Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Clinton gives great speech, momentarily leaves press corps dazed and confused

Clinton gave a barn-burner of a speech last night. No surprise to Democrats who followed her campaign, whether they did so with greater or lesser sympathy. No doubt it was a disappointment to our elite press corps who had been looking for a flare-up between Clinton supporters and Obama backers.

CNN did manage to find one Clinton delegate who semi-tearfully said she wasn't quite convinced yet about Obama although she said very emphatically that she wasn't going to vote for McCain. They kept her on camera for what seemed like forever.

Clinton gave McCain some hard raps, including a requisite line or two that was pithy enough for the national reporters to understand and be able to show in a brief news clip. The San Francisco Chronicle Wednesday morning picked up my own favorite among those in their headline: Clinton: "No way, no how, no McCain".

Clinton's speech was a ringing call to the broad spectrum of Democratic popular constituencies: labor and environmentalists, younger activists and older feminists, urban minorities and suburban working-class whites. Her peroration to keep going, drawing on Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad was a good melding of civil-rights and women's rights themes. Since Tubman was technically a criminal who was not adverse to using a gun in pursuit of her illegal political goals (freeing slaves), that may have been a subtle dig as well at the ludicrous McCain ad campaign trying to link Obama to the long-defunct Weather Underground.


Her invocation of the 1848 Seneca Falls women's-rights convention was a nice touch. It was also an actual thought-provoking moment when she said that her mother was born before women could vote and her daughter Chelsea now was able to vote for her mother for President. Actually, some states allowed women to vote as early as the 1860s. But her point was well taken, referring as she was to the Constitutional Amendment that passed in 1920 establishing women's right to vote nationally.

Clinton's speech was impressive enough in both its content and delivery that even the CNN bevy of celebrity pundits couldn't find much to criticize in it. Wolf was there, of course, with Anderson Cooper, Campbell Brown, John King and Gloria Borger in Denver all lined up to offer their empty observations. Between the quality of the speech and the fact that Clinton was officially praising her former rival, the pundit corps were relatively kind to her, i.e., didn't come up with a lot of off-the-wall nonsense speculation.

There were a couple of revealing moments. Wolf Blitzer at some point said in an almost bewildered tone that CNN is producing news and commentary 24/7, by way of explaining that they had to come up with something to say. It doesn't seem to occur to any of them that there are plenty of things besides horse-race gossip they might be saying. Wolf tried to get Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendel to say he was disappointed that Obama hadn't picked Clinton as VP candidate. But Rendel wasn't playing along.

More revealing was when Wolf said he had just received a press release from the McCain campaign, which he proceeded to read aloud. Later, he also read a press release from the Obama campaign. He and Carl Bernstein on the East Coast and maybe one other of the pundit parade in Denver commented that they were being deluged with e-mails on the speech.

By our current journalistic standards in America, which considers stenography synonymous with "journalism", reading out the Republican press release and then the Democratic press release constitutes thorough reporting. "Both sides" got to have their say.

But I could sit at home and take the Party press releases off their Web sites and reproduce them in a blog post. In fact, anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can just go to the Party sites and read it themselves. Seriously, if these Big Pundits are going to sit there in a row and just repeat Party press releases or scour their e-mail for what to say, what are they really doing there? You don't need to be at the actual convention to do that. Most of what they were doing in their "commentary" after Clinton's speech could easily have been outsourced to India. Someone could stand in a studio in Bangalore and read McCain's press releases aloud.

Really. If they want to just report what spin partisan observers are putting on what just happened, have someone interview partisan observers on camera. The fact that the Republicans put out a spin memo right after the speech isn't newsworthy. What it said was arguably newsworthy, which is that Clinton had failed to endorse Obama in the Commander-in-Chief role. In terms of the horse-race issues, that was likely a sign of desperation that they could find nothing else to make Clinton's ringing endorsement of Obama and the Democratic campaign sound somehow less than enthusiastic.

It might also be an interesting topic for discussion why the McCain campaign is treating the "Commander-in-Chief" role of the Presidency as such a central matter. The Constitution, for those who remember we have one, makes the President the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces when they are on active duty. The President isn't anyone else's Commander-in-Chief. (True, the Republicans the last 7 1/2 years seem to have regarded Bush as theirs.) Although foreign policy was not the main emphasis of her speech, Clinton endorsed Obama's foreign policy stance, and she said that McCain would mean more war and less diplomacy. Just what is the McCain campaign trying to say by that dumb, desperate spin?

Needless to say, that discussion didn't take place on CNN. I wish it had. It would have been fun to see Gloria Borger trying to process the concept of the Constitutional role of Commander-in-Chief in relation to McCain's campaign statement. Now that would have been entertaining!

CNN also had someone on hand watching what the dirty foulmouthed hippie bloggers had to say. On Monday after Michelle Obama's speech, they gave their DFH-watcher about 30 seconds. She made a boo-boo, though. She mentioned that the bloggers were mentioning what most sentient viewers had particularly noticed, the charming family scene at the end. The Big Pundit panel Monday hadn't made much of that, being too busy caught up in reciting their favorite scripts. Afterward, both Wolf and Anderson Cooper made somewhat embarrassed comments about how nice that family scene had been.

Tuesday, the DFH-watcher had apparently been re-educated a bit. This time, the first thing she showed was a screen shot of the Hillary Clinton Web site. Now, surely an official DFH-watcher for CNN realizes that even Clinton doesn't qualify as a DFH. And that her homepage Web shot isn't one of those things commonly called a "blog". But at least she didn't embarrass the Big Pundit panel Tuesday by bringing up something that they had obviously missed.

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