Wednesday, August 27, 2008

DNC Nights: Biden Veep-a-looza

[Democratic National Convention] It's getting hard to write about speeches. It's fatiguing. It's hard to write something new when everybody keeps saying the same things.

Don't get me wrong, I've been a Democrat all my life. But after three nights of convention stumping I've developed a strange wincing stomach twinge every time I hear "change we need."

I finally landed in the convention media filing center and discovered this "change-itis" was common among journalists. One journalist, who will remain anonymous (we hacks are thick as thieves, you know), was covering the convention for a major publication that serves an Asian demographic in the U.S. and in a certain Asian country. She left before v.p. candidate Joe Biden spoke. "Don't you want to hear Biden speak?" I asked. "Oh, I got the text," she said, referring to an embargoed copy of Biden's speech DNC convention staff members hand out moments before a candidate begins speaking. "But," I said, "they haven't handed out the Biden notes yet" She, having already packed her laptop up, said "Well ...we can figure out what he will say."

I guess I couldn't blame her. The message has become pretty formulaic. That is, after all, part of the strategy: hammer voters over the head with a call for change.

But for more honed criticism, the night offered a few notable surprises. The first came from the man who would be president-- John Kerry. Kerry aptly presented the knife to McCain that had been stuck in his back since 2004: flip-flopper. "To those who still believe in the myth of a maverick instead of the reality of a politician, I say, let's compare Senator McCain to candidate McCain." Kerry pointed out McCain's backpedaling on climate change, wartime tax cuts and immigration."Candidate McCain says he would now vote against the immigration bill that Senator McCain wrote. Let me tell you, before he ever debates Barack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate with himself."

The point was stuck deeper on foreign policy, where Kerry rightly observed that the multilateral foreign diplomacy Bush had once called "dangerous" and a diplomacy "of appeasement" is now the type of diplomacy Bush's own administration is pursuing. (For a thorough analysis on this policy reversal check out this article on Bush's foreign policy achievements by Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria.)

Biden did score in his speech by repeating this attack in reference to Afghanistan: "Should we trust John McCain's judgment when he said only three years ago, 'Afghanistan--we don't read about it anymore because it's succeeded?' Or should we trust Barack Obama who more than a year ago called for sending two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan?" Biden asked as he noted that the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had agreed with Barack on the point.

Besides that, Biden reiterated much of the same message, swinging it a little harder with the weight of his 35 years in the Senate and his stature as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His biggest points came not from him, but from his family. Giving heartfelt props to his ailing mother and to his son Beau, Biden showed a little Everyman characteristic that helped make up for his sometimes stumbling speech. Hell, after all, it's no sin if he can fall short on speech giving when he's Obama's number 2.

Oh, and Bill Clinton spoke. He was a rock star--wowed the crowd with a shot of the good ol' Clinton charisma southern comfort, got them on their feet and pumped up for Biden to speak ... and didn't add anything else to the conversation. (Eric S. Peterson)

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