I didn't get a chance to blog my thoughts about the convention before the announcement of the Palin pick, though that pick will underscore some of my thoughts.
The two most successful, in my opinion, conventions which I have watched are the Demcorats in 92 and the GOP in 2000. In both of those races the incumbent presented himself as more experienced and better able to govern. In both of those races the challenger presented himself as the leader of a party of the future, with new, big ideas. Each challenger attempted to redraw the political boundaries -- Clinton to regain some of the Reagan Democrats and GWBush to broaden the party's appeal to minorities and independents. The 2000 GOP convention was all about the big tent. Racial minorities, women, even gay people were featured speakers (the 2004 convention was shockingly different).
So, I expected the 2008 Democratic convention to do the same, to present the future, to propose big ideas, attempt to redraw the political map. But, I didn't see that. The majority of the featured speakers represented the past. No big idea was really featured at the convention. New energy policies and new health care plans seem to have been the big ideas, but I didn't get the sense that these have any new momentum coming out of the convention. And though some Republicans were featured, the overall tone and language of the convention was bread and butter Democrat. I was pleased that they mostly avoided the condescending, patronizing language that their conventions are prone to (1996 being the worst).
Maybe the big idea is simply the mobilizing of a mass of people, especially new people, into the political process. Obama has been brilliant at this, and I'm told it should amaze me. I find it to have been effective in the primary, less so so far in the general. It could create fascinating new ways to govern, I agree.
But this mobilization is about process, not content. As the policy decisions are made, how will this process work? Will it break down? Will the masses go along with every decision? Probably not. I'm told I'm jaded because I'm so critical. I see it differently. I'm frankly nervous about uncritical devoted followers, no matter who they are following.
Overall, I give the convention a C. I thought the 2004 Democratic convention was better, as far as conventions go and even though it was ineffective in the end. It had a clear message and theme that set up the Democratic campaign (a theme which the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was then able to exploit).
And Obama's speech last night was competent and good. It did what it needed to do. And was a tought speech, because of all the expectations. But it was not a great speech. I was not wowed by it. I was moved somewhat near the end, but nothing like the way Hillary's speech moved me on Tuesday. Obama gave some good hints in the speech about things I hope he follows up on (like the theme of a new strategic vision; that needs to be articulated more).
Which brings me to the brilliant pick of Sarah Palin. Brilliant because the McCain-Palin campaign can now run both themes from the 92 and '00 elections -- "experienced candidate who is better able to govern" AND "party of the future with big new ideas."
Palin's speech this afternoon was very good. She hit all the right notes about her candidacy's historical import in an attempt to rally women to the ticket. And she focused on two themes -- ethics in government and energy policies. If she keeps hitting those three themes over and over again, she will be very effective.
I think the GOP convention will now develop around some key themes in order to give those themes momentum coming out of the convention -- governmental reform, energy policy, and bipartisan pragmatism. I suspect that they will put all their young, pragmatic governors and mayors up front in featured slots.
What will sink them is that they must distance themselves from Bush. But they risk the core base if they do that. Plus Bush himself will have to be featured. I think this albatross will prevent them from having the sort of convention they really need to have in order to gain the lead. We'll see what happens.