Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wednesday's Democratic speeches

Bill Clinton was good, as everyone should have expected. The best part of his speech to me was that he attacked the Republicans directly on the torture policy. As did John Kerry and Gen. Claudia Kennedy in her brief presentation after Kerry's speech. This is a critical issue. It's a major disgrace to the country that it has become a partisan issue. But it is. The Republican Party supports torture with virtual unanimity. The Democratic Party opposes it. We won't hear similar statements in opposition to torture at next week's Republican Party convention. It's a true national disgrace.

My favorite Clinton line was, "People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power." That's heresy to war-loving Republicans. But it's the attitude that normal people who don't have seven houses generally take.

This was also great section of the Big Dog's presentation:

American families by the millions are struggling with soaring health care costs and declining coverage. I will never forget the parents of children with autism and other severe conditions who told me on the campaign trail that they couldn’t afford health care and couldn’t qualify their kids for Medicaid unless they quit work or got a divorce. Are these the family values the Republicans are so proud of? What about the military families pushed to the breaking point by unprecedented multiple deployments? What about the assault on science and the defense of torture? What about the war on unions and the unlimited favors for the well connected? What about Katrina and cronyism?

America can do better than that. And Barack Obama will. [my emphasis]
Kerry gave a conventional liberal Democratic speech. What he said was fine by me.

But his criticisms of McCain's changing positions was undercut by his using the "for it before he was against it" line that the media and the Reps used against him in 2004. Kerry was wagging his finger at McCain for playing Karl Rove politics. But that's the wrong response. (More thoughts on that below.)

Still, Kerry had good things to say:

Never in modern history has an administration squandered American power so recklessly. Never has strategy been so replaced by ideology. Never has extremism so crowded out common sense and fundamental American values. Never has short-term partisan politics so depleted the strength of America’s bipartisan foreign policy.

George Bush, with John McCain at his side, promised to spread freedom but delivered the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. They misread the threat and misled the country. Instead of freedom, it’s Hamas, Hezbollah, the Taliban and dictators everywhere that are on the march. North Korea has more bombs, and Iran is defiantly chasing one.

Our mission is to restore America’s influence and position in the world. We must use all the weapons in our arsenal, above all, our values. President Obama and Vice President Biden will shut down Guantanamo, respect the Constitution, and make clear once and for all, the United States of America does not torture, not now, not ever.

We must listen and lead by example because even a nation as powerful as the United States needs some friends in this world. We need a leader who understands all our security challenges, not just bombs and guns, but global warming, global terror and global AIDS. And Barack Obama understands there is no way for America to be secure until we create clean energy here at home, not with a little more oil in five, 10 or 20 years, but with an energy revolution starting right now. [my emphasis]
Tammy Duckworth made good points about the Iraq War, too:

In Barack Obama, our troops will have a commander-in-chief who has the judgment to use them wisely, sending them into harm’s way as a last resort, not a first resort; who listens to intelligence, doesn’t exaggerate it; who will bring our troops home from Iraq responsibly, not keep them there indefinitely; who knows that torture is not only morally repugnant, it’s militarily ineffective. It doesn’t work. It puts our troops at risk. It endangers our national security.

In Barack Obama, our military families will have a leader who will ease their burdens, ensure predictable deployments, offer more support to spouses back home and ensure military paychecks keep pace with the private sector. Our veterans will have a president who finally makes veterans’ benefits and health a priority, caring for their body, mind and spirit. [my emphasis]
It was good that they followed Clinton and Kerry up with the Iraq War video.

It's really good. It gives a straightforward account of the real-life situation in Iraq. It focuses on the experiences of US soldiers. And without beating anyone over the head with it, the film says the reality of the Iraq War is very different than the pretty lies McCain tells about it.

The most encouraging thing about Wednesday night's convention for me was that the Dems made an issue of the Cheney-Bush-McCain torture policy and made the Iraq War a central issue. Whatever the political effect, those are vital issues and they need to be addressed right.

Beau Biden's story about his father being sworn in for the Senate at his hospital bedside when he was severely hurt in the car accident that killed his mother and sister was incredibly moving.

He opened by defending the Constitution against Dark Lord Dick Cheney. His personal story was well delivered. The part about his mother sending him back outside to bloody the nose of the bullies was a welcome bit in the context of this Presidential election.

Biden opened his story about how Obama has an all-American personal story by observing, "John McCain doesn't seem to get it" when it comes to understanding the economic needs of ordinary working people.

I'm was getting concerned that I hadn't heard much at the convention so far going at McCain in a way that would jar his "maverick" image. Both Clintons did the ritual nod to McCain's brilliant service. But then he followed it up with vague invocations of how his policies are worse than Obama's. Biden did a version of it. But he followed it up with a long peroration on the theme of, "That's not change, that's more of the same." I thought his best hits on the following points:

John McCain is my friend. We’ve known each other for three decades. We’ve traveled the world together. It’s a friendship that goes beyond politics. And the personal courage and heroism John demonstrated still amaze me.

But I profoundly disagree with the direction that John wants to take the country. For example, John thinks that during the Bush years “we’ve made great progress economically.” I think it’s been abysmal.

And in the Senate, John sided with President Bush 95 percent of the time. Give me a break. When John McCain proposes $200 billion in new tax breaks for corporate America, $1 billion alone for just eight of the largest companies, but no relief for 100 million American families, that’s not change; that’s more of the same.

Even today, as oil companies post the biggest profits in history—a half trillion dollars in the last five years—he wants to give them another $4 billion in tax breaks. But he voted time and again against incentives for renewable energy: solar, wind, biofuels. That’s not change; that’s more of the same.

Millions of jobs have left our shores, yet John continues to support tax breaks for corporations that send them there. That’s not change; that’s more of the same.

He voted 19 times against raising the minimum wage. For people who are struggling just to get to the next day, that’s not change; that’s more of the same.

And when he says he will continue to spend $10 billion a month in Iraq when Iraq is sitting on a surplus of nearly $80 billion, that’s not change; that’s more of the same.

The choice in this election is clear. These times require more than a good soldier; they require a wise leader, a leader who can deliver change—the change everybody knows we need. [my emphasis]
This section expanded more on the national-security theme:

As we gather here tonight, our country is less secure and more isolated than at any time in recent history. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has dug us into a very deep hole with very few friends to help us climb out. For the last seven years, this administration has failed to face the biggest forces shaping this century: the emergence of Russia, China and India as great powers; the spread of lethal weapons; the shortage of secure supplies of energy, food and water; the challenge of climate change; and the resurgence of fundamentalism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the real central front against terrorism.

In recent days, we’ve once again seen the consequences of this neglect with Russia’s challenge to the free and democratic country of Georgia. Barack Obama and I will end this neglect. We will hold Russia accountable for its actions, and we’ll help the people of Georgia rebuild.

I’ve been on the ground in Georgia, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and I can tell you in no uncertain terms: this Administration’s policy has been an abject failure. America cannot afford four more years of this.

Now, despite being complicit in this catastrophic foreign policy, John McCain says Barack Obama isn’t ready to protect our national security. Now, let me ask you: whose judgment should we trust? 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?

The fact is, al-Qaida and the Taliban—the people who actually attacked us on 9/11—have regrouped in those mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan and are plotting new attacks. And the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff echoed Barack’s call for more troops.

John McCain was wrong. Barack Obama was right. [my emphasis]
I have big, big reservations about the Obama-Biden policy on escalating in Afghanistan. But for the election, it's the policy the Democrats are stuck with.

And Biden bloodied the bullies' noses tonight.

Still, the campaign needs to hit McCain in ways that not only tie him to Bush and his disastrous policies. But they also need to do it in a way to address more personal and "character" issues. McCain is old and clearly confused on some important things. He's impulsive and hot-headed. Combine that with his eagerness to go to war and it's genuinely scary. He's also so wealthy he's rolling in his wife's money no matter in which of their many houses they happen to be at a given moment.

And those ugly personal characteristics are visible in his policies. He wants to keep the Iraq War going for 100 years or longer. He wants to play chicken with Russia in the Caucuses over countries most Americans would have some trouble naming, much less spelling, when we have vitually no viable military options there. He wants to flush the nuclear anti-proliferation efforts with Russia. And he wants to go war with Iraq. But that together with his impulsiveness, his bad temper, and his stereotypical old-man nostalgia for war and the symbols of military glory and it's a really, really bad picture.

The wealthy old grouch wants to phase out Social Security! He's worse than out of touch. He's perfectly willing to toss the country he professes to love so profoundly right back into the 1920s, when being old meant for all but the very wealthy meant being poor, dependent and sick.

The Democrats need to make those points. And they need to keep the focus they had tonight on the Iraq War.

Texts of Thursday night's speeches are available at the Convention website.

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"It is the logic of our times
No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."

-- Cecil Day-Lewis from Where Are The War Poets?


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