Beautiful Imperfection

August 31, 2008

Beautiful ImperfectionPip Wilson penned the lyric and Fort Pastor wrote the song. The phrase “Beautiful Imperfection” seems to capture that for which I yearn as I turn my attention toward the Republican National Convention.

As I fly to Minnesota and reflect further on what I witnessed in Denver, the more disturbed I am by the nature of contemporary politics. I am still astonished at the sophistication the Obama campaign used to fashion and present their message in Denver. Save for the Clinton speeches, the entire event was scripted right down to the “town hall meetings.” And the scripting went beyond words to the music, the lighting, the camera angles, and even the backdrop.

Since I was sitting high behind Obama during his acceptance speech, I watched most of it on the giant stadium TV screens. There were many points during the speech when I wondered if I was seeing a “floating cross” behind Obama. The window framing behind him formed an almost constant cross when he was on the front-center camera. Had he been smaller, taller, or had the camera angle been slightly different, we would have seen a rectangular window frame. Instead, there was a moving cross gracing the screen every time the camera zoomed in on him from front-center. Given the use of Biblical imagery in his speech and those preceding him, I can’t dismiss this possibility this detail was any more of a coincidence than it was in Mike Huckabee’s Christmas greeting ad.

While I have never been to a Republican convention, I’m told that the Republicans can do all of this even better. Without the Clinton’s around to inject a bit of drama into the proceedings, if McCain allows himself to be handled, there is no reason to believe they can’t do a better job of scripting and conveying an image and a message.

As I go to St. Paul, I’m not looking for perfection, but I am yearning for some imperfection. I have no desire for a hurricane to make landfall, and I pray it dissolves into a mere depression. Nevertheless, the prospect of the real world raining on the parade of the pseudo-world of political consultants excites me. Not because I can’t appreciate the beauty of a campaign game plan well executed, but because I want to gain some perspective on who would make a good President. That is not judged by how well one can create an image and stay on message in a campaign, but on how a person deals, albeit imperfectly, with the challenges life throws at us.

The hurricane presents such a challenge for both McCain and Obama. How do you conduct a political convention or campaign in the midst of an event that will alter the lives of everyone in the path of the storm? The answer to that question will tell me more about the suitability of Obama, McCain, Biden, and Palin than what I saw in Denver.

The decision on how to handle this convention is a decision that requires judgment. These are the kind of decisions Presidents are faced with daily. I’ll be very interested to see how McCain and Palin handle it. I’ll be very interested to see how Obama and Biden campaign in anticipation of the storm and in its wake. Their consultants will be telling both of them to stay with the plan, to stay on message, because to move off message is to risk making a mistake.

I’d prefer that if mistakes are to be made they are made before the election rather than after, so that we can judge accordingly.

That’s why I believe there is something to be said for beautiful imperfection. The more opportunities we have before November to find out how these 4 candidates handle real world challenges where no perfect response exists, the better. It is in imperfection that we can judge the true character of the contenders.

Gender Matters

August 31, 2008

Helen Aguirre Ferre makes it look so easy.

Helen is a journalist with Univision and Diario Las Americas, and last week in Denver I watched her interview literally dozens of people about all aspects of the Democratic National Convention.

She just engages people in conversation and they instantly begin to share whatever is on their mind and then some. They hardly realize they are being interviewed and they feel better about themselves when the conversation is over.

As I arrived here at the Manchester Airport for my flight to the Twin Cities, I realized that the first subject I need to blog is Sarah Palin and what she means to McCain and the Republicans in November.

The problem is I don’t know. I made a promise to myself when I decided to blog the conventions that I would minimize my exposure to what journalists are saying and writing about it all. I want to share, to the greatest degree possible, my reflections on what I observe and not be interacting with the conventional wisdom.

So I decided I’d do what Helen does. Front-line journalism. As I waited for my flight I sat down next to a woman and asked her opinion of McCain’s choice for VP.

The conversation went something like this.  I led by asking,

“Excuse me are you heading out to Minnesota for the Convention?”

“No, I want to be as far away from there as possible.”

“What do you think of McCain’s choice for Vice-President?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“I’m writing a blog for the convention, and I’m conducting some interviews on the subject.”

“What are you, a journalist?”

“In a matter of speaking.”

“You have a problem with her?”

“You mean Sarah Palin?” I replied.

“Of course.”

“No, I’ve not developed an opinion yet.”

“That’s what I hate about you journalists. You pretend you have no opinions and then you twist and distort the words of perfectly good people for your own ends. Let me tell you I think she is a terrific choice.”

“Why? Do you think she’d be a good commander and chief?”

“How the heck would I know? All I know is that she can’t be any worse that what we’ve got. She’s got five kids, she’s a Governor, she’s got a kid with Down Syndrome and a husband who is a Democrat, and she lives as far away as humanly possible from Washington, DC. What’s not to like? “

The interview took a turn for the worse when she asked me,

“Do you have a problem with a woman in the White House?’

“No, of course not.”

“Well why are you asking me this question. You men just can’t deal with a strong woman. Well let me tell you what this country needs is a strong woman. You want change, get a Hockey Mom. I’m a Hockey Mom, there’s a whole bunch of us that could do a better job than this group of losers.”

And then some other women came over and joined in the fun.

I excused myself to go to the bathroom.

Now, even as I write this entry, they are still talking and looking at me.

If the goal of the McCain Campaign was to get people talking about something other than Obama this weekend it is working. I just hope people will quit talking about me.

I still don’t have an opinion.

But when I get to Minnesota I’m going to let Helen ask the questions.

She makes it look so easy.

Doing Penance

August 29, 2008

I will no longer make sweeping negative generalizations about journalists and the media.

I confess I have a history of being critical of the media.

OK, I confess I have been really critical.

I find myself sitting in my dining room trying to pull together a coherent blog entry for tonight and the room is spinning. Or is it me?

5 days, 3000 miles, 15 hours of sleep, many hours being fed a story by the DNC, and many more hours trying to make sense of what it all means.

It is very apparent to me right now that man does not live by coffee alone.

It is also very apparent to me right now that the adrenal glands only produce a limited amount of adrenaline a week.

Tonight is my penance for all the unfair criticism I have heaped upon journalists.

Its not that I am out of material to blog. To the contrary, I’ve got reams. My flight from Denver to Chicago was the Obama Express, with no fewer than 25 elected officials and delegates. That one flight alone, combined with my ongoing reflection on Obama’s speech and the entire Democratic National Convention, has given me more than enough material for days of blogging.

And then there is the matter of Sarah Palin.

The Democrats on the plane were positively giddy when they heard McCain’s choice. They positively feared Romney, and are thrilled with Palin. They were some high-fives exchanged as the news spread. My guess is that there were Republicans flying to Minneapolis/St. Paul doing high fives for the opposite reason. This choice needs to be analyzed.

The Democrats on my plane were making Inauguration plans. I am guessing there are Republicans doing the same. Ralph Nader is making plans of his own.

All of this requires analysis. This is the moment for intelligent reflection on Sarah Palin and what it means for the Republican National Convention and the Presidential race.

But that reflection won’t be coming from me. Not tonight at least.

I’m doing penance for living 5 days in the fast lane.

But tonight there are men and women who got less sleep than me during the last 5 days who are doing us all a great public service. They are doing what a democracy needs done. They are working to provide us with the best information possible to make informed decisions about the things that matter most.

This week I saw up front and personal how hard it is to be a good journalist. It is easy to be a lazy journalist and end up being a propaganda machine. I have seen some lazy journalists this week. But, I have seen many more hard working journalists. I have also seen how hard it is to write a story about a Presidential race when the two biggest corporations in the world, the Democratic and Republican parties, are seeking to write the story for you.

So tonight, I’m doing penance for living like I’m in college again.

Tomorrow, I’m celebrating my 28th wedding anniversary.

Sunday, caffeine and adrenaline willing, I’ll be on the plane to Minneapolis ready to do my part for the cause.

In the meantime, if you see a journalist, give them a hug and buy them a cup of coffee. They deserve our thanks and all the caffeine they can get.

I’m Going to Bed

August 29, 2008

It is 4:25 a.m. EST and the Republican VP hasn’t yet been leaked.

Yet Govenror Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota gave the quote of the day when he accidentally referred to the Democratic VP Candidate from Delaware as Obiden.

If Obama wins, I may have to change my name to Okuehne. :)

Executed to Perfection

August 29, 2008

Sen Barack Obama Accepted Democratic NominationUnbelievable. I watched Obama’s acceptance all from high atop Invesco field in Section 530. I was directly behind the stage and ten rows from the top of the stadium. As the smoke from the pyrotechnics faded into the perfect Rocky Mountain night, and as confetti still tricked down from the heavens, I realized I had witnessed human perfection. Like Tuesday night, the artist within me told me that I had witnessed a political campaign execute its game plan to perfection. It was a thing of surpassing beauty.

As the evening unfolded, my mind transported me back to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City on October 18, 1992. That evening U2 treated me to the greatest rock concert that I have ever seen. From start to finish it was a brilliantly conceived production that was executed with breathtaking perfection. Every detail was considered. Through a cutting edge approach to technology the U2 team turned Arrowhead Stadium into an intimate stage, and they transformed the audience into a choir.

I’ve never met Willie Williams, who was/is largely responsible for the set design and lighting for U2, but when I do I will be in the presence of creative genius. He doesn’t write the music, but he makes it possible for them to deliver the message.

Tonight’s DNC finale was a combination rock concert and post-modern revival meeting unlike anything either America or I have ever seen. From start to finish it was the perfect culmination to the script that had been written and executed since the time Nancy Pelosi opened the convention. Save for Hillary and Bill Clinton, who would not play along and who were not in attendance tonight, every speech, every video clip, even every pause for the 24 hours of programming was scripted and choreographed. Tonight’s event was the climax, the fulfillment, of someone or some group of people who possess the genius of Willie Williams.

Obama’s speech was designed to put an exclamation point on every element of the message countless speakers and video clips had presented all week. And he did, down to every detail.

What the Obama campaign pulled off redefined the meaning of excellence in this era of Presidential campaigns. They got hundreds of party officials and thousands of party delegates to say and do precisely what they wanted them to do and say. The campaign leaves Denver with a disciplined candidate armed with a coherent message and well-conceived game plan.

Tonight was a rock concert and revival meeting. The design of set, the use of lighting, pyrotechnics, and film in support of the headlining act was first rate, and the audience loved it. The standing ovations and chants throughout the speech were spontaneous and genuine. The tears and expressions of ecstasy were real. Biblical imagery was woven into the entire evening, and the concluding message of hope that Obama delivered in his final line was drawn directly from the Bible. This was not MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech, but it referenced the same source.

People left Invesco Field devoted fans, and, more importantly, excited about democracy. Not merely the party elite, but also people from Colorado of all ages and backgrounds. Moreover, it was an evening when a crowd with extraordinary racial diversity experienced an answer to prayer sung decades ago in Arrowhead Stadium that “all the colors would bleed into one.”

What was notable is that as people shuffled down the exit ramps you could hear one group of people spontaneously chant, “we believe in change,” while you could hear another group spontaneously sing, “How long do we need to sing this song?” (”40″, U2, War).

It was simultaneously surreal and profound.

Obama will be criticized for acting like a rock star and embracing elements of American revivalism. That’s simply unfair. Some of the most profound and important experiences of my life have occurred at U2 concerts and revival meetings. If Obama can be as effective a President of the United States as Bono (of U2) has been in being an Ambassador for Africa, we will all be the better for it. Additionally, America needs to have its soul nurtured and inspired again. If Obama can do that for us, we will be better for it.

But I’ve seen this before. In the snows of New Hampshire last January, Obama moved the soul of our state. Hillary Clinton got watery eyes when she walked into a campaign event in Portsmouth the day before the Primary because there was virtually no one there. Obama had thousands flock to his meetings, while Hillary was left with the crumbs from his table.

We all knew Obama would win the New Hampshire Primary. It wasn’t just the pollsters who were wrong, it was all of us. What we learned in New Hampshire was that lots of people wanted to go to a rock concert, but more wanted something different in a President.

I can’t yet divine November’s results.

But the rules change when the Obama campaign leaves Denver. No longer can everything be choreographed and scripted. John McCain and Hurricanes and Vladimir Putin can’t be scripted any more than Hillary and Bill Clinton.

When people go vote in November, like in January, they will be voting for President.

But for this night, I tip my hat to Barack Obama and the “Willie Williams” of the Obama campaign who choreographed the “perfect” convention.

Tonight was unbelievable.


Father Jonathan Welcomes 540 To Campus

August 28, 2008

Members of the Class of 2012 Participate in New Student OrientationFollowing a morning of unpacking and meeting new faces, Saint Anselm’s 540 new students were welcomed to the college community by Father Jonathan DeFelice, O.S.B., college president (listen to remarks at end of post). Read more

 Welcome Remarks [8:32m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

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