Monday 1 September 2008

Obama serious, presidential - McCain cynical, irresponsible

Since the primaries ended, the US election campaign had been at risk of becoming boring, but the past week has put paid to that. Barack Obama's selection of Joe Biden as a running mate, followed by the drama of Denver, set the Democratic campaign back on track after a poor summer. Michelle Obama's great speech will surely put a stop to those ridiculous stories about the couple's 'elitism' (this from John 'Remind-me-how-many-houses-I-own' McCain) and their patriotism (I loved Jon Stewart's comment: Democrats always have to prove their patriotism, while everyone knows Republicans love America - they just hate half the people who live there). Hillary gave a barnstorming, generically pro-Democratic, anti-McCain speech which ticked all the boxes but ungraciously couldn't find a single word of praise for the candidate. Bill did better, finally conceding that Obama was 'ready' (which was good of him), but I thought the most forceful contributions of the week came from Biden and Kerry. As for the grand finale, thank goodness it didn't come across as the presumptious hubris I'd feared. I worried at first that Obama's rhetoric didn't quite rise to the occasion, but watching sections of the speech in the endless replays since, I've been increasingly impressed - it was serious, detailed, presidential. 

Of course, McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential candidate immediately blew the Democrats off the front pages and out of the headlines - as it was intended to do. Was it a brilliant, maverick move, or a massive blunder? As an Obama supporter, I'm hoping it turns out to be the latter. But, even more, as someone who wishes America well, my main reaction is that McCain's choice is an irresponsible and dangerous gesture. For an ageing candidate, not in the best of health, to choose a running mate with no experience of national politics and little interest in international affairs, at a time when the nation is at war, smacks of putting partisan politics before the national interest. 'Country first'? You must be joking. McCain's 'judgement' in foreign affairs was surely the only reason why some on the anti-totalitarian left were tempted to support him. But this decision, coming after Obama's selection of Biden, surely neutralises that argument. 

Now Hurricane Gustav is threatening to disrupt the Republican convention. Already Bush and Cheney have withdrawn, presumably to the huge relief of the McCain campaign. We wait to see whether McCain and Palin's journey to the disaster zone (Obama has chosen not to visit, for fear he might get in the way of the evacuation effort) provides a chance for them to demonstrate leadership, or further evidence of a tendency to play cynical partisan politics at a time of national crisis.

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