Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Political Tourette's Syndrome

First of all, I'm pretty shocked that the bailout bill failed to get approval in the House yesterday. When they announced on Sunday that a deal had been struck I just kind of assumed that, well, a deal had been struck. Usually that means that people agree. Apparently, this time it meant something else. So we'll stay tuned and see how things go today, but yesterday was not a glorious day in the history of U.S. finance or politics.

I wish I could say I was shocked (though I'm not) about the McCain campaign's immediate attacks against the Obama campaign. As a McCain advisor said, "This bill failed because Barack Obama and the Democrats put politics ahead of country." Funny, I thought it was the huge number of Representatives voting against the bill that caused it to fail. But what do I know? Somehow McCain is trying to claim credit for the bulk of the substance of the bailout (despite not really being involved in the negotiations) and then blame Obama for it not passing. I'm not even sure what the supposed logic on this is. And the putting politics ahead of country line is just ridiculous.

It seems lately that the McCain campaign has been suffering from a form of political Tourette's Syndrome. At random times they just burst out with "Obama puts politics ahead of country!" or "All attacks on Palin are sexist!" It's like they can't help it. Facts and circumstances don't matter because "Obama is going to raise your taxes!"

My favorite example of political Tourette's from the McCain campaign is their labeling of the first Tina Fey as Sarah Palin sketch as sexist. As explained by a top McCain advisor, "The portrait was very dismissive of the substance of Sarah Palin, and so in that sense, they were defining Hillary Clinton as very substantive, and Sarah Palin as totally superficial. I think that continues the line of argument that is disrespectful in the extreme, and yes, I would say, sexist in the sense that just because Sarah Palin has different views than Hillary Clinton does not mean that she lacks substance."

To be clear, the argument goes that because Palin is being parodied as less substantive than Clinton, it is a sexist parody. Maybe someone missed the word that Clinton is also female. Saying one female is less qualified than another is not sexist. The argument doesn't even make sense on the face of it. Never mind that there's a pretty good case to be made that in fact Clinton actually is more qualified than Palin.

I write this, but I know that it doesn't really matter. Tourette's is not something that you can help. It just happens. Hopefully when this election is over the McCain campaign will have a nice, relaxing four years to sit back in Arizona and look for a cure.

Monday, September 29, 2008

And the Winner Is

After having watched the first presidential debate on Friday night and then having to full days to think about it, I have to say that from my completely objective perspective that Barack Obama was the clear winner.

Actually, that's not true. I thought (along with tons of pundits) that the debate was pretty even down the line. Neither candidate particularly dominated the debate either with his ideas or his personality. On the one hand, that didn't make for the most dramatic debate in presidential history. On the other hand, it finally provided the kind of substantive look at the candidates that I've been lamenting as missing for months now.

I'm mostly inclined to think that in a foreign policy debate, a tie favors Obama. It was supposed to be John McCain's comfort territory and Obama is supposed to be the new, inexperienced, naive one. The fact that he could hold his own with McCain on the topic of foreign policy indicates that a lot of the weaknesses he's attributed with might not be present after all. I think it was Josh Marshall who wrote that despite McCain saying that Obama "doesn't understand" several times, he sure gave the appearance of knowing what was going on.

My hesitation in saying that Obama won last Friday night is that it's based on an artificially low bar. Unlike Sarah Palin's struggles in interviews, no one seriously expected Obama to make any major mistakes. He's a tremendously intelligent person who's been running for president for over a year now. He's had plenty of time to organize his facts, figures, and arguments. The thinking that he would come off as unprepared was just wishful thinking. The flip side of this is that I would anticipate McCain coming off just as well in the economic debate at the end of this cycle. If we say that the underdog who holds mostly even is the winner in this debate, we have to be prepared to do it in that one too. That may not necessarily be wrong, but I think we should at least try to base our analysis on more than partisan spin and media hype.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I'm Just Asking

I have to say that I'm shocked - shocked - that John McCain's presence in Washington hasn't immediately led to a resolution in the negotiations for a Wall Street bailout plan. I mean, he suspended his campaign, people. What does it take? Just shocking.

In the meantime, we may or may not be having a debate tonight. On the off chance that McCain doesn't declare war on Japan to try to get us out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, here is a list of questions that I'd love to see asked at the debate tonight, which is supposed to focus on foreign policy. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but if these got asked I think we'd have a much clearer view of the candidates.

* So, is this debate actually happening?
* How do you define victory in Iraq?
* What is the greatest threat facing America right now and how would you address it as president?
* What conditions need to be present for you to authorize the use of the military?
* Do you support the Bush Doctrine, which calls for the preemptive use of military force?
* What role should our allies play in addressing global threats?
* Given the situation on the ground right now, what is your plan for the war in Iraq?
* Is it proper for the president to sit down to negotiate with leaders of hostile countries? What would such negotiations hope to accomplish?
* How does our trade policy need to be adjusted to cope with the rising economic power of countries like India and China?
* Are we safer now than we were eight years ago?

That's just the list off the top of my head. I don't think that it's too slanted in one way or another. Hopefully the questions the moderators ask tonight take on a similar tone.

That is, assuming McCain hasn't gone off and done something else.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How Convenient

I have to admit that I read the announcement that John McCain was suspending his presidential campaign to help deal with the financial crisis with a certain amount of amazement. I mean, here was a guy who was willing to put his own presidential aspirations on hold so close to the election in order to focus on the work that the country needs to do right now. He's not thinking of himself, just his country.


Wait a minute.

Isn't this the guy who's running on the slogan that he'll always put the country first? Well, how convenient for him. By saying that he's stopping campaigning, he's actually still campaigning. I bet they were really toasting themselves over at McCain headquarters for that little bit of campaign jiu jitsu.

Maybe I'm just overly cynical, but this strikes me as little more than a cheap political gimmick. Interestingly, it seems like we've been seeing more and more of those from the McCain campaign as time goes on. First he was putting country first by suspending the convention when Hurrican Gustav approached. Now he's putting the country first by suspending his campaign while the financial crisis gets dealt with. I've read that he doesn't like campaigning very much, but come on.

The fact is, does stopping a campaign and not running political ads for a week actually help the economy? Is that really what's going to put Wall Street back on the road to fiscal solvency? Is John "I don't really know much about the economy" McCain really going to be in a good position to assist in complex negotiations about how to bail out Wall Street? Is this anything other than a political gimmick?

I think it's pretty obvious that the answer to all of those questions is a single, resounding NO.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Nasty Business

It seems like every few days I see another description about how the current campaign is the nastiest, most negative campaign in history. Follow this link for an example of the kind of thing I'm talking about.

Somehow, I just don't buy it. I've been reading biographies recently of the founding fathers and the campaigns they ran against each other were truly vicious. The election between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson was absolutely brutal. Nothing was off the table in the attacks leveled against those two. Campaigns throughout history have veered from the respectful to the nasty. There's no doubt that we're in a nasty one now. But the worst ever? I kind of doubt it.

So what keeps compelling people to say that this one is the worst? Well, I think it has a lot to do with how fast the news cycle is and how mass our media is. Whereas an attack by Adams on Jefferson would take weeks to distribute throughout the states and even then would be available only in a pamphlet or broadsheet, today's world enables almost instant attacks beamed directly into the homes of millions of people.

The intensity of the meanness this year is not a record by any means. The volume of it may set the new record, though.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Remember When

It seems like there once was a time when Republicans would argue against massive government interventions in private lives and businesses. There was a lot of talk about government being the problem not the solution and how government should just butt out and let people do their own thing so that the economy could flourish. Throwing money at a problem rarely fixes it, they'd say.

How the times have changed. We're now looking at throwing a $700 billion bailout for just about every financial institution in the country. If this is what it looks like when government butts out, I'd hate to see the price tag for when it gets involved.

The Republicans, though, seem unwilling to entirely abandon their non-interference mode of thought and so are trying to just give away the $700 billion without requiring any real oversight over how Wall Street uses the money. You know, because they've done such a good job so far.

I'm not much of an economist and I really can't say whether this kind of bailout (it's being called the biggest federal intervention in the economy since the Great Depression) will actually solve the economic crisis. To my non-expert eyes, though, it doesn't make a lot of sense to give a failing industry a huge chunk of cash and say, "Do what you think it best." There does need to be some oversight and some guarantees in place that I'm going to get my money back eventually. I would hate to have to be paying off this debt at the same time I'm trying to pay off the Social Security debts we'll be racking up as the Boomers retire.

Now that Republicans are coming in line with massive federal intervention designed to support a failing private industry for the good of ordinary citizens, we should be seeing universal health care pretty soon, right? Well, I can always dream.

Monday, September 22, 2008

More on KIPP

I posted last week some of my thoughts on KIPP schools essentially comparing them to a shock and awe military strategy. My general point is that while KIPP schools get immediate resuls, I have doubts as to whether or these schools actually do present the best hope for reforming urban education. This sentiment drew several comments in response, so I wanted to return to the topic for at least one more posting.

First, I should say that I am in no way detracting from the gains or achievements of the students for whom the KIPP schools are successful. There is definitely a kind of child for whom this model of education is very effective. Nothing I wrote last week or will write today is designed to take away from that fact.

However, with that being said, I still have serious doubts about the general wisdom of KIPP schools as a model for urban education.

While I have not visited a KIPP school myself, I have spoken with KIPP employees and school leaders, including KIPP co-founder Dave Levine. From those conversations it's clear that the system employed by KIPP is very similar to that used by the military. That is to say, drilling, no excuses. Levine said, "We try to look at what the military does well." In Ravitch's phrasing that's "rote behavior and rote learning."

This is the point that bothers me. Through education we are trying to prepare students for a world where rote behaviors are not the ideal or the norm. I understand the need to equip students with the tools to move beyond their present station, but one of those tools needs to be the ability to move beyond basic training. I don't see where that falls in the KIPP model.

The other thing that bothers me about those who rush to point to KIPP as the model for urban education reform is that I don't think the model is replicable on the large scale needed to truly reform the system. Expecting to find a huge cohort of exceptional teachers just isn't possible. Not every teacher can be exceptional. Certainly there is more that can be done to recruit, train, and support high quality teachers. But we cannot base a system of educational reform around finding heroic teachers willing/able to work incredible hours and skilled at motivating children. We need systemic supports in place so those who lack the superb talents of the exceptional teachers can still be useful in the system.

Further, the KIPP model has several anomalies regarding student sustainability, as Paul Tough writes here. He cites statistics that students at the KIPP school in the Bronx came in already near the top of their peer group (the oft maligned charter school skimming the cream criticism). He also found that the KIPP school in San Fransisco suffered a 60% attrition rate between fifth and eighth grade. Tough concludes: KIPP schools are "accomplishing an important but somewhat limited mission: providing an excellent education to that group of low-performing, low-income students who are able to keep up with the schools' intense demands."

This is not a model for widespread educational reform.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Shock and Awe Education

In a recent post on her blog, Diane Ravtich poses the question of whether conventional wisdom is now saying that KIPP-style schools are the solutions to the problems of educating kids in poor urban settings. In particular, is the "regimen of test-prep, test-prep, test-prep, no-nonsense discipline. Drill, drill, drill" really what gets results in these high needs schools?

Paul Tough in his blog write sort of a response that I don't think quite gets to the heart of what Ravitch was saying. Perhaps that's because the answer to Ravitch's questions is so obviously yes.

Look around at the discourse on education and listen to what the people are talking about. When both presidential candidates and school leaders across the country are talking about one school model, you can bet that the conventional wisdom is firmly established. Certainly in the popular mind it is.

Tough, though, pivots the question a little bit. Rather than ask if this is what everyone seems to be believing, he focuses on whether or not it's the right thing to believe. Ultimately, this is a more useful question. As he writes:
I think students from low-income families in blighted neighborhoods who enter middle school way behind grade level need something more than just extended hours and expert teaching (though they need that, too). They also need adults around them who believe in them and care about them and who can guide them toward the behaviors and the mental habits that will help them succeed in school and in life.
Hard to argue that point. There's no question that in these underserved areas, the system we have in place simply isn't working. That's not entirely the fault of the schools (remember there are issues about family life, access to health care, nutrition, etc. that also come into play), but the schools strike me as the best way to reverse the situation. Educating children is providing them with the best chance to escape their circumstances and live a better life.

So, then are these schools the best? Is this the best possible model that we can use in order to give kids the tools that they need to succeed in life?

I can't help but think that the answer is no. While KIPP schools certainly have had success at boosting test scores, I firmly believe that there is more to education than the rote knowledge that enables passing scores on tests. The unanswered question in all this is whether or not the children from KIPP schools continue to succeed in education and in life when the chanting, no-nonsense discipline, and drilling end.

KIPP is the equivalent of educational shock and awe. No question it breaks the kids out of the mindset and educational culture that they knew. That's an unqualified asset to the system. But once they've broken out, what replaces it? Where do they go from there?

Like shock and awe, the initial result can be spectacular. But once the flash and bang have faded, do the kids really have the skills to take control of their lives and create the best possible lives for themselves? I'm not sure that a test-prep, firm discpline, drill-heavy regime is really the best way to go about do that.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More Accountability

New York City has released its latest round of school "progress report" grades and (surprise, surprise) most schools improved. The Bloomberg/Klein reforms are working!

Some naysayers may point out that several schools went from F last year to an A this year (a pretty remarkable jump) and that one school that got an A last year got an F this time around (a remarkable jump in its own way). Those naysayers may also point out that one school that got an F was hailed as a rising school by Bloomberg and Klein not all that long ago. They might point out that these sorts of wild fluctuations seem suspicious.

A real downer of a personality might even go so far as to point out that state test scores (upon which these progress reports are largely based) rose around the state this year and that some Negative Nancys have suggested that maybe the tests are getting easier.

Frankly, I don't know. I hope that the schools are getting better the way Bloomberg/Klein say they are, but I'm certainly not going to believe it because it says so on a progress report - a progress report designed, by the way, by the very people who are now saying that it proves how successful they are. In that sense, it's like playing a made up game with a little kid where the kid is making up the rules as you go and - amazingly - always wins.

Again, I hope that I'm just being cynical.

It really kills me, though, to hear the talk about how these report cards are the reason that schools are improving. Really? Knowing their school is going to be graded makes it so that kids learn more? Receiving a yearly letter grade makes teachers better teachers?

Accountability is NOT AN EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY! I can't say that enough. Accountability only makes sense as a measurement of other reforms. In New York, at least, those other reforms are just more tests and measurements. More tests don't teach people, no matter what the little kids designing the game say.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Worried Ignorance

So, you may have heard or read something lately about how the U.S. economy isn't doing so hot over the last few days. One sign of trouble is when the New York Times - not known for sensational alarmism - uses words like "crisis" and "spreading" in the first sentence of their story.

I have to admit that I know very little about economics (macro or micro) or how these big financial institutions work or what role they play, exactly, in our economy. (I took one econ class in college in which the professor always used analogies relating to alcohol consumption. My favorite was when he told us that during the oil shortages of the '70s he drank a lot of gin to stay warm, so gin and oil were subsitutable goods for him.)

Despite knowing so little about it, I can tell that we're in trouble here. I'm not sure why and I certainly don't know what to do about it, but it looks pretty grim. I mean, for a fundamentally strong economy, this seems like a pretty bad development.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Change I Can Believe In

At an event this weekend, I had the opportunity to sit in on a conversation between Geoffrey Canada, the founder and director of the Harlem Children's Zone, and Paul Tough, the author of Whatever it Takes, a book about the HCZ. As I was listening to them speak, I kept thinking to myself, "Here's a guy who gets it."

The idea behind the HCZ is that high poverty neighborhoods like Harlem need an extra boost in order to have the things that middle class neighborhoods take for granted. The Children's Zone sponsors a baby college for expecting and new parents to help prepare them to be ready to actually raise a child. Not a bad idea for a neighborhood with high teen pregnancy rates. Babt College seeks to imbue parents with some of the skills and values that we know can lead to successful children in this society.

The HCZ also offers intensive educational programs for kids as early as two and seeks to provide health services that are needed. Finally, the kids transition into an HCZ run school where they stay from kindergarten through 12th grade. The program is designed to provide a "cradle to college" experience similar to what is taken for granted in more affluent communities. This simply makes sense.

Canada also impressed me with his analysis of schools like KIPP and Achievement First. As he said, "The teachers in those schools are heroes, no question about it. But we can't expect to have heroes in every classroom." The answer is not to make up the difference when kids fall behind, it's to make sure that they don't fall behind in the first place. I couldn't agree more. We can't argue that every teacher should be exceptional - it's just impossible. But we can do our best to make sure that good (though unexceptional) teachers are all that is needed.

As no one has yet gone through the entire program from cradle to college, it's too early to tell if the program is actually going to be successful. But I really hope it is. I think that this program, more than any other that I'm aware of, points the way toward a replicable model of school/urban reform.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Campaign Vacation

The latest big news to hit the campaign trail? Former Democratic President Bill Clinton is predicting that current Democratic candidate Barack Obama is going to win the election in November. Really. This is what passes for campaign news these days.

I've been getting so frustrated with the coverage lately. It's so trivial and inconsequential and meaningless and repetitive. I just can't stand to read about the latest petty fight about make up wearing farm animals or whatever else they're going to decide to fight about.

Maybe you haven't noticed, but there's a country out there. And it has issues.

I can't really take it anymore. So starting today, I'm taking a campaign vacation. As much as is humanly possible given the saturation of the news, I'm not reading, writing, or talking about politics if I can at all avoid it. I just need the time to depressurize and build up my tolerance for stupidity.

I'll still be posting here, but it won't be about politics, at least at the national level. So check in for education thoughts or New York politics or whatever else happens to catch my attention over the course of the next week. It's certainly not going to be the campaign.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Something I've Noticed

The the campaign season grinds on, I've noticed something about myself that's a little bit troubling. I've always been on the left side of the political spectrum, but I've also always prided myself on being able to see the other side and having some sort of balance in terms of how I view issues. I think this comes from growing up liberal in the very conservative state of Arizona.

What worries me is that lately, I find myself for very little tolerance for the other side of the spectrum and find myself getting upset when people disagree with me. Not upset like, "Gee, wouldn't it be nice if everyone thought I was right?" More like, "How can anyone possibly not agree with me? Are they idiots?"

Don't get me wrong, people who disagree with me probably are idiots. I just used to be better about being nice about it.

The outgrowth of this is that I have significantly less tolerance for listening to the other side of issues. I'm limiting my reading more to liberal sites than to the balance of sites I used to read. When I accidently click on something conservative, I rarely make it all the way through before I need to click away again.

I'm not about to hold myself up as the poster child for a wave of increasingly politically intolerant people, but I also don't think I'm alone. And I think our political discussions are poorer for it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Anti-Midas of Education

This presidential campaign, like, I suppose, all presidential campaigns has the anti-Midas touch. Everything it touches turns ugly and bad somehow.

The latest is that Obama has started dishing out "tough talk on education" as CNN says. And that's a good thing. After all, McCain has already put out his plan. While I have serious problems with McCain's plan, I do give him credit for being willing and able to put the issue up front in the campaign. I tend to agree more with Obama's plan with its emphasis on early childhood education and college affordability. He too goes down the road of charter schools and choice, but that just seems to be the way things go this year.

I'm happy because now they're both talking about education.

I'm upset because of how quickly the conversation about education turned into a conversation about how much the other guy sucks. Read the article on CNN I linked to above. It starts off with Obama's plan and by about midway through the article it turns into "John McCain hasn't done anything for education." "No, Barack Obama hasn't done anything about education." And then the verbal food fight starts.

I know this has been happening the whole time and I know it's not unique to this campaign. It's just that I wish that for once, everything this campaign touched didn't turn into trash.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Palin Equals Obama?

When John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, I commented that I thought it was odd that both presidential candidates had essentially picked their opponents as running mates. Consider, Obama picked a white-haired Senator with multiple decades of experience in Washington and who claims foreign policy as his main field of expertise. Sound familiar? Then McCain picked a fresh-faced outsider, unknown to many just a short time ago, who promises big change coming from outside the Washington beltway. It's almost eerie. But then it gets more so. As more and more information comes out about Palin, it's becoming clear that pretty much all of the Republican attacks on Obama can hold true for Palin also. Consider:

Obama: Republicans say that he lacks the experience to be president. They say that seven years in the state legislature and four years in the Senate don't give someone the background to be president.
Palin: Democrats say that she lacks the experience to be vice president. They say that eight years as mayor of a small town and less than two years as governor don't give someone the background to be president.

Obama: Republicans say that despite all of Obama's lofty words about change, he's never actually walked the walk. They say that his claims to be able to bring about change in Washington are unsupported by his actual record.
Palin: Democrats say that despite Palin's lofty words about being a reformer, she's never really walked the walk. They say that her claims about opposing the "Bridge to Nowhere" aren't really supported by the facts. Her maverick claims are unsupported by her actual record.

Obama: There's speculation that he might be a closet Muslim, though he has repeatedly said that he's a Christian. He has ties to a pastor who's been widely criticized for anti-American rants.
Palin: There's speculation that she might be a Pentecostal, a religion whose members may speak in tongues, believe in faith healing, and think the end of times is coming. Palin says that she does not consider herself Pentecostal, but that she is deeply religious. She has ties to a church that is promoting a conference to convert gays to heterosexuality through the power of prayer.

I'm sure the list goes on, but that's what comes immediately to mind this morning. I'm sure that as we learn more about Palin we'll find even more evidence that she and Barack Obama are some sort of weird political doppelgangers.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Come On People

I know it's still pretty early and there's a lot of time left before November, but the latest USA Today/Gallup Poll worries me a little bit. The poll shows McCain up by 4% among registered voters and 10% among likely voters.

Now, I get that the convention just happened and there's the bounce and all that, which is kind of what worries me. I watched the Republican Convention and was repulsed by what I saw. More of the same failed policies, mean-spirited partisanship, and the nomination for VP of someone who still isn't quite ready to have sat down for a real interview. And that was enough to create an 11 point swing among registered voters? Come on people!

Fortunately, it is just the convention bounce and we're still about two months (which equals about 8000 newscycles these days) before any actual voting takes place. Also, in the state by state match up, Obama still seems to be doing well. So we'll see what the next few months have in store for us.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Why McCain's Speech Made Me Sad

Watching John McCain's acceptance speech last night actually mad me sad. And not for any of the resons you're thinking.

The thing about the speech was, once you got past all the war hero/country first stuff, he actually laid out his vision for a more conservative government. Smaller government, fewer services, less taxes. This contrasts dramatically with Obama's vision for government that is a much more liberal/progressive stance. That's right. There's actually the potential for a real debate on the issues and on competing visions for where our country should go and how our government should get us there.

And yet the campaign has too often turned on personal slurs, slanders, and innuendoes. Unlike the Clinton/Obama campaign where they were close enough on the issues that we had to look to the personal for points of separation, the campaign between Obama and McCain has a clear contrast of visions for America's future.

I'm sad because all we're doing now is debating who's the bigger celebrity and who flip flops more politically.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Nasty Rudy and the RNC

Maybe I shouldn't have been, but I was surprised by the tone of the Republican Convention last night. I was really surprised at how completely negative the whole tone of the evening was. Don't get me wrong. I expected a few good zingers aimed at Obama and the Democrats. Clearly the Dems had gotten their fair share in. But I just wasn't ready for the barrage and vehemence with which the Republicans went on the offensive last night. I hate being so naive.

First of all, the Republicans drew the same battle lines that they've been drawing since I've been paying attention. They say that the Democrats are for higher taxes, bigger government, more control over your life, and collaboration with our enemies. Coming slightly less than 24 hours after Joe Lieberman's call for party unity, we can see that this is not going to be a high-minded campaign of civic-mindedness.

I loved how the chants from the crowd last night ranged from the patriotic ("USA") to the negative ("Zero") to the slightly comical ("Drill, Baby, Drill"). Really? Drill, baby, drill? Ugh. The state of political discourse in this country lags yet again.

Rudy Giuliani gave the kind of speech last night that reminds New York residents exactly why we're so glad that Michael Bloomberg is mayor now. I mean, really. Rudy Giuliani is a nasty man. I was literally watching in disbelief. His whole speech consisted of sarcastic mockery of Barack Obama. No real articulation of ideas. Nothing substantive to offer. Just nasty sarcasm being cheered on by the crowds in the convention hall. I can only hope that other people watching had the same reaction I did. Things in politics are nasty enough as they are without having our keynote speakers stoop to that level.

Sarah Palin's speech was really good, as I knew it was going to be. I wish I'd written that yesterday because now I sound like my brother when he went around trying to prove he was a psychic by saying over and over again, "I knew you were going to do that." But this is for real. I did know that Palin was going to give a good speech, especially in comparison to the hype of possible disaster she faced if her speech was bad. Her speech was kind of a cross between Michelle Obama's and John Kerry's given during the Dem convention last week. She started off painting a picture of how down home and normal she and her family are and then segued into a pretty forceful attack against the other guys. I thought she did both pretty well. She didn't do a whole lot to bolster her claims to experience in foreign policy, but I don't think that's really necessary. Like Obama, she's staking her claim to office on her judgement and on the change she can represent and create. Whether it's the change we want or need is going to be decided by the voters. But while we wait for that to happen, I thought she did a good job making her case.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

RNC Time

I was actually able to stay fairly calm and even-keeled last night while watching the Republican Convention. Though several of the speakers got me a little riled up in one way or another, on the whole I kept an admirable veneer of calm. That being said, here are some of my thoughts on the first real night of the RNC.

First, Palin (unsurprisingly) is the main topic of conversation among the pundit class. Due to my cable limitations, I was watching the convention on PBS, which I tend to think of as being pretty solid, substantive news. Yet time and again, no matter what was being discussed on stage, Jim Lehrer and his team kept coming back to Palin. My favorite moment came when the convention saw a video and essay reading from a local high schooler about what the flag means to her. With patriotic music, images, and words it was hard not to feel proud to be an American. That ended and we cut back to Jim and the boys in the booth. Lehrer said something along the lines of, "What a moving tribute. [half second pause] Now, to return to Sarah Palin for a moment..." The moment, of course, turned out to be the rest of the night. Whereas the Democrats were surprisingly able to stay on topic during the entire convention, the Republicans seem to have lost some control over their message. Last night was supposed to be all about service, but you wouldn't have known that if you'd only been listening to Jim Lehrer.

Second, this whole thing with Palin's daughter. Frankly, I don't think it's any of my business. I certainly don't think that it says anything about Palin's ability or inability to serve as Vice President. (There's plenty of other evidence on that front.) I totally agree that it should be a private family matter. Again, watching PBS last night I saw McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds urging the matter to be left privately with the family. As he said, let's leave the private family matters private with the family. As soon as that interview was over we cut to the floor of the convention where someone was giving a speech about how great John and Cindy McCain are for adopting a daughter from Bangladesh. Now, wait a minute. I agree that it was a great thing to do, but I don't know if you get to argue that family matters don't/shouldn't affect our political discourse and then have someone give a speech about how great a family man John McCain is and that we should vote for him as a result. You can say family matters or that it doesn't, but you shouldn't get to try to have it both ways.

Last, Lieberman. For the guy who once described George Bush's (and now John McCain's) tax plan as like feeding the birds by giving more hay to the horses (think about it), it was pretty shocking to see him up on stage endorsing a Republican. I guess shocking isn't the right word because everyone has seen this coming for a long time. Maybe disheartening is a better word for it. For me, the highlight of his speech came when he talked directly to the American people (you could tell because he looked right at the camera and said he was going to talk to the American people now) and tried to say that John McCain isn't George Bush without saying that John McCain isn't George Bush because all the people in the convention hall had just cheered for George Bush about 30 minutes earlier. If you didn't already know what he was trying to say, his speech at that point would have been totally incomprehensible. But that's what you get for switching parties, I guess.

Tonight has Rudy and Palin on the agenda, so there should be plenty to talk about tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sarah Who?

I know that it's kind of old news at this point, but I'm just now getting my mind wrapped around John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin to be his running mate. Talk about a surprise pick. Before Friday morning I don't think I'd even heard her name in any context, let alone as a potential vice president. Talk about a startling and stunning choice.

On the one hand, I can see why McCain picked her. She is unapologetically conservative and has a reformer image that certainly would appeal to McCain. She's young and energetic and apparently is an excellent public speaker. After that, it gets a little hazy.

For a campaign that has largely based itself around the idea of experience and readiness to lead, the Palin pick seems like a hugely counterproductive move. It seems tremendously disingenuous to say that Palin has the foreign policy experience (from her time as Mayor of Wasilla?) that Obama lacks. As we learned on CNN yesterday, attempts to paint that picture end up looking pretty foolish.

Whereas Obama's choice of Biden prompted everyone to say, "Okay, good solid pick," McCain's choice prompted "WHO? No really, who is she?" As usual, Talking Points Memo is doing a great job breaking down the issues and doing the investigating on the new pick and so far the picture isn't exactly rosy. There seems to be plenty of fodder to undermine whatever upside Palin brings to the ticket.

When I first heard who McCain had chosen, I thought it was a transparent attempt to woo former Hillary supporters by putting a woman on the ticket. Now, I'm less convinced. As I hear and read more about this it seems more and more like an ill-thought out gut reaction. It hardly fills me with confidence in a potential President McCain.