By JOHN GLADDEN
The national pep rallies â€¦ er, conventions â€¦ are past, and the pieces of the 2008 presidential race are spread out on the kitchen table like a jigsaw puzzle. Sit down, pour a cup of coffee, and letâ€™s see what kind of a picture we can begin to piece together.
It was a beautiful thing when the Republican Party suspended the politics of its convention to focus on Gulf Coast residents impacted by Hurricane Gustav. One couldnâ€™t help but wonder: What if both parties did this? Like, every time?
What if they crammed all the made-for-TV huzzahs into one night, all the actual business into another night, and then did something useful? Such as raise money for cancer research or for scholarships â€¦ or just go home and save us some money?
Taxpayers shelled out $133 million for the Democratic and GOP conventions for security and other costs. Contributors hoping to get on the good sides of the powerful gave another $112 million toward the party parties.
It was the first time in 40 years an incumbent president did not appear at his partyâ€™s convention. In 1968, LBJ stayed home at his ranch. George Bush stayed home to mind the federal response to Hurricane Gustav and mailed in his convention speech via video. Dick Cheney was dispatched almost literally to Siberia for the duration. Perhaps deep thinkers felt the best thing Bush could do for John McCain was show the Republican administration had learned its lesson from Hurricane Katrina.
Bushâ€™s presidency turned on his failure to carry out the mandate of the world to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. Every problem could have unfolded the same way â€¦ the economy, Abu Ghraib, Valerie Plame â€¦ and Bush still could have left office a hero if heâ€™d spent Americaâ€™s military might and international goodwill searching the caves of Afghanistan instead of the palaces of Baghdad. This election â€” and the president and his party â€” would look a lot different today.
One of Al Goreâ€™s mistakes in 2000 was marginalizing Bill Clinton. Warts and all, Clinton remained popular and could have made a difference on the campaign trail. In the same way, Bush retains the power and prestige of the presidency. If McCain loses a close contest, his handlers will have to wonder if they repeated Goreâ€™s mistake.
This and that
Jobs, jobs, jobs. Who took them away and how do we create new ones? For every politician to blame, there are a million Americans addicted to cheap goods and services produced overseas. Our lifestyle of consumption isnâ€™t healthy or sustainable. Itâ€™s the part of the economy candidates canâ€™t afford to talk about, because we donâ€™t want to hear it.
I am weary of both candidates promising to wave economic magic wands. McCain has had a nearly 30-year entire Congressional career to fight for jobs. Barack Obama has little record of creating anything. This is not to discount his power to inspire, which is an important part of leadership.
The only national political figure in recent memory who compares with Obama in evoking sheer giddiness in supporters is Ronald Reagan â€” the smile, warmth and charisma combine to great effect. McCain is more like the presidentâ€™s father, George H.W. Bush, not exactly charismatic, but projecting confidence and experience.
Some have asked how many voters are likely to vote against Obama based on his race. I wonder how many people who tell their circle of friends they would never vote for a black man will behave differently in the privacy of the voting booth?
About Sarah Palin and the press. Any decent person wishes the media would leave the children of politicians and celebrities alone. The problem is there always has been an indecent appetite for junk news. About all we can do is make healthy news-consumption decisions for ourselves and encourage others to do the same.
While her kids themselves should be off limits, Palinâ€™s status as a parent is in the news because the campaign put it there, offering her as an everywoman who understands todayâ€™s families. Palin introduced herself to the nation as â€œa hockey mom,â€ after all.
I hope to hear Palin say a lot more about what sheâ€™s learned parenting a large family that includes a teenager who soon will become a parent herself, a special-needs child and a son leaving for Iraq â€” and hope it prompts thoughtful discussion.
Thatâ€™s the ticket
Both tickets are a mixed bag. Obama and Palin are long on promise and rock-star appeal, but short on experience. The good thing about McCain and Joe Biden is they are Washington insiders. The bad thing about McCain and Biden is, well â€¦ they are Washington insiders.
Partisans will see only what they want to see in either side. Those with honest leanings, but who recognize the plusses and minuses in both tickets, will work at the puzzle and be pleasantly annoyed by the task of fitting these pieces together by Election Day.
Like many voters, I find McCain and Obama each have qualities I like and others that concern me. Too bad we canâ€™t go back to the early days when the candidate with the most votes on Election Day got to be president and the runner-up got to be vice president. Clearly, the Founders saw something they liked in the idea of political balance in the White House. This set-up didnâ€™t last for long, only until 1804, but itâ€™s still interesting to consider.
I have appreciated the moments in this long contest â€” at journalist Tim Russertâ€™s funeral and later this week on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks â€” that McCain and Obama suspended their campaigns long enough to appear together in support of something that transcends politics.
So, it can be done â€” when the interests of money and power can be shamed into the background. With a McCain-Obama or Obama-McCain administration, maybe weâ€™d see some of this dramatic change both campaigns promise.
A collection of Gladdenâ€™s columns, â€œHow to Elevate a Cow,â€ is available in area bookstores and at www.medina-gazette.com. Gladden may be contacted at email@example.com or 330-721-4052.