Saturday, August 30, 2008

McCain's Pick

John McCain has certainly "thrown a googly" as I suggested a couple of posts ago, and appointed a woman to his VP spot. It is more of a googly than I thought, as his choice, former Vogue cover girl and Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, is a virtual unknown. Whether his surprise choice will rejuvenate his campaign or bring him more problems is still under scrutiny - the Politico website thinks its a desperate choice, born of a belief that the McCain campaign is heading for defeat against Obama. I'm not as sure of the ascendancy of the Obama campaign at the moment, despite its strong finish in Denver, and Sarah Palin may undermine the experience issue that was at the heart of Republican attacks last week. Nevertheless, she is also fresh, spoke well in her nomination press conference, has some clear success as an albeit relatively new governor of Alaska, and will reinvigorate the conservative base that she represents. The Democrats could, however, point out that she is hardly ready to step straight into the presidential shoes as the vice-president to the oldest man to take the office, and that may be a factor for some voters. One thing we can definitely say - this most exciting of presidential contests continues to throw up shocks and surprises.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Credit Crunch Biting?

I did see a pub notice today advertising "Credit Crunch Specials" for their cut-price meal deals, and a little humour doesn't come amiss. The 'First Post' headline above may be over-doing it (click the image for their story), but if you've ever wondered why Gordon Brown, and most western incumbents, might just prove unelectable over the next couple of years, it may give a clue.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Daily Show

According to the Independent, its host Jon Stewart is one of the most influential men in America. He certainly has an ear for a good line, as tonight (GB edition): "She (Michelle Obama) has got to prove she loves America, as opposed to Republicans who everyone knows love America, they just hate half the people living in it." Nice. (The full programme is here).

Hillary's Call

American politics has been delivering high drama for decades, and this year's election is seeing more of it in droves. After the relatively colourless 2004 election, 2008 is not disappointing. Hillary did her duty last night, and, since she's Hillary, she gave a storming performance. But no matter that she endorsed Obama some 10 or more times in her speech, no matter that she called and called for unity, the suspicion will still remain that Hillary knows her best chance of another run at the presidency lies in Obama losing in November. PErhaps it was there in her call to 'keep going'; perhaps it was there in the relatively mild attacks on a man she genuinely respects and likes - John McCain. But it's certainly there. This woman is staying centre stage, and conceding it only temporarily to the man she believes has taken her nomination.

Meanwhile, the Hillary speech emphasised another problem for the Democrats. Three days in to the convention, and they have yet to launch a lasting blow on John McCain. It's as if they think he might be attack-proof, and so are staying clear. Unless Bill, or Joe Biden, or Obama himself can say something scorching about their opponent, McCain will go into his own convention in a soaring position. Not for McCain the stories of division - his biggest headache is coming up with a decent veep. I'm less sure now that he will choose Romney, which would open him up to the same issues that affect Obama with regards to Biden and Hillary (i.e. their previous attacks on him in the primaries). He may throw a googly and appoint a woman, although the Republicans' leading lady, Senator Kay Bayley Hutchinson, has said she's not interested. We'll see. For the moment, it looks as if things are going McCain's way even at the height of his opponent's convention.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

1 Party, 3 Families

America may be the world's foremost democracy, but her politics also has a tendency to throw up dynasties, and the Democratic Party is showcasing two old ones that still have a hold on their politics, and one new one that is in the process of trying to secure such a hold.

No Kennedy has held national office since JFK's assassination in 1963, but the Kennedy appeal has remained undimmed over the decades. Senator Edward Kennedy used it to great effect in his failed bid for the presidency against incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980, and yesterday he was centre stage again at the Democratic Convention in Denver, perhaps staging a final exit for the Kennedy family, and trying to pass his lustre on to the new Obama clan. Ted Kennedy will always carry with him the burden of the Chappaquiddick tragedy, and his serious misjudgements over that affair, but he also seems to have spent the whole of his time since trying to exorcise that ghost in his tireless legislative activity in the senate. The hagiographic video of Kennedy, shown to the convention (see it here) emphasised this, and Kennedy's own speech utilised famous lines from his brother's inauguration speech and his own 1980 convention speech to "pass the torch" on to Obama. If there's no Kennedy around now, they seem to be saying, then go for Obama as the next best thing.

The Clintons have a rather more difficult task, and Hillary's speech tonight is arguably the most crucial speech of the convention. They have virtually owned this party since Bill's first presidential election victory in 1992, and giving it up is excruciatingly difficult. Yet there is no virtue for either of them in begrudging Obama his victory, whatever slights they think they have received at his hands. The fact is, if the Clintons don't seem to pull out all the stops in trying to get an Obama victory in November, then whatever happens to him, her future runs for the presidency are doomed. Hillary is a doughty street fighter who is down, but certainly not out; tonight she needs to show as well that she understands the long game.

It may seem ironic for the Democrats to be showcasing their dynasties, but here at least they have an advantage over their no less family-oriented rivals, for the Republicans next week desperately need to make people forget their most recent triumphant political family. That will be a danse macabre worth witnessing.

Invasions, Intrigue and Inspiration

It is a little odd, reading about current affairs during summer weeks away, where you grab the occasional snippet, or hear about events that seem to belong to a far away country. It has certainly been an eventful summer. Starting with the PM, Gordon Brown must have wished for a return to the issues and profile of last summer, where he seemed to bestride the political stage with confidence. Now, nearly everything he has turned his hand to has made him seem small and inadequate. The Russian-Georgian splat left him silent for days, giving the field to the ever canny David Cameron who nipped across the border from his holiday in Turkey to go and meet Saakashvili. Appalling bit of opportunism, but that's politics, and Cameron is showing the flair that is so missing from Brown. Brown, incidentally, is notoriously uninterested in foreign affairs, and has no vision for it whatsoever, which may seem refreshing but is actually a serious disadvantage for a British PM.

For the Olympics, Brown didn't bother attending the opening ceremony alongside the likes of Sarkozy and Bush, but did then hop along to Beijing when the British olympians were showing their metal, only to be rather out-classed by the shambling Boris Johnson. Where Blair would have been able to milk the British success for his own purposes, Brown has been peculiarly unable to do so - even the hapless John Major has managed to emerge from the Olympics smelling of roses thanks to his National Lottery decision. Perhaps, also, Boris's view that British youth is not in endemic breakdown seemed a little more reasonable on the backs of inspiring Olympics success.

Finally, we have the joyous spectacle of a Labour civil war that never really took off. The over-rated Miliband, who should have had his hands full with his foreign affairs brief anyway, found time to plot for a leadership position that he isn't prepared to fight for, make an approach to the inept Alan Milburn about being Chancellor in a Miliband administration, and they try to desperately row back from a political and PR disaster. If the Tories had ever been worried about a Miliband take-over, they must have been reassured by his shenanigans over the summer. For Miliband, read Portillo?

Meanwhile, the news focus shifts to America, as the Democrats hold their convention in Denver this week, and we all wonder whether asking that old plagiarist Joe Biden to be his VP candidate will help or hinder the hero of the hour. There'll be more on the presidential race over the coming weeks of course, but the issue for Obama, whose lead has dwindled to nothing, is an age old one for America - wil enough white people vote for a black man to be president? I suspect they won't, and I think we will have a McCain presidency next year - perhaps with Mitt Romney as VP. Watch this space.

So here we are, hurtling towards September, a new term, a new political year, and all the old faces continuing their neverending game of political chairs. Ever fascinating.