It's On!

Obama on O'Reilly. It's only part one of four segments, the remainder to air next week, but Obama says the surge has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

I could fisk what he says. For that matter, I could fisk O'Reilly's line of questioning, which I think was poor. (He opens by agreeing with Obama that Iraq was misguided and had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, so Obama doesn't have to defend himself about anything leading up to "the surge." Then, when Obama admits the surge worked, but claims that the Iraqis haven't held up their end, O'Reilly changes the topic rather than pointing out 15 of 18 "benchmarks" have been met and we just turned over Anbar to the Iraqis! Unbelievable! All O'Reilly cared about was playing "gotcha" on the surge, not probing the man's mind on these matters.)

But go watch. Don't you think, imagining yourself as a quasi-apolitical voter who hasn't been reading Michael Yon reports in the past three years, that Obama comes off very well? Do you think the "lightweight" charge sticks?

Which brings me to McCain's speech last night. I guess it was an ok night for Republicans. Mostly I felt kind of bad for the McCains. Everyone who knows them knows they hate talking about themselves or telling personal stories about their family life --which is why most people haven't heard about their adopted daughter until this year. Privacy is a reason McCain doesn't really get on with the religious right. It's not that he doesn't share their views; it's that he hates it when people wear their religion on their sleeves.

One of the things I find very appealing about McCain is his personal modesty. Yes, he has political ambition and top gun swagger, but he's never been one to call attention to the fact that he's the kind of man who can adopt a baby girl his wife brings home from Bangladesh, no questions asked. So to watch Cindy McCain come out and give the now-obligatory "my husband the saint" speech that conventions require (Hillary Clinton's legacy!) was embarrassing --and I thought she seemed embarrassed to be doing it, which reflects her own personal decency. The immodesty of American politics bothers me --it's not for us to say of ourselves that we are fabulous people. I have the grit and the know-how to effect policy is one thing. I am kind, compassionate and humble is another!

Parts of McCain's speech were very moving. While everyone else takes away from McCain's story the idea that he's a great hero, it's clear what he took away is confrontation with his own weakness. Someone over at NRO found the "they broke me" line surprising, but it was pure McCain --exactly what he told Newsweek back in 1974.

In the end, though, what came across to my ears was Teddy Roosevelt populism, not conservatism.

In neither convention did I hear any policies apart from the promise of tax cuts from the GOP, and the promise to drill. (With oil prices plummeting, will that policy --even though it's right and has important implications for national defense-- still cut by November?) McCain did paint some differences in broad strokes (I will lower taxes, he will increase them, etc.) and that's good, but not enough, I don't think.

The speech was effective in the sense that it made me love John McCain, the man. But what struck me is that his promises are precisely the same as Obama's. Both men are promising to change the culture of Washington and fight for the little guy. Both are appealing to citizens to create a more humane culture by working for something beyond themselves. Both are promising tax relief, energy independence and new jobs from a "green economy." Without specifics, how are normal people --non-political junkies-- to evaluate these promises or distinguish between the radically different models for how to achieve these things? If all we have to go on is talk, the better orator wins.

And as for changing Washington. No matter who is promising, spare me. Presidents don't change Congress, which is what we mean by "Washington." I would have been much happier had McCain gone much further in his criticism of Congress and asked people to vote not only for him, but for a Congress he can work with. A reform Congress!

Still, thanks to deft campaigning and the choice of Palin, McCain's erased Obama's lead, and I expect McCain to do very well in the debates.

One thing that does excite me about the campaign is how pro-life it is without Big Mac even liking to talk about such things much. Ramesh Ponnuru points out Cindy McCain would be the first pro-life First Lady since Roe. 12 children between the two families! The GOP ticket is a living embodiment of alternatives to abortion: adoption, keeping the baby, the welcoming of special needs children with love. They are an eloquent witness just by showing up.

We have ourselves a horse-race.