Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Political Poker

A week or so ago I declared Obama would win the US election, stating he held the strong hand of 3 of a kind: a big boost for the Democratic convention, a bad choice of Sarah Palin as VP for McCain, and the Hurricane Gustav dampening the impact of the Republican convention.

Since then the Gallup Daily Poll has gone from Obama leading McCain 48% to 42%, to now McCain leading Obama 49% to 44%.

Talk about whoa nellie!!

What happened was the Democratic party did get a boost; but Hurricane Gustav missed New Orleans and thus ended up being a non-event news wise; and Palin fired up the Republicans with her folksy, shoot-first, think-later speech.

McCain's speech of course was as dull as you would expect from a man who would struggle to inspire chaos in a riot; but the Republicans are back in the lead the first time in three weeks (which isn't that stunning now I think about it...) and credit for that must go to Sarah Palin.

I still think she's a bad choice for VP; but admittedly most of that belief is based on examining what she stands for. She believes climate change is a load of bull, is against universal health insurance (like Medicare), thinks that it was "God's will" that a natural gas pipeline be built in Alaska, and also believes the Iraq War is "a task that is from God", she is anti-abortion even in extreme cases, thinks conservation is for wimps, and there is anecdotal evidence that she has no problems banning books. In short she is an ultra-right winger type who thinks George W has done a bang up job over the last 8 years (you know that guy whom 64% of Americans disapprove of).

I also thought the fact that McCain didn't even want Palin as his VP candidate, and that he had only met her once before would be pointed out by the media and would cause a bit of ridicule.

But my fault was obviously to think the matter through, rather than turn off my brain and be blinded by the pithy one-liners written for her in her speech.

Her speech at the convention was well delivered, but full of hokum that plays well until you realise it's meaningless drivel. She's big on small town values? What like families? Yeah those damn Democrats are always against families. She might as well say she supports baseball and cuddly animals (though most likely Palin would be more in favour of shooting the cuddly animals...)

She made a big deal about how as Governor of Alaska she said "thanks but no thanks" to Congress for the "bridge to nowhere" that was being built in Alaska with federal government money. Unfortunately it turns out she was saying thanks until Congress decided to stop funding it (which meant the Alaskan state government would have to go it alone).

She had a shot at Obama being weak on terrorists saying: "Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America ... he's worried that someone won't read them their rights?" Which is straight out of the Bush/Howard/Cheney "you're either for us or you're for the terrorists" playbook. So what she is arguing is that the Constitution which American soldiers are apparently fighting to protect can be ignored whenever it suits. You don't need to be Mohammed Haneef to know that governments occasionally get it wrong on "national defense" issues...

Look I know such analysis is way out of order. But let me just say this: I think Palin is still a bad choice for McCain if only because it is obvious the Republican Party is sheltering her from the media. Since her speech, she has not given one interview to the media (that's over 10 days now). Her first interview is set to be a soft-soap piece on ABC in America in a sort of 60 Minutes style interview normally reserved for actors (you know, pictures of her with her kids etc etc - no hard questions, except those pre-vetted by her minders). If she is such a home-run VP candidate, why keep her from the media?

But still don't listen to me - listen to what Republican Party insiders think. What does Peggy Noonan (Wall Street Journal columnist and former speech writer for Reagan), think of Palin?

When Chuck Todd asked her if this was the most qualified woman the Republicans could nominate, Noonan responded, "The most qualified? No. I think they went for this, excuse me, political bullshit about narratives. Every time the Republicans do that, because that's not where they live and that's not what they're good at, they blow it."

Ok, Noonan comes off as a little bitter; let's try current Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice:

When asked point-blank if Palin has enough experience, Rice in an interview said, "These are decisions that Senator McCain has made. I have great confidence in him." Confidence in Palin? Rice didn't say.
Rice added: "I'm not going to get involved in this political campaign. As Secretary of State, I don't do that. But I thought her speech was wonderful."

Hang on? She's the highest ranked woman in the Republican Party and she doesn't want to get political?? Please.

Ok then why is McCain back in the lead if she's so bad? Well she's the new shiny thing; of course she will get people interested in her. But she has 2 months to stay shiny... and also McCain has to somehow overcome the fact that the only reason his own party wants him to win is because they like his VP.

It's still Obama v McCain. The VP candidate can help keep votes, but come election day, unless Palin is suddenly the name on the ticket, the choice will be Obama or McCain.

Obama still holds the best hand; but in politics as in poker, the best hand doesn't always win the pot.

The Democrats just need to hold their nerve over the next week or so and keep raising the stakes; sooner or later the Republicans will have to show whether they've got an ace in the hole, or if it's all been a bluff.

To go out with here's the only way to survive watching McCain's convention speech... through the viewfinder of Jon Stewart:

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