September 5, 2008
Citysearch of Minneapolis describes ‘Karma: “Dress to the nines and play high roller at this exclusive downtown club. Plush red carpet and a long line outside the door indicate that this is the place to be seen. The enormous glass chandelier in the foyer also sets the tone for an over-the-top evening. Plasma TVs tile the walls and purple velor couches fill up with people-watchers upstairs. Skilled DJs cut hip-hop beats as club goers let loose on a massive dance floor. There’s also Cristal and Louis XIII cognac at the ready.”
Before I left for Denver, one Saint Anselm alum who shall remain nameless told me, “You got to go to the parties, the convention is the parties. You can’t go to a convention without going to the parties.” So on the last night of the convention I went to Karma. Being the driver, I didn’t seek out what was ‘ready. ‘ Since I was certain that either a People Magazine photographer or super-sleuth Brian Lawson would capture the moment, I elected not to fill the dance floor, not for fear I’d be photographed dancing with someone, but merely for the fear I’d be photographed dancing.
Since the crowd was largely Hispanic and since we were celebrating the 2008 Hispanic Vote, I carried on several conversations in Spanish. The fact that I can’t speak Spanish was not much of an impediment since I couldn’t understand what was being asked and no one could hear what I was saying.
It was a rather surreal experience to stand to the side and watch the crowd dance against the backdrop of strobe lights and a Spanish language soap opera being shown on dozens of TVs throughout the room. Add to that the sound of the music and the smell of perfume, and it was indeed the case that every sense was stimulated.
As I stood there and took it all in, I recalled a lyric from a similar scene from long ago at a high school dance where I actually did. The lyric comes from Three Dog Night:
“I seen so many things
I ain’t never seen before”
Karma and Three Dog Night capture the essence of the last two weeks.
For two weeks, I have stood on the sidelines watching and I have witnessed over-the-top ‘politics.’ There were many times in which I found myself unable to understand the meaning of what was being said. There were moments when I didn’t know whether to watch (or not watch) the stage or the Jumbotron, because I couldn’t watch both. I felt out of place most of the time, and yet the longer I was in Denver and St. Paul, the greater yearning I had to be part of the dance. This was true, in spite of the fact; it was a dance with which I had little acquaintance. I realized these two weeks that there is nothing stopping me from raising my voice and requesting a different kind of music, but in 2008, like in junior high school, I stood on the side of the dance floor watching others request the music and do the dancing.
Convention 2008 may be gone, but 2012 is on the way. I have a chance to learn a new language, learn a new dance, and find a way to speak to the music that will be played. It was okay to come and sit on the sidelines of the convention once, but democracy needs more dancers (and a gluten-free platform).
It was extremely fitting to end my convention and this blog at Karma, because it introduced me to the future of American politics. The rising force in American politics is Hispanic. It is not a monolithic group, but it is becoming sizable enough to determine the direction democracy will take in these United States during the 21st Century. They have gotten off the sidelines, and while on this night in the Twin Cities they may go unnoticed, they will soon be taking center stage on the dance floor of democracy.
I don’t believe in Karma, but I believe that those within its walls tonight will have a large say in whether the future holds more good or bad.
Vaya Con Dios.
September 5, 2008
2008 Convention Odyssey is at an end and this is my next to last post. As I drove around St. Paul and Minneapolis this afternoon and reflected on all that has taken place, Kenny Loggins’ song “Highway to the Danger Zone” filled my consciousness. It was played last night immediately prior to McCain’s acceptance speech. Coming from the movie “Top Gun” it works wonderfully as an introduction to John McCain. But as the lyric seeps further into my consciousness, it helps me put words to the two areas of both conventions that caused me the most personal discomfort: God and Country.
Some might be surprised God is on the list. Being a minister you might expect that I am pleased that the Democrats have ‘gotten’ it on religion and that both political parties made faith in God a central thematic element of their speeches, music, and prayer.
Others might be surprised Country is on the list. After all, living without Country is virtually impossible to imagine. Aside from God what could be so important? Indeed.
I don’t have a problem with God or Country. I love both and I wouldn’t be here without them. It is because I have enormous respect for both that I react adversely when either are politicized.
Hannah Arendt and Jean Bethke Elshtain have written about the limits of politics and the importance of boundaries. Not everything ought to be political and not everything ought to be public.
We need to be able to have the fullest debate about the ideals for which our republic stands, as well as every aspect of domestic and foreign policy, including the use of military force. Moreover, we need to bring our deepest beliefs, including all of our thoughts on God, to the public square when we engage the debate.
What deeply concerns me is when God and Country become ideological symbols used for political ends. When challenging an idea is depicted or derided as unpatriotic or unChristian, it doesn’t facilitate public debate, but stifles it. Both parties crossed the line at various points these past two weeks. When a Rabbi or a Minister gets up and prays for the election of a specific candidate, it crosses the line. When we are told that one specific way to think about foreign policy is patriotic, it crosses the line. Neither Obama or McCain crossed the line, but there were those at each convention who did.
Politicizing God and Country is dangerous. It stifles free speech and discussion by saying that any subject baptized with a religious or patriotic invocation is off-limits for discussion.
There is something sacred about free speech, and protecting it requires keeping it possible to discuss all things. It requires that we recognize that there are some things ‘higher’ than politics.
As I looked at St. Paul in the aftermath of the anti-war protests, and reflected on the anti-abortion protests in Denver I could not help but wonder to what degree they are signs warning us of the danger zone.
September 5, 2008
A chill went through my being as John Rich’s new song, “Raising McCain,” serenaded the Xcel Energy Center, while John and Cindy McCain stood waiving to a cheering crowd while being covered in waves of confetti and balloons.
Just one week to the night after seeing something unbelievable in Denver, I saw lightning strike a second time. It was a different kind of lightning, but it was still the lightning of political excellence.
I will write at least one more blog entry over the next few days trying to compare and contrast the two conventions and candidates. There have been few times in my memory when we have been presented with Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates of such contrast on so many levels
The Republicans didn’t come close to matching the Democrats in terms of putting together a Presidential acceptance celebration. Last Thursday at Invesco Field was a phenomenal achievement, but last night had its own excellence. While this was a much smaller crowd and it was not a crowd that forgot itself, it was still a crowd that was genuinely moved to support John McCain. John McCain received twice as many standing ovations than Obama received at Invesco Field. Some of this is simply due to the fact that Obama spoke in flowing verse that lent itself to fewer applause lines, whereas McCain spoke in sentences with virtually every one an applause line.
Yet still, the ovations were genuine. John McCain elevated his game on the biggest stage of his life. Until tonight I had never seen John McCain give a good speech. I had seen him perform at the highest level in town hall meetings throughout New Hampshire. What Obama is to oratorical excellence, McCain is to Town Hall meetings. He takes any and every question, and answers them clearly and directly. He can do it so well that I’ve seen people leave the meetings deciding to vote for him even though they don’t agree with anything he said. He has the ability to genuinely listen to people, show them respect, and people genuinely respond.
He can do this so effectively for many reasons, one of which is that his words have an authenticity that few possess. It is an authenticity that is earned in 5 ½ years as a POW. He draws on that authenticity when responding to any and every questions and he displayed that in his acceptance speech. He spoken with such clarity, that it almost substituted for eloquence. Like him or not, its hard to doubt his authenticity and sincere commitment.
The most riveting moment of the speech came when he proclaimed that the Republican Party had lost the faith of the American people in the way it had conducted itself for the last 8 years. Immediately, an uncomfortable silence fell upon the auditorium. He was criticizing the very people who had paid a lot of money to be delegates to the convention, and everyone knew it.
It was at that moment he announced that he was running for President of the United States and not the President of the Republican Party.
This was an authentic moment and a risky move. Authentic, because everyone knew it was true. John McCain is not a party establishment guy, and hasn’t been for 2 decades. Risky, because in point of fact he is not well loved within the party. Given that Obama will be able to outspend him dramatically in the next 8 weeks (which is all that is left before the election), he will need all the good will and volunteers possible.
Yet after the audience pondered, they embraced him as their President. It was at this moment that the Xcel Energy Center became electric. He sealed the deal with the delegates tonight and based on the overnight polling, he connected with the American people as well. In overnight polling CBS has him closing an 8 point gap so that he is dead even with Obama at 42%.
As I come away from the convention, there is very striking contrasts between the candidates. In Denver Barack Obama began the final phase of his campaign by running for President as a Democrat. In St. Paul, John McCain announced to the Republican Convention that he is running for President as an American.
The race is now on. Obama has behind him the largest political organization ever assembled. He will be able to run a campaign in all 50 states and match McCain ad for ad. McCain can’t compete in that fashion. But he wouldn’t do it if he could.
John McCain uses a playbook all his own: Raising McCain.
The next two months ought to be fascinating. Since many of us don’t know enough about the candidates to properly evaluate them, it means that we will each have to think for ourselves over the next 2 months. That is good for Democracy. Alexis de Tocqueville would approve of that message.
The Republicans Find Their Groove (and a Few Good Women)
September 4, 2008
During these two weeks I have discovered that as political parties, the Democrats and Republicans are simply incomparable. At least this cycle, the Republicans are the poorer sibling. The Republicans have much less money, their convention has smaller crowds, less energy, less food, and fall short in production.
The Republicans are very much still feeling the wounds of 2006 and a President that has disappointed them. One additional point of comparison is the number of elected officials at the conventions. Virtually all of the Democratic statewide elected officials were in Denver, and that is not the case for Republicans in St. Paul. The press here outnumber the elected officials.
One gets the feeling that many in the party perceived that this would be the convention to nowhere, and that the decision to steer clear of the McCain Express was survival instinct.
Yet after last night, the Republicans and the Straight Talk Express are, to quote Pearl Jam, “still alive.” Very much so.
For two hours last night they at least equaled the very best of what we saw in Denver and they may have had a crescendo all to themselves.
Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Rudy Giuliani did what the Clintons did not; endorse their party’s presidential nominee with all their mind, heart, and soul. While Romney gave a good scripted political speech from his heart, Huckabee reached within himself to find the authenticity to genuinely ask us as nation to make the upcoming campaign a debate about ideas, and not a referendum on race. Giuliani gave one of the best speeches of the last two weeks by rediscovering the Rudy that led New York City and the nation following 9/11. By the time Giuliani was done, the Xcel Energy center was electric (by Republican standards) and it was clear that the convention had finally, 48 hours in, begun.
But last night needed to have a real authentic crescendo, and two good women delivered it. They gave this convention the one thing that Denver lacked, a surprise attack. In Denver, we knew what was coming, the expectations were high, and the Democrats delivered (no small task). In Saint Paul, we were introduced to assets the Republicans had kept hidden in the form of two women governors from the West.
This was Sarah Palin’s night. But what prepared her to be believable was the speech of Linda Lingle, the Governor of Hawaii.
Before yesterday afternoon I did not know Hawaii had a Republican Governor, let alone a female one. When I saw her name on the speakers list, I thought that putting her after Huckabee and Romney was about as intelligent as putting me after Karl Rove; mere fodder for channel surfers.
But when she began speaking she drew everyone in. She was quietly magnificent. She was so good that the woman next to me asked three minutes in, “Who is she?” and six minutes later, ”Why didn’t McCain pick her?” Linda Lingle communicated something far more important than words. Her competence and confidence raised the hopes of everyone in Xcel in regard to the quality of Sarah Palin. You could feel the collective relief and excitement build as people began to realize that if John McCain selected Palin instead of Lingle, Palin might indeed be something special. Linda Lingle told the nation that the Republicans have a deeper bench of governors than anyone knew.
As soon as Rudy left the stage, Sarah Palin stepped to the microphone. After the first few minutes where nerves seemed to distract her, she found her groove and helped the Republicans find theirs.
She delivered the two things every Vice-Presidential acceptance speech must:
- Introduce yourself to the nation in a vice-presidential manner.
- Explain why your running mate is the best person for the job.
She did a better job of this than most, and everyone in Xcel, and especially the press knew it. Afterwards you could hear countless Republicans say in unison, “We’ve got a chance.” Afterwards you could sense the press had just been given red meat, and they were visibly excited “We’ve got a race to cover.” As I listened I could not help but wonder what Obama, Biden, and the Clintons were thinking. I wondered if there were any high fives tonight on the Obama team.
We will see in the weeks to come, as the press and the public vets the two campaigns, whether Sarah Palin has the right stuff.
What is clear is that the Republicans have more than a few good women.
In fact they are so good, that John McCain has some work to do in his acceptance speech tonight. The last thing he wants to do now is leave the delegates and the nation daydreaming about a ticket that might have contained two Republican governors from the West.
September 4, 2008
My former student, Tom DeRosa, called me last night to ask if I would speak this morning at the breakfast meeting of the New Hampshire Convention Delegation. Having attended yesterday morning’s breakfast with an All-Start speaking line-up I instantly looked for a way out. So I played my “convention speaking invitation avoidance” trump card. It always works.
“Tom, I’d love to do it, but since I am vice-chair of the NH Executive Branch Ethics Commission I can’t endorse any candidate and my remarks would have to be neutral in connection to every election campaign.”
Knowing that every such breakfast is a pep fest for McCain and Palin, I was not prepared for Tom’s reply
“Great, thanks for doing it. We need a second speaker and I couldn’t find anyone else.”
So, armed with another four hours of sleep, and coffee left over from last night, I dragged myself out of bed and to the Hennepin Room of the Minneapolis Hilton. Being in a second consecutive week of a sleep deprived state I had not noticed all the media in the room when I arrived. Rather I instantly went for the coffee and whatever gluten-free tidbits I could find.
Seeing another former student in the room, Allison Welch, I asked her if I was speaking first or second? She looked at me with pity and said she had no idea and curiously excused herself.
So I sat down and began to eat. You can understand why I literally inhaled all of my tidbits at once when the first speaker was announced: Karl Rove.
My friend Scott instantly looked at me, patted me on the back, and assured me that he’d be there for me next week as a pallbearer.
For the next 10 minutes I was simultaneously transfixed by Karl Rove’s rhetoric and wondering how in the world I was going to follow him with a soliloquy on what Alexis de Tocqueville had to say about “Democracy in America” with this audience.
“Hi, I’m Dale Kuehne, and I want to speak with you about a dead Frenchman.”
“Hi, I’m Dale Kuehne, and I’m having a heart-attack.”
There is no way to begin such a talk. But in the best tradition of the theater I went on with the show. The world did not end and no lives were lost.
If I had time to think I would have begun to obsess about how the press would report my talk. But I didn’t have time. Earlier this week, in a moment of weakness, I disregarded my first cardinal rule of political life–never do live TV—and I agreed to do a live TV spot at Noon on ABC. (As of today I now have a second cardinal law, never agree to speak following Karl Rove)
So even though I didn’t have time for a needed change of clothes I drove to the Xcel Center for my interview. Only when I got there, did I discover I was going to be interviewed live by Sam Donaldson.
At this point, I passed out of consciousness.
As the Broken Records sing, “If the news makes you sad, don’t watch TV.”
When I came to, the ABC staff were scraping the make-up off my face, and everyone was telling me what a good job I did.
Amnesia is a gift.
But when Sam himself thanked me for my contribution, I left ABC feeling a little too good about myself. I was deluding grandeur all afternoon.
But after the caffeine and adrenaline had subsided, I fell fast asleep in my seat tonight after the National Anthem. I instantly engaged in an epic dream rooted in an ego gone wild. It seems John McCain decided he wasn’t made of the right stuff and had withdrawn from the Presidential race. Sarah Palin was taking his place, and she was speaking with me about being her vice-president. To show how far my ego was misleading me, I said yes, and in so doing thoughtlessly threw away my career on the N.H. State Executive Branch Ethics Commission. Immediately, I went about writing my acceptance speak for tonight. “Change a Dead Frenchman Believed In.” But before I could have my moment, I fell over and hit my head on the railing in front of me.
As I woke up I realized how much I am missing Rachel.
I need some serious centering and a change of clothes.
My new convention mantra, “Just Say No.”
When Did Blue Become Red?
September 3, 2008
I’m glad I’ve got tenure, because I am beginning to wonder if I have ever understood American politics. This two-week immersion into Presidential Campaigns and Conventions is completely altering my understanding of the two parties. Today helped me get in touch with a question that has been nagging at me for years:
When did Blue change to Red?
Back when I went to college, Republicans were associated with the word blue, and Democrats were associated with the word red. On election night the blue states were Republican states and red states were Democratic states. But since at least the 2000 election the colors representing the two parties have been reversed and that’s not all that has been reversed.
I came into this convention experience with an understanding of the two parties that has proven to be largely upside down.
I assumed the Democrats were more disorganized, more poorly financed, less disciplined, and more angry than the Republicans. I assumed the Republicans put on better parties, held more coherent conventions, not merely because they were more corporate, but because they were wealthier and more worldly wise.
I thought I might have exaggerated when I published the Slow Parade blog at 2:00am CDT this morning. I thought it was a fair reflection of the day, but I suspected that it was probably an unfair assessment of the Republican convention as a whole. Sitting with the idea for 24 hours has led me to the conclusion I got it right after all.
The two conventions are almost beyond comparison. The Democratic convention was brilliantly conceived, well financed, well executed, and from start to finish an experience of sensory overload in which they utterly controlled the message. Moreover, because they so overwhelmed the media with large quantities of scripted, disciplined events, none of us in the media had time to do anything else but absorb the message they created. (I think Sean Hannity is still trying to get over it.) It was a theme of technical beauty and the best convention money can buy.
After two days of the Republican convention, save for this morning breakfast meeting and the final hour tonight, it strikes me as two days of poorly executed missed opportunities. The nicest thing that can be said about the Republican Convention so far are the Volunteers from Minnesota. Today’s ‘Minnesota nice’ story come from the volunteers who came by to personally apologize to each and every member of the press in the press box, because the Secret Service was making them be strict and they didn’t want to hurt our feelings. The media guy sitting next to me from New York City asked the nice woman if she was a member of some kind of ‘cult.’ She just said, “No, young man, I’m from Minnesota.”
This RNC program started too late in the day to take full advantage of the news cycle. The Democrats gave the press 6 hours of intense programming for 4 straight days. The Republicans gave us 4-½ hours the first two days of the convention, and until Fred Thompson presented the story of John McCain, the convention was a non-stop argument for caffeine. It wasn’t that there wasn’t a story to be told, but it was told looking backward. The visual images, the dress, the music, the cinema asked those of us in attendance to look backward to an era that, for the most part, no longer exists and cannot be recovered unless it is presented in a compelling fashion. Good politics pays deference to the past while always looking ahead.
What’s worse is that there is virtually no caffeine available in the arena. Only 5% of the concession stands are open. It is gluten-friendly because it is actually hard to find anything to eat. (Really) Why the free-market doesn’t work at a Republican convention is beyond me.
Moreover, I think a case can be made that the Republican establishment is more angry about the nomination of John McCain, than Hillary supporters are upset with Obama, or the anti-war protesters are venting on everyone. The Republican Establishment channels their personal anger in passive-aggressive behavior manifest in substandard fundraising for John McCain. The disapproval of John McCain by the Established wing of the party is clearly evident. The fact that the Obama campaign has raised $300,000,000 more than tells the story.
Yet before the Republican readers of this blog dismiss me as an agent of the Citizens for the American Way, Air America, the ACLU, or the Huffington Post, the truth is that during the last hour of yesterday’s Republican convention two moments occurred that were deeper than anything we witnessed in Denver last week, and depending on how they went over on TV (and whether anyone was still awake to watch), they may have surpassed, in their own way, the crescendos of Denver.
The first was the story of John McCain, as told by Fred Thompson. It is a story so profound that there were moments when the entire audience and press corps were absolutely riveted. The room was so still and people focused their full attention on his story. Whether you like or dislike McCain’s politics or personality, his life story, past and present, commands respect. I didn’t listen to the pundits tonight, but even those like Chris Matthews had to give McCain is due. To do otherwise is to live without any pretense to journalistic integrity.
But even so, Thompson’s telling of McCain’s story took 2nd place to Senator Joe Lieberman’s endorsement speech. It was understated, but so authentic that it emerged as the most poignant moment of either convention. It was a far better speech than the one he gave when he accepted the Democratic VP nomination 8 years ago. It was as if tonight he was unleashed to give his speech and he delivered. It took real courage for him to do it, but he crossed the aisle, and did it. Everyone in the room knew the price he was paying to give it, and as a result, when Lieberman nailed the delivery it was greeted with the loudest applause of the night. It communicated the message that despite their disadvantage in organization and money, the Republicans have reason to believe that McCain and Palin can make a case for their ticket that is so deeply compelling they might just win the election.
Which brings us to tonight and Governor Palin’s acceptance speech. The enthusiasm building up to her speech is equal to the anticipation for Obama last Thursday night. The major difference being that the expectations on Obama’s were very high, whereby it is only the hopes that are high for her.
If she comes out and nails the speech and the landing, and then if on Thursday night McCain builds on the enthusiasm by improving on what Fred Thompson did last night, McCain/Palin have a real chance to win in November. But it won’t be because they have the wealthiest, most organized, organization
Blue has changed to Red in many ways. Now I need to try and figure out why and how.
Next Page »