Thursday, October 30, 2008

Great Wheat

Well, Obama's half an hour last night was not as excruciating as it could have been. Definitely slick and well-produced and it gathered power along the way, although I am inherently suspicious of any political ad which begins with waving fields of wheat. I mean, is there not another symbol for the Republic than this one? And, as with many large-scale Obama productions, there is an odd sense of grandeur not, quite, befitting a Democratic candidate.
However, one will take grandeur, even pomp, over much of the muck being thrown around out there in these last days before the election. I have not seen the likes of it since the 1960s, when violent-minded conservative crowds assailed war protesters and liberal Democrats as unpatriotic Commies. It's both breathtaking and dangerous, but I think we may now be experiencing an earthquake: those haters out there yelling slogans, instigated by some of the nastiest Republican campaign rhetoric since 1988, are not the Silent Majority, but the Vocal Minority. The Silent Majority are voting and it looks like they're not going to vote for McCain.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Back off the Road

And what a long, strange trip it's been, talking at the country's colleges about dirty tricks in American politics. From Auburn to Iowa, from Massachusetts to Wyoming, with a slide show full of campaign commercials (such as the ones Errol Morris is talking about in his informative NY Times piece today) and a desire to show people that today's election is nothing compared to what was going on way back in the distant past, such as 1988!
Flashes from the road--the Libertarian party student at Virginia Tech who set up his table full of brochures which looked like they had been printed up in the 1980s...and who wanted to go back to the old pre-1800 system of voting, except expand it to the masses, two votes per voter, one for pres, one for vice-pres. No political parties. "Wouldn't it be nice to get two people with different views into the White House?" Uh, no....
Then there were the two black women in Alabama who came up to me and warned me that my criticism of the KKK (in the Al Smith election of 1928) might stir things up. "You have to be careful how you mention the Klan around here," they said, laughing a little and shaking their heads.
Then there was getting stuck in beautiful Laramie Wyoming airport for five hours, causing me to miss my talk at Columbus State College, in Ohio, which I was really looking forward to (sorry about that, Columbus State). If you get stuck in an airport, Laramie, more of a landing strip than an actual airport, is not the one to get stuck in. But the University of Wyoming was great. Watched the last debate ("Joe the Plumber") in a student bar there with great burgers and lots of focus on what was being said. In fact, everywhere I went, kids were really into the election. There was a good deal of indignation over the current series of McCain attack ads, although at the same time, there were doubts about Obama and his lack of experience.....
Back here in my solidly Democratic town in my solidly Democratic state of New Jersey, Obama signs sprout everywhere, far more than there were Kerry signs in 2004. The Democrats, sensing victory, are pushing ahead everywhere. The campaign is getting dirtier and now may crack my top ten dirtiest elections--I will decide after election day. It isn't just the outlandish McCain attacks on Obama (next they'll be calling him Leon Trotsky) but real concerns about the amount of fighting already going on about voter registration lists, with Republicans mounting challenge after challenge to knock most Democratic voters from the rolls for technical reasons. Then there's ACORN, which has really smeared Democratic get out the vote efforts. And everywhere I went, people are afraid that by some political skullduggery there computerized votes won't count....or that there will be Florida/2000-like confusion if they are voting in a close state.
More tomorrow. I am a somewhat amazed at the Obama campaign plans to go ahead and air his 30 minute long campaign infomercial tomorrow night. In my talk, I warn against 30 minutes worth of presidential candidate talking time, citing how badly it failed for Adlai Stevenson in 1952. Naturally, Obama won't just be a talking head like Stevenson was --plenty of video and images--but this kind of thing can backfire, especially if one already considers the Obama campaign (remember the awful "seal" and the strange Grecian columns at the convention?) a tad pompous....

Saturday, October 4, 2008

On the Road

Back now from Springfield, Ohio, and Covington, Kentucky, where I spoke at Wittenberg College and University of Northern Kentucky, respectively. The students and faculty at both places were great (thanks to Nate, Maureen, Casey, Alex and Josh) as were the community members who turned out to see the slide show and hear the talk.
I did not hear rabid expressions of allegiance to either party, interestingly. People are engaged by this election, but also somewhat puzzled and stunned, waiting, like the rest of us, to see what twist or turn it's going to take next. I was traveling in the midst of the bailout debate in Congress, with the ubiquitous newspaper of the road-weary, USA Today (free on motel check-in counters) blaring out 777 point market drops and Congressional cat-fighting. People I talked to were alarmed, but not yet panicked. Still, many (especially in Kentucky,surprisingly) told me they weren't sure just who they were going to vote for and might now decide until they walked into a polling booth.
A few miscellaneous items:
Karl Rove was coming to speak at Northern Kentucky after me--I offered to stay around and debate him, but they ushered me gently out.
Should anyone want a surreal road experience, please stay in the Drawbridge Inn in Covington, KY. it's a huge, sprawling place with a medieval theme--the Crossbow Inn, Friar Tuck Hall, etc. While I was there three different conventions were going on. There was a Church of God group, lots of kids wandering around in homespun, a reunion of crew members of a Vietnam-era aircraft carrier, and a dog show. God, war, and canines--can one ask for anything more?
Next week's schedule:
Monday: Middlesex College in Bedford, MA, for a lunch talk, then down the road to UMass Boston for an evening speech.
Wednesday: University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, Sarah Palin's alma mater
Friday: Auburn University, Montgomery, Alabama
See you there...