very last seconds, knowing he's pulled one over on the dupes.

Obviously, that's just a joke. But, actually, one would think that, after eight years of Pres. Bush, so many people have come to realize that the ambitious sometimes use their perceived or real religion to get what is best for them as individuals. After the failures of Bush, in this same video, we have Palin calling the war in Iraq "a task that is from God" (around 3:46).

A sandstorm has swirled not only about Palin herself but about the appropriateness of this media vetting of her. Partly because of some sensationalist, hysterical reporting and rumor-mongering and partly because of a manufactured mistrust of The Media among many Americans, intentionally fostered by the Republican Party, we have seen a backlash from people who think the media is just being unfair and mean to Palin. Have lines been crossed in terms of investigating familial issues? Probably. But is much of this investigating of a person vying to hold the second-highest office in our country legitimate? Of course. That is why the news media exist.

The Fourth Estate is not just a business sector -- and if it is, it's certainly not a lucrative one for most of us these days – neither is it entertainment. The news media exist to investigate and present information useful to the people, to poke holes in the self-serving rhetoric of politicians – in short, to keep our government honest. Do we often fail in this? Of course. But better to let the world hate us because we point out unpleasant truths than to let them go on believing the fallacies fed them. We fail most direly when we accept the spoon-feeding ourselves – as we surely did, by and large, in the justification of the invasion of Iraq. That is why the Founders of our nation put freedom of the press right up there at the top. They understood how essential a free press is to the functioning of democracy and justice.

Some of the darkest periods of our history have come hand-in-hand with a stonewalling of the press by the White House. Nixon did it most famously. George W. Bush has done it as well. By keeping distant from the press they refused to answer to the people. By keeping themselves sequestered they fostered an impression of invulnerability. By avoiding public scrutiny they escaped a true vetting by and for the people and therefore were free to operate of their own in will, instead of working for us. Our leaders must remain accountable to the people. Inherent in our nation is the belief in checks and balances to ensure enduring justice and democracy. The media must be a part of that.

I just read the New York Post – which I would guess the Right doesn't consider part of The Media; go figure – and saw their ringing endorsement of McCain. Mentioned in one of their articles is that Palin is finally going to start meeting the press -- now that she's been coached -- perhaps towards the end of this week, in a sit-down with Charlie Gibson. The Post quotes McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis as saying about the VP candidate's having to answer questions from the press, "Until at which point in time we feel like the news media is going to treat her with some level of respect and deference, I think it would be foolhardy to put her out into that kind of environment." That's one perspective. For sheep. And talk about elitism. It's also a dangerous harbinger of what a McCain White House could look like. Deference? This is The USA. I hold, rather, with H.L. Mencken: "The only way a reporter should look at a politician is down."

Also, this criticism of the media for actually telling facts about Palin seems to come with an inherent sexism, as if they're saying: 'Don't pick on her; she's just a cute, little lady. Be nice to her, you meanies. Because of that, I'm going to vote for her.' (Personally, I think anyone who casts their vote based on their impression that the media are mean, are spitting in the face of the right and privilege and duty of voting, in fact in the whole concept of democracy.)

But the strangest – though not surprising – hypocrisy of it all is the sudden insistence that (Republican) politicians' personal lives are off limits. Palin's religious beliefs are off limits – but we'll still insist that Obama is a secret Muslim with foreign allegiances AND that the Christian church he attended for years hates America.

The questions that arise from all of this are: Will people believe just what they want to believe? Meaning, if they want to like Palin, will they see the media as bullying her and ignore the legitimate as well as the illegitimate things they report about her? Will people believe the truthful reporting or just turn away from it and back up the Right's New Sweetheart?

Ultimately, was Hunter S. Thompson correct when he wrote that honest politicians have a tough time winning because "We are not a nation of truth lovers"?

Because the facts certainly seem to bear that Palin is already being dishonest with the American people: Her condemnation of earmarks in her acceptance speech and the lie that she turned down the money really rankles me – and should us all. And that her reticence so far to really meet the public – and the GOP machine's attempts to block out true media inquiry into her as a politician – would imply that both she and the party are aware of her shortcomings and that they want to ensure that the image they're creating for her is the only one voters see. This is, of course, not a new trick, nor the sole property of the GOP.

The Democrats are of course playing their politics as well. This push towards appealing to everyone is certainly a political decision – though it does dovetail with the Obama campaign's ideology of national unification. The Republicans have touted the unification idea as well. But the difference in message seems to be that Obama wants to fudge the lines of the Democratic Party to include everyone; whereas, McCain's campaign wants everyone to get in step with the Republicans – who now of course contend they are not in any way related to the Republican Party that's held power for the last eight years. (I'd rather point out that, contrary to their current rhetoric, they certainly have stronger ties to the GOP of George W. Bush than to the Republican Party Abraham Lincoln took to the White House.)

I am still struck by the turn in this campaign towards a more traditional election than we expected. Familiar charges levied and familiar platforms pushed – and the familiarity, despite the attempts at causing mass amnesia in the American public, of the Republican candidates' similarities to the themes of the George W. Bush campaigns. Despite the claims of change, we're again hearing about God, guns, sticking to principles, gustiness. Although I guess there is one noticeable difference here: Bush was a straight shooter, whereas McCain is a straight talker. The king is dead; long live…

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The Widening Gyre: In Which the War Hero Makes His Case and PBS Loves It

RNC Day 4:

In the aftermath of Sen. John McCain's acceptance speech last night in St. Paul, as the balloons and confetti rained down from the rafters -- with several hundred more people now arrested outside -- Judy Woodruff lauded McCain's speech and the effect it had on the Republican delegates swarming around her on the convention floor. Her PBS colleagues, for the most part considered part of the "liberal media" that the GOP has spent the last week (and, really, many years) bashing, agreed. Only Mark Shields said he'd seen better speeches from McCain and fixed on the gap between his claim of change and the traditional Republican positions that he espoused in the speech. Even David Brooks, generally towards the right, agreed.

We'll bring you more soon, but what do you think?

I spoke to one Brooklynite last night who thinks the Dems are totally sunk already, that McCain and, particularly, Palin have energized the GOP and that the Republicans are just to much better at politicking than Democrats that they'll maintain control of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She has a point. These self-proclaimed straight-talking, non-politicians are damn good at politics. It reminds me of the old saying that the greatest trick the Devilhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.

But a politics writer I talked to today, also in Brooklyn, thinks that there's no real reason for Dems to worry. He thinks the fallacies of this "new" Grand Old Party will not fool enough of the American populace -- and hinted that he knows someone hot on the trail for proof of at least some of the seemingly wild rumors about Sarah Palin.

I don't think the Dems need the wild rumors substantiated. There look to be enough inconsistencies with the issues firmly in the real of politics that should call her seriously into question.


Around 200 people -- including some 19 journalists were arrested during protest actions yesterday in St. Paul, according to this article in The Washington Post, bringing the week's total to around 600.

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The Widening Gyre: In Which the Hockey Mom Storms the Castle (and Joy Reigns in the Convetion Hall).

RNC Day 3:

Gov. Sarah Palin officially accepted the Republican nomination for Vice President tonight amidst a flurry of attacks on Sen. Barack Obama. "Prosperity" took over as the theme of the night from yesterday's "Service" – though at least three speakers retold parts of the tale of John McCain's time as a POW, and national security remained a rallying high point.

Three of McCain's former competitors for the nomination spoke this evening, though it was the former lieutenant governor of Maryland Michael Steele who launched the convention's now-favorite chant – "Drill, baby, drill!"

Mitt Romney – in what PBS commentators called his obvious bid for 2012 – made fervent attacks on Washington, which he called "liberal", as the Republicans do their best to ignore that they hold the White House now and have for nearly eight years. But Romney, who really came off like a slick ad-man, scuddled the message a little when he said: "It's time for the party of big ideas and not Big Brother" in reference to "liberal" Washington. Mostly, Romney talked economy, criticizing "liberals" for allegedly wanting to take the same path Europe – whose economy is much stronger than ours – has taken. He, too, in touting what seems to be a common GOP theme, painted Obama as unwilling to fight terrorism. Even David Brooks said that Romney's speech was "way Right".

Then, Mike Huckabee, really a compelling, charming speaker, opened by thanking the "elite media" and their "tackiness" for uniting the party and country behind the GOP ticket, referring to the flurry of coverage of the life of Palin. (This seems to be the way to try to get the press to not ask questions, which is, indeed, our job. That refusal to submit to questions and information worked wonders for Nixon and W., of course.) The former Arkansas governor also hinted that the change Democrats promise is to change freedom, security and prosperity to other things and that Sen. Obama brought back from his recent trip to Europe "European ideas" to take liberty and livelihood away from the American people. He also claimed that Palin won more votes in her mayoral race than Sen. Joe Biden received in his bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination.

Rudy Giuliani gave the keynote address, pretty much launching with his recount of McCain's P.O.W. internment. He mocked Obama for having an Ivy League education and, in what seems like it will be a theme of the GOP ticket, Obama's work as a community organizer as being, essentially, worthless experience. Giuliani attacked Obama's record in the Illinois legislature, saying he abstained on 130 votes and therefore would not be a good decision-maker like the "tested" McCain. His slogan line: "Change is not a destination, just as hope is not a strategy."

Then he got to his pet topic, which he called the "most important" of all: terrorism. He even chided Democrats for not having talked enough about 09.11.01 during their convention, saying they "gave up on America". The crowd seemed to really get behind him – but maybe more because they could feel the evening's zenith upon them.

And she didn't disappoint them. Sarah Palin proved herself a confident, relaxed, rousing speaker tonight – and an aggressive one. She seemed to revel in pounding the well if smugly delivered zingers in the speech. Palin started off by introducing her family. Though hers certainly doesn't have the moving drama of the Biden family tale delivered last week, the family (including the suddenly flown-in boyfriend of the eldest Palin daughter) is cute, and Palin made what looked like a really honest and impassioned pledge to advocate for children with special needs.

In introducing herself – though with little more information than we already had – she really played on her self-termed "hockey mom" status. In fact, that brought one of her best lines: "What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick." She did refer to herself as "average", which is supposed to appeal the I'd-like-to-have-a-beer-with-that-guy voters who so love(d) George W. Bush. Of course, this always raises the question: Shouldn't the leaders of our country be more than average? To which the counter is generally: You're an elitist. Palin really killed with her pro-small-town platform, particularly with her reference to Obama's now infamous bitter-guns-and-religion comment that will surely continue to haunt him down the line. The question is, of course, will Republican "small-town" Americans beat out Democratic "regular" or "middle-class" Americans.

Palin only touched on foreign issues – mostly relating to oil – including stating in regards to Iraq that we have "victory within sight". Mostly she ran down her own declared resume of standing up to lobbyists, special interests and "good ol' boys". She talked about reducing the sizes of the governments she's run, cutting spending, giving oil profits to Alaskan citizens, getting rid of the previous governor's luxury jet (on ebay?) and the office's personal chef. And she lauded her using the gubernatorial veto in the public interest, particularly for fighting "wasteful spending".

She also recounted that she'd basically told Congress to shove it when they wanted to give her earmark money to build the "bridge to nowhere". That Alaska would build it herself and wouldn't be party to "pork-barrel" earmarks – one of McCain's most touted crusades and certainly a prominent point for the GOP's reformist argument. After the speech, Mark Shields pointed out that Palin actually didn't refuse that earmark. She took it. So much for the straight-talk express and populist reform.

And Palin really went at Barack Obama. She said he's written two memoirs but no laws. That he would reduce the strength of America. (Though as recently as last week Obamam said he would "finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan ... [and] rebuild our military to meet future conflicts.") That he would "take your money" by imposing a "massive tax burden" (even though Obama says he will cut income taxes by small business and working families). That there is "only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you" – thus furthering the convention's assurances that war is the way to peace and that the activities with which Obama has filled his life are worthless to America. In sum, she said that Obama is mere talk while McCain has deeds behind him. She even took a swipe at Democrat-beloved JFK, saying that McCain is a "true profile in courage", with guts and character.

And that seems to be the Republicans' message going into the climax of their convention: character. As even David Brooks – who, like most of the other PBS commentators, lauded Palin's performance tonight – said, "Where's the policy?" The follow-up to that is: "Will that matter?"

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The Widening Gyre: In Which the GOP Gets Rolling

RNC Day 2:

The Republicans got their convention into full swing tonight – though with hardly a mention of the word "Republican". The messages of the night seemed to be, first, that a McCain/Palin ticket is the ticket of reform in Washington, that they are the real change candidates. Implied in this is a rejection of the last eight years of Republican control of the White House. Despite Pres. Bush's speech tonight, the word from this year's RNC is that the party, somehow, had nothing to do with Bush's administration – that Obama/Biden are part of the Washington machinery, the "swamp", and that McCain/Palin would bring a reformist spirit and a record of accomplishment.

Second, continuing in the same vein, we heard the call of the cult of the individual. Rarely, did tonight's speakers tout Republicans as Republicans; rather, we heard names: Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan (in a shoddy video tribute), George H.W. Bush, John McCain.

Third, we heard about military. Unsurprisingly, the convention spent the most time on this. P.O.W.s, other veterans and the siblings of a soldier killed in Iraq received acknowledgment. And all night the crowd waved signs that said mostly "Country First" and "Service". Several speakers lauded McCain's support of the troop 'surge' as evidence of his legislative bravery, his wisdom and his dedication to the troops. Even Pres. Bush mentioned this -- though he didn't mention who put the troops there, ill-equipped, in the first place.

Fred Thompson gave the bang-up speech of the evening. He really galvanized the crowd, less with his nimble (if dubious) slights of Obama -- only a smooth-talker, "the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee to ever run for president" -- and more with his militaristic rhetoric and his lauding the rough-and-tumble personalities of the candidates -- like Palin's ability to field-dress a moose (that's a hunting term, for you weenie liberals out there). Thompson, chuckling, even managed to sell McCain's impressive accruing of demerits at the Naval Academy, driving a hot rod and dating a stripper as signs of an admirable rebellious quality that helped get him through what he suffered in Vietnam.

But the peak of the speech came with Thompson's telling of McCain's life story – particularly his horrific treatment for more than 5 years in the hands of the Vietcong. Unquestionably it was powerful and effective. Even moving. The terrors McCain endured surely extend far beyond even the imaginations of most of us. Thompson did acknowledge that McCain's tortures as a POW do not qualify him to be President; but, he said, they do reveal his character, which, he implied, does.

Thompson did mock the Dems for thinking we're in some "Great Depression" but later invoked the current "economic downturn" when slighting Obama's ideas on taxes. He also, in an except to the message of the night, invoked the accomplishments of "the Republicans" in among other things, balancing the budget in the '90s. He failed to mention Pres. Clinton -- and to mention the huge imbalance the following Republican administration has created. But the crowd liked it. And he ended strong, with a plea to "keep America the greatest country that the world has ever seen."

Sen. Joe Lieberman followed Thompson – referring to himself as a Democrat though he's currently an Independent. The Democrats' nominee for VP eight years ago, Lieberman seemed to make the crowd really unsure how to react, and his speech started slowly. The delegates didn't really seem to go for his party-isn't-important spiel. But he hit stride with his touting of McCain, the candidate's courage to stand up alone for his beliefs, his claim to not really being a politician, and how a President McCain would best protect the USA -- with a good offense.

The party luminaries interviewed on the floor tonight, at least by MSNBC, seemed to have all received the same talking-points memo. They all now tout Gov. Palin as more experienced as an executive than Sen. Obama, particularly when charged that they'd nominated an inexperienced VP while running on charges that Obama was inexperienced and therefore unqualified. She's 'governed' they say, and he hasn't. Of course, by that measure, neither has McCain. It's a semantics game that the GOP has often played well and that Dems have not. Pols -- like Sen. Sam Brownback -- got behind the message but did seem unconvincing in their delivery that they believed Palin the best choice.

It's also a slight shift in message from the first reaction, which seemed to be "So what?" and "But she's just going for VP, not President." So, the message on the already beleaguered Palin is that she's experienced as an executive, brave and a stranger to Washington -- and that any mention of her personal life, particularly by The Media, is classless and irrelevant and, basically, some sort of unfair fabrication.

But will the Republican's self-distancing work? Has the nation so quickly forgotten the last eight years – and the present? Or, as tonight charged, are these new Republicans who reach beyond party lines? Maybe they're right. Shouldn't the particular candidates matter more than their party affiliations? Ideally, new blood is new blood regardless of the mascot. But, as tonight's speakers continually reminded us, we do not live in an ideal world.

A repeated message of the evening was "You may not agree with our candidates on all the issues, but you'll agree they're the best people for the job." Will that be enough to keep the White House in elephantine hands? Should it? Should voters ignore candidates' stances on issues – or at least be willing to give on some topics? And would McCain and Palin really operate independently of their party, particularly the fat-cats and corporate interests they claim ready to destroy? Should the public rely on the GOP itself having changed since it brought Bush into power twice?

The one refrain from the past eight years that neither Bush nor Thompson nor Lieberman avoided – despite all their talk of reform and progress – was that we live in a dangerous world, surrounded by enemies who seek our destruction. That dovetails (ironically) with the militaristic fetishism of the evening. Will Americans vote out of fear again? That, Democrats might say, is more of the same.

And it brings this question: Is military service the only way to serve our country? And this follows hard upon: Can we measure experience? (This topic seems a disaster for either party to try to own now.) Lastly, who seeks the center in this election? And will it work?

The Democrats, despite more direct attacks on their opponent (as far as we've seen from the RNC), seem to be searching for that center, to appeal to all Americans – or at least the fabled 'middle class'. The Republicans, despite their claims to speak for the real America, their inclusion of Lieberman and their mentions of environmentalism and women's progress, in the more recent actions of McCain and the choice of Palin, seem to be talking firmly to their more conservative base. Perhaps no other topic received as enthusiastic crowd reaction tonight as that of abortion.

What Democrats must be watching now is how the Republican strategy will unfold over the next two days. That will help them determine their next steps and set into motion the home stretch of this race.

Questions still linger about the early confusion in the St. Paul convention. Has the slow start really been just in deference to the hurricane that hit the Gulf coast? Or did that coincide with disorganization within the party coming out of the DNC and McCain's choosing Palin? Are the Republicans taking a page out of the playbook of George W. Bush – and therefore of Richard Nixon – by standing not too long in the sun of public scrutiny? Would that be a sign of things to come from candidate and perhaps President McCain? A continually opaque White House would certainly not be the spirit of reform in Washington.

Regardless, the Republicans (though they might not want that moniker at the moment) seem to have gotten themselves on a roll and seem bloody dedicated to uniting behind their (new?) party lines.

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The Widening Gyre: Mere Anarchy in Minnesota?

RNC Day 1:

With eyes turned to St. Paul for the RNC's wind-tossed convention, has chaos ensued for the Republicans? Or are things under control? I know the news first in the hearts and minds of many are the circumstances surrounding Gov. Sarah Palin's upcoming entry into the blissful post of... Grandma. We'll get to that in a minute. But first, we'll look at the news from the streets of St. Paul where chaos has really erupted.

Over the weekend police raided potential protesters' residences and rallying points in the St. Paul area, cuffing people as they searched their homes and confiscated computers and notebooks among other things. Monday, police arrested around 300 people out of the estimated 10,000 that had taken to the streets -- in both sanctioned and unsanctioned protest actions. Several reporters were arrested as well and apparently sustained minor injuries -- including Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman and two of her colleagues. (Read and watch here.) AP photographer Matt Rourke also was arrested.

The Minnesota National Guard are in the streets as well; pepper spray and tear gas were flying, batons and tasers in use -- and splinter protesters smashed windows and tried to block roads. (An on-the-scene story here.)

And the convention hasn't really started. The Republicans are running a stripped-down event in deference to Hurricane Gustav. Last night involved a presentation by Laura Bush and Cindy McCain and some fundraising efforts for Gustav relief.

But most of the news right now is, of course, V.P.-nominee Sarah Palin's teenage daughter's pregnancy -- and the host of bizarre rumors of scandal and cover-up that have accompanied that revelation. History seems to show that such revelations matter less in the polls than the reactions to them -- like George McGovern's backing then dumping Tom Eagleton in '72 after revelations of his history of mental illness; like the crusade against Bill Clinton, not for committing lewd acts in the Oval Office but rather for lying about them. My sense is the Republican machine is historically much better at handling/taking advantage of such issues. After all, Nixon won by a landslide with Vietnam still raging -- even after the Watergate story broke.

So, what will happen here? Will this reflect more on Palin's qualities or on McCain's sometimes impulsive judgment? Will Republicans accept this as a humanizing tale of real-life American hardship and familial love and support as many have said? Or will the circumstances -- and serious questions about Palin's roles in more political intrigue, including an ethics probe -- send the GOP bid for the White House into tailspin?

Sen. Obama came out with a strong statement declaring candidates' lives and those of their children way off limits and said the focus needs to remain on politics. He told the press to lay off these stories. But the discussion continues everywhere else. It's too juicy to ignore.

But for those quick to cheer each new rumor or revelation about Alaska's governor as leading towards a sure victory for Dems, you must ask how this could play out. Right-leaning America has an historical view of the press as holding a lefty bias -- so they and others might be inclined to see coverage of these alleged scandals simply as further evidence of bias and unscrupulousness and forgive the acts themselves. In that case, these scandals could galvanize the GOP and their self-termed 'maverick' ticket -- or at least prove a non-factor. Those reactions have already come out -- notably from Nicolle Wallace, a top McCain adviser, who blamed the "Democratic bloggers" for hate-peddling.

Anyway, here's the re-arranged schedule for the convention today:

President George W. Bush (via satellite)

First Lady Laura Bush

U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.)

Former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.)

U.S. House Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio)

U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.)

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.)

Robert M. "Mike" Duncan, Chairman of the Republican National Committee

Jo Ann Davidson, Co-Chairman of the Republican National Committee and Chairman of the 2008 Republican National Convention Committee on Arrangements

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