What to say about the Republican Convention? So many levels. So many narratives and messages.
-- There’s the Chutzpah Prize winning theme: “help us mavericks throw dem Washington bums out!”
-- Dizzying promises to balance budgets, help small businesses, listen to allies, push energy independence, engage diplomacy, bring transparency/accountability to government, and so on -- without any specifics -- leaving one boggled speechless by irony.
-- Several keen observers expected John McCain to “prove his maverick chops” by openly challenging the delegates to alter one or two basic GOP planks. Odds suggested a nod to climate change, or “stewardship” or a turn away from the culture of secrecy. It might have been impressive to the country (and he may yet do so, before a picked audience). But he clearly felt it unwise to try at the RNC. What if they booed? Ah, courage.
-- The “Dr. Jekyl” side of this man, still worthy of some respect, reminded me of Robert Dole, all the way to the stiff arm, injured in service to his country. And, though often calculated and self-serving, McC’s rhetoric also merited a nod, for moments of passion, pathos and apparent sincerity.
-- But alas, for the topics never mentioned. Such as science. The environment. Or the demolished Army and National Guard, leaving us more defenseless than before. What? Not even science? But some in that crowd would have booed.
Each topic merits lengthy analysis. But there are pundits-a-plenty, already covering the obvious stuff. So let me focus on more-quirky aspects. Stories less spoken. Or not at all.
The underlying meaning of the “Experience Gap”
Oh, it’s been awe-inspiring to watch the rovean spinners, still deft, argue that GOP VP nominee Sarah Palin has “more executive experience,” after 23 months running the 47th largest state, than any of the three male senators in our fall lineup -- including John McCain. And, well, it’s arguable... though with Alaska wallowing in gushers of free oil money, budget-balancing is kind-of a snap.
In fact, the Experience Gap only highlights how desperately McCain, Obama, Biden or Palin would need expertise from others -- from dozens, hundreds, thousands and whole-agencies of others. Instead of filling an imperial White House with nodding yes-men, any of this quartet should emulate a great president who surrounded himself with the ferment of smart people in dynamic disagreement, as historian Doris Kearns Goodwin describes in Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.
Indeed, all the present candidates claim to have this goal in mind. But there’s a surefire test of whether they mean it -- and two of them have already failed.
You see, we aren’t only choosing between Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin, nor between starkly polarized philosophies of right and left. Even if nothing happened re: health care and not a single new law passed, our national destiny would veer up or down, based on something far simpler. Whether public servants competently govern according to the law, as it already stands.
All four candidates speak of bipartisanship and honest competence overriding special interest. But, while he distances himself from Bush and the Republican brand, John McCain stays immersed in the same general swarm of ten thousand Republican appointees, lobbyists and political operatives, most of whom would simply slide from jobs in Bush’s administration to McCain’s. A whole political caste who - with some shifted chairs - would follow his old-boy top advisors into cabinet departments, agencies, and bureaus.
These aren’t the days of Eisenhower, or Clinton, or even Ronald Reagan, when political loyalty was only one of many criteria for these appointments. Today’s GOP operatives have been carefully vetted, culled, groomed and organized to turn all systems of government into Party tools. With a consistency and disciplined focus that resembles another party -- the Communist Party. In a latter-day version of the Spoils System, they have hewed closely to a core program -- to intimidate and repress the real public servants, the ones we depend upon. The fourth branch of government.
The men and women of the United States Civil Service.
There can be no greater polar contrast between two groups. Those with the expertise to administer our laws -- advancing through merit, hard work, training and performance -- versus a mob of venial hacks appointed by Bush-Cheney to quash the scientists and military officers, the accountants and FBI agents, the deputy U.S. Attorneys and deputy Marshals, the dam inspectors and CIA agents. The drug chemists and CDC disease monitors. The SEC examiners who might have protected us against fraudulent speculators and thieves. The researchers who might have settled the case on global warming, or found fresh energy solutions by now.
For better or worse, we citizens own and rely upon these agencies, to defend us, to maintain fair and open markets, to encourage startups and discourage monopoly, to catch criminality even in high places, to give truthful intelligence, to peer ahead for threats and opportunities in complex times. We pay their salaries and half a million or so civil servants used to work hard to give us value back. Most would do so, again, if they were allowed.
However one feels about whether government should perform this or that function - until the laws are changed, should it not perform those functions well? The answer, given by the Republican political operative caste, has been in no uncertain terms, “no.”
(Why have the professionals been deliberately stymied? That’s another question. Perhaps out of dogmatic belief that government should fail. Or because that failure made it easier to steal. There are even darker scenarios. Anyway, government has grown, vastly, under the GOP. And though they complain, Republicans have a lousy record at deregulation. Of ten major deregulations, they crafted just three, that later proved to be vehicles for graft.)
Sure, it sounds like a boring “process issue.” No advisor will let Obama speak of something so dry. Still, I have to say that the Bushite assault upon the Civil Service has to be its number one crime. Because, without that first, enabling crime, so many others would have been caught or prevented by skilled men and women at the FBI, Justice, SEC, and so many other agencies duty-bound top protect us, that is, except for interference from above.
This is my biggest reason to oppose John McCain, and notice that it ought to cross all lines of ideology or policy. Because, despite some good traits (among some bad) and and noble-sounding words, McCain remains surrounded by all the “usual suspects” ranging from lobbyists who wrote Bush energy policies to personnel experts borrowed directly from the White House. The same coterie of fatcats supplies "free labor" and advice. He even hired into his circle the expert political hatchetman responsible for smearing him during the 2000 primaries, South Carolina political consultant Tucker Eskew. He will be their cats paw and shows no sign of even knowing it.
So much for “shaking up Washington.”
Top priority must go to ending the reign ten thousand political thugs. All else, even your favorite policy initiative, comes second. If Barack Obama simply does as he has promised, and releases the good men and women of the civil service to do their jobs to go back to enforcing the duly-deliberated law as-is -- then at least the Republic can function on a basic level.
Only then will it make sense to argue how to make it better.
Which brings us to the ghost at the banquet.
The High Road: The Dog that Did Not Bark in The Night
All right, forget the Civil Service. Let’s drop the Experience Issue as a distraction. What could candidate Obama and the Democrats really zero in-on, from the GOP convention? Already, Obama has pointed out that the Republicans made no mention of the economy. That’s a good start.
Indeed, among the speeches that I listened to there was something startling in its absence. A near complete lack of statistics! Yes, stats are boring, still, candidates and parties do hurl them back and forth like shuttlecocks and I expected at least a few volleys from the Republicans. The closest came when Laura Bush pointed overseas, (rightfully) bragging that the (bipartisan) African Aids Initiative has helped 50 million people over there.
Otherwise - though I missed a lot of speeches - I heard no stats at all.
Really? They could find nothing to brag about? Not one metric that's better now than it was eight years ago? I felt stunned. It was the ghost at the banquet. The dog that didn't bark in the night. Not one pundit will mention it, but it is staggering to me.
Obama and Biden have to speak clearly. “Stop pretending that you haven’t been governing us! You cannot evade that central fact by nominating a couple of different faces from the same team picture. We have a right to ask if you have governed well. And there are no measures... none at all... by which you have.”
The Low Road - some basic Palin Points:
By “low road” I do not include the really nasty sewer-stuff. Rumors of extramarital affairs and spotlights on her family -- soap opera tales of baby switcheroos and paranoid whatifs of more switches in the works. These are grist for the National Enquirer, not adults. Oh, Fox & CNN “journalists” are hypocrites to decry the public’s understandable curiosity as “sexism.” But Obama is correct to quash any involvement by the Democratic Party or its friends. These are not matters for either politics or journalism.
No, by “low road” I mean stuff that’s well-above sewer level, but still dicey. Like zeroing-in on a candidate’s actual views on life, destiny and religion -- shining light on how they’d govern. Prickly topics, riddled with minefield potential for back splatter. But relevant.
Some of these will come out via normal media-frenzy, like Sarah Palin’s long-close association with the Alaska Independence Party, whose rhetoric can make Rev. Wright look like Teddy Roosevelt. Other contradictions will be avoided by the Obama camp. But can we trust anyone in the media to raise them?
* Sarah Palin rails against standard sex education and teens learning about contraception. Without alluding to her family situation, someone must hammer home the blatant statistical fact that Blue America - despite including the poorest and most disadvantaged - has lower rates of teen sex, teen or unwed pregnancy, STDs, divorce and domestic violence than Red America. Till now, such comparisons were avoided by liberals, as divisive and playing up to Culture War. But somebody with enough cash and anger could lay it out.
Oh, but hold onto your seats. Now we get into really dicey territory.
* Sarah Palin believes (or let’s demand that she disavow) that more than half of her fellow citizens are damned either by nature or because of their beliefs, if not to Hell then to eternal exclusion from God’s grace.
Sure, holding to that tenet is her Constitutionally protected privilege. But since she declared that her decisions will be guided by those beliefs, we have a perfect right to see them in bare light. And people who she considers damned may legitimately ponder that, when deciding whether to vote for her.
* Sarah Palin craves, yearns-for and actively prays-for (or let’s demand that she disavow) the coming of a day, quite soon, when most of the world’s people will suffer torment, death and damnation, amid flame and other agonies, amid tumult that will include the end of the United States of America.
(See Palin getting very intense about mixing church & state.)
Now, of course, she would attempt to moderate these beliefs and fervent wishes, by claiming that the death and agony and damnation parts aren’t what she yearns for, but rather, the subsequent arrival of a Sanctified Kingdom on Earth that will be paradisiacal - that is, for the remaining elect. All the other vengeful-torment stuff is regrettable, but Heaven’s unalterable will. Anyway, those people (well, some of them) may yet avoid that dark fate by abandoning all of their own beliefs and adopting hers.
No doubt she - and her supporters - would indignantly denounce anyone asking about these views, as they are a matter of private conscience. But are they?
Strip away unctuous reassurances and we have someone asking to be trusted as potential master of America’s nuclear arsenal and defender of its Constitution, who openly avows to wanting - eagerly - the quick arrival of a day when fire will scorch the sky and flame sear land. When a majority of her fellow citizens will perish and tumble into torment, and when a closing curtain will fall for the nation and democracy she claims to love.
Of course, I may have imputed and extrapolated far too much. My interpretation may be unfair. In a spirit of enlightenment curiosity, I stand ready to be corrected. Still, we have a right to be concerned. Let Sarah Palin publicly explain how this interpretation is mistaken, so we might breathe easier.
---And finally ...from the Road of Silly Walks... ---
Palin for President!