I watched two speeches about a week ago. They were by Barack Obama and John McCain, respectively. The speeches were each candidate's speech opening the general election now that the primary season is FINALLY over (I know I'm late to talking about this, but I've been rolling it around in my head for awhile).
My impressions were as follows (I'll elaborate in a minute):
1. Barring a monumental, catastrophic screw-up by Obama, McCain is toast.
2. Man, Obama's great behind a lectern.
3. ...How did we come to this?
a. I have never seen a person so uninspiring and uncharismatic as John McCain. I've heard he's better during town hall meetings and the like, but... all you can think after watching that speech is a horrified "wow". The video I watched went for 21 minutes (I think. It may have been 23 or something) before the news cut him off. I wanted to turn it off after the first three minutes. Every time he smiled... well, this is going to sound gross, folks, but every time he smiled the only thing I could think of was how my dog Rusty used to look before he threw up. McCain praised Hillary Clinton (Hillary! Not his opponents in the Republican primary, but Hillary!) to high heaven, but had not one graceful thing to say about Obama. All he could manage was a snide and nasal "That's not change we can believe in" after mocking Obama's stances (which deserve mocking, don't get me wrong). It was a terrible speech in every way, from the words to McCain's delivery to that hideous green thing behind him to the "crowd" of maybe 75 people watching him. For heaven's sake, he's the nominee of the Republican party, and THIS was all he could manage? He paused for applause only to have it not arrive until people decided to fill the awkward silences. And to top it all off, it was an utterly graceless speech. No praising of his Republican opponents (that I remember), no kind words toward Obama... the speech left me with nothing except a lingering disgust.
b. I'd never seen any of the major candidates give a speech. We don't get TV reception in this house, so I get all of my news from reading. I had only the vaguest idea of what Obama even sounded like. And all of his speeches seem rather standard (or outrageous, depending on the venue) when you read them. But put him behind a lectern, and again, "wow", minus the horror of McCain. The man's delivery and grace were impeccable. He praised every one of his opponents from both sides, particularly Hillary, saying that if anything happened on health care it would be due to her (look for Hillary in an Obama cabinet as Secretary of Health and Human Services).His backdrop wasn't a sheet of kelly green paper, but a massive, packed stadium. It looked presidential (McCain's looked like the press conference that the coach of the losing team gives after a football game).
I think I see part of what people love about Obama. It's there in the first part of his speech, when he discusses the fact that real people elected him. Real people decided that they didn't like the way the country was going. And that part is true to the point of inspiring. People tend to forget the fall of the Berlin Wall and the revolutions of all the other Soviet satellites. People, or even one person, really do have the power to change the world. There is a huge, magnificent power in ideas, the kind of ideas that take root in a soul and make you see differently than you did before. There are ideas and people capable of pitching them that make you believe that near anything is possible. And the wonderful, terrifying thing about that is that it's true. West Germany's government didn't tear down the Berlin Wall, East German people did. There's the Orange Revolution, and the Rose Revolution, and dozens and maybe hundreds of others that happened because people refused to be spectators to the fate of their country anymore. THAT is the gift of Barack Obama-- the ability to make you see that you are, in fact, important.
Unfortunately, that's all there is to it. There is no genius behind the lectern, just a sadly inexperienced and out-of-touch one term Senator with no executive experience. Just a thorough-going politician like all the rest. He isn't the secular Messiah that some people, including himself, believe him to be: "I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal" is how he put it in his speech.
c. After watching these speeches, a quote kept floating through my head and disappearing before I could quite catch it. I finally trapped it the other day, and it wasn't just a quote, it was a scene from a movie. I imagine all of you (except maybe Amanda) have seen The Two Towers, the second movie of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. You'll remember Theoden, the king of Rohan, standing on the battlements of Helm's Deep, looking out over his meager army and then seeing the hordes of barbarians and orcs coming to kill his people. The lines on his face seem to deepen, and and with pain in his eyes and voice, he says, "How did it come to this?"
I suppose it might seem like an extreme analogy at first. But is it really? Thousands of terrorists scream for our blood every day. But that doesn't even concern me as much as the problems at home and next door. Who's heard of Mark Steyn? Anyone? He's a Canadian journalist, on "trial" for quoting someone in a way that someone else found offensive. The Canadian Human Rights Commission, which is devoid of rules of evidence, and is basically winging the trial, has never found someone not guilty in one of these show trials. And it has existed for over 30 years. It recently handed down another "verdict" saying that a Christian minister could never again say anything that could be deemed "derogatory" about homosexuals. Another Christian, a printer, was fined for refusing to print pro-pedophilia pamphlets. In CANADA. Want more examples? A woman in France was convicted for things she said about Islam. A fifteen-year-old kid was arrested in Britain for holding a sign saying "Scientology is a cult". And these are in nominally free countries. First-world countries, if that's the right term. How long is it until you are no longer free to speak your mind? You no longer are in Canada or Europe. America, in that regard among many others, is unique. America is also under siege. We won't be a free country for long if we don't stand up for ourselves. If we don't have the courage to say that the Founders were right when they said that certain things were inalienable rights. If we don't have the bravery and pride to be American, with ALL that that entails-- freedom and respect, competition and generosity, compassion and courage.
Which brings me back to Theoden. With terrorism and all the threats that it brings with it, deteriorating free speech around the world, and an economic crisis in the works, how did it happen that the two choices for leader of the free world are John McCain and Barack Obama? A moody undependable old man, or a smooth-talking empty suit? This isn't the appropriate time to go into why I think the Republicans got saddled with John McCain, although I might in a different post. But it might be an appropriate time for a suggestion.
Amanda said, "politics is sort of like religion...you know? You believe what you believe, I believe what I believe and that's that." And as things are, sometimes that's true. But it's not true in all cases. Take me. I was all ready to vote for John Kerry in 2004 before I started listening to people with different points of view. And that's as it was intended to be. A person's politics were never intended to be sacred, just their vote. And yeah, our choices pretty much suck this round. But America will still be here in four years, and between now and then, we need to have done some talking. As soon as we realize we're not just spectators, as soon as we realize that politicians depend on us and not the other way around... as soon as people start talking to each other and talking to politicians and saying "We the people".... It's our job to change things. Not Obama's and not McCain's. If you're not happy with things, start talking. Start learning. We are not sheep.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.