I guess I should be more excited about Democrats' chances after watching footage from their Denver convention last night. Last night, Barack Obama's candidacy generated something akin to enthusiasm even in Senator Bob Casey -- which is no easy task. So why don't I feel more energized?
Partly it's because the media commentary seems to get more inspid every year. It may be an act of mercy that the networks only showed an hour of the convention, and spent the rest of the evening broadcasting reality-TV. (Which convention coverage increasingly resembles, of course, what with the Big Brother-like gossip about how Hillary would handle being kicked out of the house.)
On CBS, you had Bob Schieffer demanding to know why the keynote speech by former Virginia governor Mark Warner didn't offer more "red meat" attacks on Republicans. And you know damn well that if it had done so, Schieffer would have demanded to know whether it was smart for the party to be so angry. Over on PBS, meanwhile, New York Times columnist David Brooks was his usual unctuously duplicitious self. Before Casey's speech, Brooks dredged up dubious claims that Casey's father, the late Gov. Bob Casey, had been barred from speaking at the 1992 Democratic Convention because of his pro-life stance. I guess it doesn't matter how often people try to correct that claim; it's just one of those things that on-air pundits go on repeating.
Not that pundits alone are guilty of hoping that something will be true if they just insist upon it strongly enough. Casey's speech tried to convince us that Barack Obama was equally comfortable shooting the shit with Franco Harris or hanging out in a sports bar. (No mention of his time spent in bowling alleys.) And that as a result of his just-plain-folks charisma, Pennsylvanians had accorded him their higher honor -- deeming him "one of us."
I'm not sure how you square that with the fact that Clinton beat him by 9 points in the primary, or with more recent surveys. A recent Quinnipiac University poll, for example, suggests that while Pennsylvanians want to see "a Democrat" in the White House by an 18-point margin. But when they're asked whether they'd vote for Obama, the margin shrinks to a 49-to-42 lead over John McCain.
As for Clinton's much-anticipated speech ... it was fine, I guess. But for the most part, it struck me as the kind of speech anyone could have made, and that could have been made about anyone. She had a nice passage in which she asked her supporters if it was only her she'd been fighting for -- or all the forgotten people who stood to gain from a Democratic victory in November. But other than that, Clinton didn't really address her supporters -- especially women -- as directly as I hoped she would.
It won't surprise me if the GOP goes right on using her remarks during the primary to attack Obama, and I was hoping she'd take on GOP tactics to split the party. I wanted her to say: The very thing that made this primary so painful is what makes Democrats strong. We had not one but two candidates who represented long-ignored constituencies -- and as hard as it was, only Democrats draw on the kind of diversity that we saw during that primary. That's a GOOD thing about the party -- that it would try to satisfy so many hopes, to address so many long-unmet needs, all at once. DON'T LET THE REPUBLICANS USE THAT AGAINST US.
I think Clinton could have done so much more to bring the party together, and start bringing this election home. And I guess she, more than Bob Casey or even the networks, is the real reason I haven't caught convention fever yet.