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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Conventional Politics

It is about twenty four hours from the beginning of the prime-time coverage of the Democratic national convention in Denver, Colorado. If one had any doubt about the content or outcome of the convention, one only has to look at Barack Obama's choice for his running mate, Senator Joe Biden, to attach a label -- CONVENTIONAL. Conventional politics are the last thing America needs in 2008 and beyond.

The selection of Joe Biden for the Vice President slot may "balance the ticket" or highlight perceived weaknesses in Obama's experience. However, it's pretty clear Biden's selection will cause some head scratching:

* he voted to provide Bush "authority" for the Iraq war
* he has already appeared in McCain ads stating Obama wasn't "ready" for the Presidency
* he's not a disciplined, consistent public speaker
* well respected on foreign policy but less influential on economics where most of our problems now lie

So what's wrong with the Democratic convention, when it hasn't even started? Look at the prime time schedule:

Monday -- Michelle Obama as keynote, aiming to let voters "get to know her" and paint the family side of Barack, which is only likely to cement impressions of a "power couple" where voters have to worry about the politics of the spouse as well as the candidate

Tuesday -- Hillary Clinton as keynote, supposedly aiming to firmly swing her supporters behind Obama but just as likely to return focus on her own campaign's bitterness over squandering her own front-runner position because of her own poor management of her campaign (#1)

Wednesday -- Bill Clinton as one speaker, presumably to convey he truly is behind the party's nominee despite five months of public pouting over "mis-treatment" of his wife and her campaign, which, again, was mis-managed into the ground internally by Hillary and her staff, not by anything any other candidate said or did, followed by Joe Biden as keynote

Thursday -- the coup de grace acceptance speech of Barack Obama in front of 76,000 people at Invesco Field, which will, at a minimum, reinforce the undesired "rock star" labeling of the opposition or worse, raise disturbing comparisons to prior mass spectacles of the ages, ranging from mindless opening ceremonies at $40 billion Olympic boondoggles to more sinister Leni Riefenstahl productions.

With all due respect, no one needs to hear from Michelle Obama or about Michelle Obama. Hillary Clinton lost her front-running bid by her own doing and needs to act like a strong, independent, new-age woman and cede the spotlight by shutting up about imagined "slights". Bringing Bill Clinton back to wax nostalgic over the good old days of the 1990s and what coulda been does nothing to address the problems facing the country now and just reinforces the family dynasty problem that has stunted the gene pool of both the Democratic and Republican parties. Clinton already hogged enough oxygen in the 2000 convention -- he needs to get out of the pond.

What the country needs right now is a TOTALLY different communication approach to explain

* WHAT has happened to the country over the past 8 years,
* HOW it happened,
* WHAT will happen if we don't change
* and HOW we can simplify government and restore Constitutional balance

Simplifying government doesn't mean gutting it so it cannot function (housing meltdown, banking fraud, Katrina) nor does it mean outsourcing an even larger government for private gain (Halliburton, FEMA, Homeland Security, etc.). It means eliminating the protections government provides big business that encourages big business to swing for the fences when things go well then beg for taxpayer bailouts when the "free market" hands them their head on a plate. It means being honest with voters about so-called "entitlements" and restructuring those programs to actuarial and financial soundness.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the current 2008 campaign is the lack of attention to the basic Constitutional health of our country. ANY cursory review of the policies enacted over the past seven years and their outcomes clearly shows the current disasters could not have happened if key elected officials and appointees had not taken EVERY opportunity to ignore or outright circumvent the Constitution. The problems range from:

* Dick Cheney's secret summer of 2001 energy task force
* approval of torture practices outside the review of career legal experts in the military and Justice
* instigation of a war based upon cherry-picked intelligence not shared with Congress or career military / intelligence officials
* approval of the 2003 prescription drug program based upon forged cost data withheld from Congress
* illegal domestic spying in violation of clear-cut, thirty year old surveillance laws

From DAY ONE, players in the Bush Administration were bent on "restoring" full power to the Presidency. If the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 had not occurred, other justifications would have been used. The lesson Americans SHOULD be learning from all of this is that debates over very specific policies (windfall profits tax on oil? gas rebates for consumers? mortgage bailouts for banks or consumers? continued ethanol subsidies? etc.) are virtually POINTLESS because the KEY issue facing the country is an absolute failure of the basic mechanics of government brought about by old-school politicians and bureaucrats re-fighting thirty year old battles.

This election provides a choice between

a) a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law who taught constitutional law at another top law school (#2)

b) a Vietnam war hero who began taking political contributions from Charles Keating during his first two terms as US Representative, later became ensnared as part of the Keating Five for getting involved in conversations with S&L regulators on Keating's behalf (albeit playing one of the lesser roles), and did nothing to curb the excesses of a criminal Administration for 7 years in exchange for having a chance to run as his party's Presidential nominee

In a very real sense, there has never BEEN a candidate more suited to entering office and addressing the key problem facing the country than Obama yet Obama has failed to frame the debate from this perspective.

What would a better Democratic Convention agenda look like? Maybe the following:

Monday -- a focus on reforming ALL entitlements -- addressing welfare for the middle class
Tuesday -- a focus on business regulation -- addressing welfare for Corporate America
Wednesday -- a focus on the world and America's leadership role in energy, globalization and true freedom
Thursday -- accepting the nomination and outlining an action plan to put the country back on its Constitutional moorings

There is probably nothing else either party could do to more effectively communicate a message of "change" than conducting their convention as a true heart-to-heart with the American people about the challenges we face instead of producing an infomercial / opening ceremony spectacle like we're about to witness.



#1) http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200809/hillary-clinton-campaign

#2) http://www.law.uchicago.edu/media/index.html