Now, From the Dog

We spend a lot of time following politics in our family, and spent most nights of both conventions eating dinner in my office as we watched the proceedings. And it’s been interesting to see the sorts of things the kids have been absorbing.

To preface this story: long-time readers know we have two farm dogs. Scooter is a mostly-black border collie mix, while Tabasco is an Australian Red Healer mix. Both dogs spend a lot of time in my office while I’m working.

A couple of evenings ago, I was typing away at my computer. Homeschooled Farm Girl (HFG), age 9, was sitting with both dogs on the couch across the room. Holding Tabasco in her lap, and moving Tabasco’s muzzle up and down as if the dog was talking, HFG began to extemporize a television commercial:

Everybody should vote for John McCain. Scooter was going to vote for Barack Obama, because he’s black. But I convinced him he should vote for John McCain. I’m Tabasco, and I approved this message.

I nearly fell out of my chair laughing, but HFG still doesn’t understand what’s so funny. And that in itself, I must say, makes it even funnier.

Sarah!

I’ve been watching Republican conventions since 1984, when I was a 15 year old political junkie who wanted nothing more than to be old enough to vote. In that time, a handful of speeches have made it into my pantheon of all-time greats (I am loathe to rank them, because each one was great in its own way): Everything by Ronald Reagan, Jeane Kirkpatrick in 1984, Bush 41 in 1988, Pat Buchanan in 1992, Elizabeth Dole in 1996, Zell Miller in 2004…and now Sarah Palin in 2008. Last night’s performance was quite simply one of the best, and most effective, political speeches I’ve ever seen.

A few thoughts as to what made it so:

1) In a political world filled with “thems,” Palin firmly connected as an “us”. An “us” who has had a full and rich life both in the public arena and out of it, and whose character and decision-making ability have been shaped by those experiences. She’s spent years governing and making difficult decisions, which is a different world from that of the legislator. And she showed very clearly that one doesn’t need advanced degrees, or an ivy league education, to govern effectively — or to play on this stage with the best of them.

2) She was extremely effective in drawing contrasts with the Democratic ticket, particularly Barack Obama’s resume. I watched much of the Democratic convention last week (quite a penance), and heard considerable praise for his ideas, policies, intelligence, and curiosity. But I heard very little about any concrete accomplishments. Palin was excellent in detailing not only her own accomplishments, but also in the way she so starkly contrasted them with Obama’s. Not only the line about a mayor being “like a community organizer, but with actual responsibilities,” but particularly the line about Obama having had time to write two memoirs — but no significant legislation or reforms, either in the US or state senate. That she was able to deliver these withering lines with a smile was part of what made them so effective.

3) The brief reference to the recent family controversy, at the beginning, was nicely done. It needed some kind of acknowledgment, but nothing more. Had she said nothing, it would’ve been an elephant in the room hanging over the speech. Mentioning it early helped listeners “turn the page” and direct their attention to the substance of her remarks.

4) One line has not been widely remarked-upon in post-speech coverage, I think in part because it was a “dog whistle” that went under the mainstream media’s radar, directly to the ears of the great religious middle of the country: “But we are expected to govern with integrity, good will, clear convictions, and … a servant’s heart.” The phrase “servant’s heart” will not be repeated on the highlight reels, but those in middle America who heard it will remember it. And they know what it means.

5) Her comment about being a friend and ally in the White House for parents of special-needs children was quite powerful, I think. It was not only an oblique reminder of her own compassion and selfless love for her youngest son, but will resonate with the many families who struggle with similar situations and sometimes wonder if (in a world where 90% of Down syndrome babies are exterminated in the womb) they are all alone, or considered freaks, or looked down upon, for choosing to embrace children who are different — but no less perfect.

6) The Palin kids were great. I’ve loved watching the youngest daughter (Piper) wave to the crowd with her toothless smile. And it was really something when the baby opened his eyes at the very end, in his mother’s arms, and we got a good look at his face. He really is perfect.

7) I’m glad we didn’t hear any more of that “glass ceiling” stuff. It’s unnecessary, and a distraction.

8) My only complaint about her delivery is that she stepped on or talked through several natural applause lines. But I suppose that is a skill that will be cultivated and honed with time.

9) This is the only political address in my memory where the post-speech commentators fell all over themselves pointing out that “it was delivered well, but someone else wrote it.” Sheesh! Give me a break! Does any major political figure write his or her own speeches? The key is taking a speechwriter’s work, and then making it one’s own. In that, she was excellent. I fully expect that today, Rush Limbaugh will put together one of his famous “montages”, compiling all the comments about the speech having been written by someone else.

10) I’m getting tired of hearing the word “poised” to describe her delivery. She did indeed exhibit great poise. But I started to wonder…is “poised” the female equivalent back-handed compliment that “articulate” is for blacks? (“That was really poised, for a woman. Women are such bundles of emotion, we weren’t expecting you to hold up to the pressure and seem so composed.”) Mrs. Yeoman Farmer, who is both black and female, disagrees on this point. She agrees that “articulate” is insulting when used to describe blacks who speak well, but doesn’t think “poised” is inappropriate for women candidates. Still…has anyone heard “poised” used to describe a man’s performance?

11) My sense is that the swirl of nasty media coverage leading up the speech only served to heighten interest and viewership. Will be interesting to see what the rating numbers turn out to be like, and what impact this has on Palin’s personal favorability.

12) I do think it remains to be seen how she’ll perform when questioned one-on-one by reporters, particularly about the details of John McCain’s policies. But she’s certainly proved over these last several days that she’s a fighter and in the arena to stay; she didn’t get to this place with lofty speeches, and I don’t think she needs them going forward.

Bottom line: we are tremendously excited now on the Republican side. For many of us, who were supporting McCain reluctantly or to block the alternative, we are now juiced about supporting this ticket — and helping Sarah Palin move ahead on the national stage.

We’ve seen the future, and it’s Sarah Palin. (And Bobby Jindal, on the jumbo screen from Louisiana, doing the hard work of governing in crisis this week. But that’s a separate post.)

Signs Your Kids Have Been Watching Too Much Cable News With You

Overheard a moment ago in the next room, from the kitchen, as I washed dishes:

Little Brother (Age 6): “What if somebody who’s not John McCain makes a commercial and says ‘I’m John McCain and I approve this message’?”

Big Brother (Age 12): “You would go to jail.”

Little Brother: “But why?”

Big Brother [authoratatively]: “Because. You’re not allowed to go around lying about being John McCain.”

Veepstakes

Fascinating news that’s breaking about all the leading GOP vice presidential contenders gathering in Dayton tonight for tomorrow’s big unveiling.

This may be a big diversionary tactic, to confuse the media and fuel the speculation — in which case the mission is already being accomplished.

But I can’t help wondering if McCain may have something even bigger in mind. Wouldn’t it be remarkable if he used the event to name not just his veep…but the entire cabinet as well. Mitt Romney as Secretary of the Treasury. Joe Lieberman as Secretary of State. Mike Huckabee as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Rudy Giuliani as Director of Homeland Security. And so on.

Talk about grabbing attention going into one’s convention!

Least of the Brothers?

Watching the Saddleback Forum on Saturday night, I was struck by what Barack Obama described as America’s greatest moral failing: our collective failure to “abide by that basic precept in Matthew that whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me.”

My first thought was the Down Syndrome baby who Jill Stanek, the nurse at Christ Hospital in suburban Chicago, cradled in her arms for 45 minutes after he’d survived an abortion. As is now becoming widely known, Obama had an opportunity to support legislation designed to treat such children (so “least” among all humanity that even their parents want them dead) with basic dignity and medical care. Even after impassioned testimony before his committee by Jill Stanek herself, Obama voted to kill the legislation. Twice. Even the version supported by Barbara Boxer at the national level.

Then came a remarkable story today: Turns out that Barack Obama has a long-lost half-brother living in squalor in Kenya. Not a metaphorical brother this time. A real one.

The Italian edition of Vanity Fair said that it had found George Hussein Onyango Obama living in a hut in a ramshackle town of Huruma on the outskirts of Nairobi.

Mr Obama, 26, the youngest of the presidential candidate’s half-brothers, spoke for the first time about his life, which could not be more different than that of the Democratic contender.

“No-one knows who I am,” he told the magazine, before claiming: “I live here on less than a dollar a month.”

But he wasn’t entirely lost to the world, and not unknown to everyone: Senator Obama knew he existed, and visited him as recently as two years ago. He even merited a mention in Obama’s book:

He has only met his famous older brother twice – once when he was just five and the last time in 2006 when Senator Obama was on a tour of East Africa and visited Nairobi.

The Illinois senator mentions his brother in his autobiography, describing him in just one passing paragraph as a “beautiful boy with a rounded head”.

Of their second meeting, George Obama said: “It was very brief, we spoke for just a few minutes. It was like meeting a complete stranger.”

Assuming the story is true (and the source is Vanity Fair), the question I’m left with is this: What kind of a man lives in a mansion in Hyde Park and allows his brother to live in squalor half a world away? Did Barack offer to help George? Did George refuse the help, preferring to continue living in a six-foot-by-nine-foot shanty?

I don’t know the answers, but I couldn’t help thinking of the quiet choice made by a different family, also half a world away from home, when given an opportunity to help the least of those among us.

Grandpa’s Ship

My grandfather was a career Naval officer, enlisting in the late 1920s and then serving for much of his adult life. He was at Pearl Harbor on the day of the attack, and our family still has a box with artifacts from it.

After World War II, he served for quite some time on the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany. A couple of years ago, that ship was sunk off the coast of Florida, to create an artificial reef. I remember being saddened to hear that his ship was going to the bottom of the ocean — but the more I thought about it, the better of an idea it seemed. Rather than rusting away in a shipyard, or being cut up for scrap, the vessel would provide a refuge for fish and a fascinating place for divers to explore.

The NY Times is up today with a story about the “Great Carrier Reef,” two years later. It includes some remarkable photographs, and even a video from one dive.

“There’s definitely an enthusiasm for this,” said Glen Clark of the Navy’s Inactive Ships Program. “There’s actually more interest than we have ships.”

The potential economic benefits of sinking ships for reefs are significant. A report from the University of Western Florida says that the sinking of the Oriskany enerated nearly $4 million for Pensacola and Escambia County in 2007.

[snip]

“It put Pensacola on the map as a diving spot,” said Jim Phillips, co-owner of MBT Divers in Pensacola. All three of Pensacola’s dive shops are reporting brisk business related to the Oriskany, with 4,200 dive trips to the wreck reported in 2007.

And the story provides another interesting detail that I had not been aware of:

The ship has become a big lure for military buffs, as well, including veterans who once served on the ship. But one veteran who has not dived the Oriskany yet is Senator John McCain, whose final bombing mission left the carrier on Oct. 26, 1967. During that mission, he was shot down and became a prisoner of war for six years.

My grandfather was a big supporter of John McCain back in 2000, in large part because of the Navy connection. But I never knew that they had served on the same ship (albeit separated by several years — Grandpa had retired long before McCain would have been on the Oriskany). Grandpa didn’t live long enough to see the sinking of the Oriskany, but I have no doubt that he’s very pleased as he looks on and sees the use that it’s being put to. And that he’s pulling for John McCain even now.