Sunday, October 19, 2008

McCain, Palin, and Joe the Plumber

I watched John McCain at the Alfred E Smith Dinner on Thursday. He was funny. He was relaxed. And, most of all, he was natural – the John McCain of old.

There was a time when John McCain was different. He stood up to the extremes of Washington and was the darling of the media. Well, the latter, at least the eastern elite kind, may not be as important, but in all fairness, McCain was a genuinely likable politician.

Then came campaign 2008. It was a complete turnaround. McCain gave in too much to the orthodoxy of the Republican right wing.

Take Sarah Palin, for example. Of all the able candidates in the Republican Party, McCain picked someone that he had met only once before. And that too, it seems, without an extensive vetting process. No matter how passionate Palin might be, or how much she might have energized the base, it is quite obvious that Palin is not even close to having the experience required to be the VP, let alone stepping into the presidency if situation required.

Even at her Saturday Night Live appearance last night, Palin did nothing to step up to quash her sub-par perception. Rather than deliver the punch lines herself, she was simply a bystander, who let Alec Baldwin tell her that she was “much hotter in person.”

It was surprising that someone who seems so at ease to deliver “misleading-at-best” lines about Obama and his campaign had nothing much to say during the much anticipated appearance. Self deprecating humor is good, but I don’t know if being steamrolled by the SNL cast helped the McCain campaign.

The McCain campaign seems confused about what message to adopt. It appears that they are ready to let some volleys out and see what sticks. Yes, the campaign is in deep crisis, but a constant stream of tactical blunders is not going to get the campaign anywhere. Imagine McCain at the Oval Office, in the midst of a deepening financial crisis and throwing unrelated ideas after ideas into the problem hoping that something works. Not a very pleasant scenario!

After spending over a week on Bill Ayers and ACORN, the McCain campaign’s message now seems to have focused around Joe the Plumber. It is not surprising that like Palin, Joe wasn’t vetted properly either. For someone who is the center piece of McCain’s counter argument against Obama’s tax plans, you’d have expected the campaign to pick someone they knew better than a face on YouTube.

But no. In another “mavericky” move, McCain brought up Joe the Plumber 21 times during Wednesday’s debate. Then God knows how many times Joe’s name has been invoked in campaign rallies. The story that Joe’s quarter-of-a-million-dollar business would face higher taxes under Obama is neither a good one nor accurate.

It’s like a slow five-foot-six person talking about becoming an NBA player. Apparently Joe, whose real name is Samuel, owes $1,200 in back taxes to the state of Ohio, made only $42,000 in 2006 (far from the $250,000 that he talked about with Obama), and doesn’t even have a plumbing license.

Instead of refining their story around someone or something more credible, the McCain campaign lashed at the Obama camp for attacking Joe! Well, it’s the same campaign that lashed out against Katie Couric for asking Sarah Palin what magazine she reads and which Supreme Court decision she disagrees with.

In any case, the real John McCain would be different. But would he? The bigger question is who is the real Jon McCain? Or better yet, who is in charge of John McCain’s campaign?

The elections are only a sixteen days away. From picking Sarah Palin to declaring that the “fundamentals of our economy are strong” a mere 24 hours after Lehman Brothers collapsed, John McCain has shown poor judgment to lead this great nation, especially at a great crisis that it is facing. It won’t be a surprise if voters don’t send him to the White House on November 4.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

On William Ayers, Obama and McCain

The Obama-McCain debate on Tuesday was largely uneventful. None of the two candidates really rose to the occasion. Both of them did a reasonably good job, but Barack Obama stood out as more calm, collected and cool headed. John McCain, on the other hand, appeared to be restless, too eager to make a point and, at least on one occasion, looked awfully rude when he referred to Barack Obama as “that one!”

However, what amazed me was not what was said in the debate, but what was not. After days of questioning Barack Obama’s judgment and readiness to be President, McCain was mum on that issue during the debate. You see, starting last Thursday the McCain-Palin campaign has been talking about Obama’s association with William Ayers, a Chicago professor who was once the leader of a terrorist organization. Palin even went as far as to claim that Obama is “palling around with terrorists” like Bill Ayers.

When asked how the Ayers association is relevant to the campaign, both McCain and Palin have said that it brings out Obama’s judgment and highlights the fact that he is not trustworthy to lead the United States. Now, those are some serious charges. Especially coming from someone like McCain, who prides on his honor and the campaign that always talks about putting country first.

The question, then, is this: if this issue is so important for the voters to know about, and if Barack Obama is indeed such a risky proposition for the United States, why didn’t McCain bring it up during the debate and question Obama directly? If McCain indeed puts country first and if this issue is indeed that important for the United states, why wasn’t a single word uttered about it during the debate?

The explanations may be many, but the answer is simple to me. Either John McCain doesn’t put country first or the Bill Ayers issue is deliberately blown out of proportion by the McCain Camp.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Country First - the Un-American Way

Alright, so here’s the latest barrage of attacks. At a time when the United States is going through one of its roughest times in history, Sarah Palin is going around saying nonsense about Barack Obama. Just because of a few encounters he had with William Ayers, Palin is claiming that Obama is “palling around with terrorists!” However, besides blurting out the words maverick, hockey-mom, and joe sixpack numerous times, she’s mostly stayed mum about how John McCain and Sarah Palin are going to fix the economic mess.

Oh, wait could one of the reasons be the bail-out bill that Senator McCain voted for? Wasn’t that bill laden with Pork-barrel projects? And, wasn’t pork-reform a major premise of McCain’s vision about how he would reform Washington? Are they planning to bring people together? Or are they better at bringing people down by statements that are blatantly misleading at best?

If Sarah Palin can’t name magazines or newspapers she reads, it’s the media’s fault. If Sarah Palin gives a rambling response to a question regarding her foreign policy experience, it’s the “gotcha!” journalism that’s at fault. If she looks hopelessly unprepared for the job of the Vice Presidency, it’s the Georgetown cocktail circuit’s fault. And it’s Barack Obama’s fault if, based on the above points, the American people don’t trust McCain and Palin to steer the economy in the right direction.

John McCain, with the help of Sarah Palin, is supposed to bring people together and restore dignity back to Washington. What a great start! Going deeper, it seems like their campaign is trying to portray Obama as un-American. They cannot really articulate his race, so they seem to be taking a roundabout way to get to that issue.

However, they say that when you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you. A core value of the American culture and of the American success story is the deep-rooted respect and dignity for individuals. By blaming others for their missteps, trying to “change the topic” and propagating falsehoods about Barack Obama, the McCain-Palin team is blatantly challenging the intelligence of the hockey moms and the Joe sixpacks that they seem to covet so much. Is that really a maverick move? Further yet, what could be more un-American than that?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Joe Biden - Sarah Palin Debate

Watched the Vice Presidential debate last night. I thought it went pretty well. Gwen Ifill was nothing but a thoroughly professional moderator. The participants were gracious, for most part, and handled themselves quite well.

There was a stark difference between the two on substance, though. While it was apparent Joe Biden was bringing all his experience and knowledge, the only thing Sarah Palin was doing was rehashing a few talking points that she was given at debate school. She definitely performed better than her previous three network-TV interviews, but they were so bad that anything short of how she performed would have been nothing sort of catastrophic for the McCanin-Palin ticket.

While Biden actually seemed to answer the questions on hand, Palin seemed to be giving one-line responses and circling back to one of her talking points—energy, maverick, etc. Asked what campaign promise would a McCain-Palin administration have to break given the current economic conditions, her response was a measly “I have only been in it for five months, so I haven’t made any promises!” She kept on repeating the untrue line about Barack Obama raising taxes for all. Independent analyses have proven that it would not be the case.

Traditionally, the role of the VP pick during the campaign season is to attack the other presidential candidate. I though Joe Biden did that quite effectively, although he did let out a few misleading lines of his own. Governor Palin, on the other hand, wasn’t able to do that. Not because she didn’t have the opportunities—there were several openings that Biden provided that she could have pounced on. However, Sarah Palin was working too hard for herself, trying to quell the general perception (derived, most recently, from her Katie Couric interview), that she was not up to the task of assuming the Vice Presidency of the United States.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Debating Low Bar vs. High Aims

Election Day 2008 is only 34 days ahead. I am starting this blog as a tribute to the US system. US system as a whole – political, commercial, civil – you name it! America never ceases to amaze me. The constitution written by visionary men over 220 years ago is still vibrant, functioning and relevant. The innovative culture that this “land of opportunities” embraced is a big part of America’s success. America was lucky to have all those patriots guide the course of history after its independence. A lot of emerging democracies would be lucky to have a handful of people like those.

In any case, I am writing this blog to express my own opinions about the upcoming presidential election and beyond. On November 4, 2008, Americans will select the 44th President of the United States. I comment on various aspects of the next presidency for the next four (or more) years. Given the current times, the new president will face very important challenges. And how he handles those challenges will go a long way in defining America’s future.

I’ve been following the debates. What baffles me is this whole notion of “lowering expectations.” The Vice Presidential debate is tomorrow. All talk is about how Governor Palin has set such a low bar; as if all she has to do is speak a few coherent sentences and the debate goes her way! And if Senator Biden has sufficient control over his mouth, he’ll do fine.

But wait, isn’t that notion of lowering expectations directly contradictory to the core American value of aiming high and achieving your dreams? America is supposed to be the land of innovation where anything is possible. And when it comes to selecting people to lead this great land, the underlying concept seems to be “aim low and do just better than that.” That’s not America. If that’s not what we teach our children, how come the leaders get away with that pathetic notion?