Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
Speaking at the Democratic convention on Wednesday night, Senator Evan Bayh made a qualified case against John McCain: he's a good man who has made some bad decisions. Senator John Kerry, who hit the podium later on, sharpened the attack and raised questions about McCain's integrity, age, and fondness for military confrontation.
Candidate McCain now supports the very wartime tax cuts that Senator McCain once called irresponsible. Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCain's own climate change bill. Candidate McCain says he would now vote against the immigration bill that Senator McCain wrote. Are you kidding me, folks? Talk about being for it before you're against it.
So remember, when we choose a commander-in-chief this November, we are electing judgment and character, not years in the Senate or on this earth.
Eagerness for military confrontation:
John McCain stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier just three months after 9/11 and proclaimed, "Next up, Baghdad!," Barack Obama saw, even then, "an occupation" of "undetermined length, undetermined cost, undetermined consequences" that would, in his words, "only fan the flames of the Middle East." Well, guess what? Mission accomplished.
Kerry also took a swing at McCain for adopting "Rove tactics" and depending upon GOP Rove-bots to win election--and for perpetuating the politics of "Swift boating." For Democrats looking for a side of anger with their hope, Kerry came through.
The only question was this: would there be a hint of resentment or reluctance in her speech, any sign of holding back? But Hillary Clinton, on the second night of the Democratic convention and in a much-anticipated speech, offered a loud and clear message to her supporters: get behind Barack Obama. In the opening moments of her speech, she identified herself as a "a proud supporter of Barack Obama" and declared,
I haven't spent the past 35 years in the trenches advocating for children, campaigning for universal health care, helping parents balance work and family, and fighting for women's rights at home and around the world...to see another Republican in the White House.
No ambiguity there.
Prior to the speech, a parlor game for the politerati assembled in Denver was to trade gossip and rumors indicating that the Clintons might not be fully with the elect-Obama program. A prominent Obama supporter said she had heard that the Clinton speech would be "bad for us." A reporter said that he had heard that a top Clinton aide was trash-talking Obama to other reporters. This all fed the only narrative of conflict at the convention: the Clintons versus Obama. But right before the speech, Joe Lockhart, who was a press secretary for President Bill Clinton, said to me that Hillary Clinton would put this subplot to rest.
The first evening of the Democratic convention was Warm and Fuzzy Night. There were a host of speeches over several hours. Veterans, workers, elected officials of different colors and genders, and common folks addressed the thousands of delegates in Denver's Pepsi Center. But none of that mattered. The two main prime-time features were a tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy, who is fighting brain cancer, and Michelle-fest, a celebration of Barack Obama's wife. After a film highlighting Kennedy's long political career and his passion for sailing, the liberal lion of the Senate delivered a rousing speech declaring "the dream lives on." It was an emotional moment--and an authentic one. Minutes later, the convention turned to its next order of business: demonstrating to voters that Michelle Obama is a fine woman, who loves her fine family, and who would make a fine first lady. Throughout the night, there was not much bashing of the most unpopular president in recent decades and little smacking of John McCain.
The iconification of Michelle Obama--daughter, wife, mother and professional--was perhaps an obligatory exercise. Narrating a film about her daughter, Michelle Obama's mother revealed that Michelle is a "wonderful, caring mother" who has been able to "find a balance between a career and being a mom." In the film, Barack Obama noted how "kindhearted" her deceased father had been. Michelle and Barack cutely recalled their early days of courtship. (She resisted; he persisted.) Then her older brother came on stage and shared the facts that she woke him up early on Christmas mornings, played piano to calm him down before big games in high school, and memorized every episode of The Brady Bunch.
Next, Michelle delivered a speech in which she noted that her personal story--and that of her husband--shows "that the American dream endures." Noting how hard so many Americans work to provide for their kids, she said, "That is why I love this country."
She handled the speech well, and it was full of passages that seemed genuinely heartfelt. She also praised Senator Hillary Clinton for having put "those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling," graciously using the disputed popular vote count promoted by the Clinton campaign during the primaries. But a question is, was all this I-love-my-family-and-country stuff necessary? The answer might be yes. Clearly, the Obama campaign was following recent political tradition: going Hallmark (or Lifetime) at the convention. ("I blame Ronald Reagan for this," lamented Salon's Walter Shapiro in the press section.) But in the case of the Obamas--due to their race, his unusual pedigree, and her comment about having not been proud of America (and the trashing she has received on right-wing talk radio)--it seemed that Team Obama had decided to lay it on awfully thick. The Obama campaign press release promoting her brother's speech noted he would "focus on values that shape her."
Political experts routinely maintain that voters' perceptions of politicians' values greatly influence how they vote. And that's probably especially true for those voters who pay less attention to the details of political races (such as the policy positions of the candidates) and who are, consequently, more driven by impressions. In other words, the undecided voters who decide elections. After the speech, Republican strategist Michael Murphy told me that he believed Michelle Obama had succeeded in "breaking down the wall" between her and some voters. But, he added, "I would have wanted more family talk in the speech and less candidate-y stuff about policies." But despite all the warmth she generated--and her speech was capped with a touching appearance of the two Obama daughters who spoke to their father through a video hookup--there was something demeaning about the whole exercise. At the Republican convention next week, will Cindy McCain have to prove she loves her kids and her country?
Today on Sean Hannity's radio show, Lanny Davis, who was one of Hillary Clinton's most prominent surrogates during the primaries, said:
You know, I would consider voting for McCain on character and on the kind of human being he is because I have great--I know him--I have great admiration for him. I would sleep well at night if John McCain is President. But on the issues, Barack Obama is for the issues that I care about.
That, as they might say at Obama HQ, is not helpful. If Hillary Hold-ons pose a problem for Barack Obama (as I noted earlier), then the key placers in Hillaryland have to do all they can to encourage these voters to put aside any resentment and swing behind Obama. Cynical political observers--and perhaps not-so-cynical observers--can wonder if Davis' remarks reflect a reluctance within the inner Clinton circle to do that and a desire to keep the anti-Obama pot boiling.
For over two decades, Democrats planning their party's presidential conventions have faced a dilemma: what to do with Jimmy Carter? After losing his reelection bid to Ronald Reagan in 1980, Carter was not the most popular fellow around. In the following years, the party wasn't eager to remind voters that Carter had once been its leaders. In recent years, Carter, while engaged in multiple humanitarian efforts at home and abroad, has sparked controversy with his candid talk about Middle East matters.
This time around, the convention planners devised a smart and appropriate way to use and acknowledge--and pay tribute--to one of the best ex-presidents in U.S. history. They showed a film in which Carter, labeled both president and humanitarian, interviewed victims of Hurricane Katrina in their still-devastated New Orleans neighborhoods. Carter also narrated the film, noting that Katrina "sent a signal around the world that our own government couldn't take care of own people." He noted that what has happened--and not happened--in New Orleans is similar to what he has seen in the poorest regions of the world. "We have been forgotten," one New Orleans resident told him, as he nodded sympathetically. That sympathy was obviously genuine. And Carter took the obvious jab at George W. Bush, noting that Barack Obama, if elected, will make sure that such an inadequate government response never happens again.
Once the film ended, Carter hit the stage, with his wife, Rosalynn. The thousands of Democratic delegates cheered loudly for them. He said nothing. He waved. He left. It was well done--and a reminder that this ex-president has been more effective than the current one.