Amid a chorus of hoots, hollers and the occasional jeer, Rudy Giuliani gave the keynote speech on Wednesday night, Day 3 of the Republican National Convention. Giuliani set the tone for the evening, aggressively launching criticisms at the Democratic ticket. Giuliani’s claims ranged from the slightly offensive (derisively laughing at Barack Obama’s roots as a community organizer -- in a city, Chicago, that has roughly 1,800 times the population of Wasilla, AK, the city where Sarah Palin served as mayor) to the unbelievable (asserting that Palin has more experience than Barack Obama and Joseph Biden combined). Giuliani’s incredulous "What??" at Obama’s background was met with a round of cackles that later turned to a rousing chant of "Drill, baby, drill" as the former New York City mayor discussed off-shore drilling as a method of reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil.
Against the image of the current New York City skyline, Giuliani pointed out, in a moment verging on self-parody, that, at the Democratic National Convention, the key players "didn’t even mention September 11th," strongly implying that Obama and Biden are "afraid" to discuss Islamic terrorists. Giuliani did not acknowledge that the concerns of September 2008 are perhaps not quite the concerns of September 2001 -- that while the terrorist acts of 9/11 have altered our political and cultural landscape forever, we are a country weary of the use of September 11th as a tool for politicking.
But the coup de grace came when Giuliani attempted to brand Obama a "flip flopper" (a technique that proved effective for Republicans in 2004) stating that Joe Biden should get his Vice Presidential nomination in writing. This is a direct shot, not at Obama’s policies, but his character -- a disheartening development in an election where both candidates positioned themselves as willing to run "clean" campaigns.
This merely set the stage for the Vice Presidential nominee and media fixation, Sarah Palin, to hammer away at Obama’s experience while touting her own record. Unfortunately, "Sarah Barracuda" failed to show the same courtesy, humility and nonpartisan respect that has characterized the Obama campaign. Whereas Barack Obama has disagreed with John McCain solely on policy issues without casting aspersions on his character and has refused to declare open season on Bristol Palin, her pregnancy and the rest of the Palin family, Sarah Palin did not hesitate to mock Obama’s role as a community organizer (a position he occupied before his entrance into Harvard Law, his stint as a law professor and his later tenure in the Illinois state senate and the U.S. senate). With an acid tongue that belies the Miss Congeniality title she was awarded in 1984, Palin came out simultaneously on the attack and the defense -- while discussing offshore drilling, she mentioned the Democratic opponent’s criticism that even these stores of oil are not inexhaustible, snarking "as if we didn’t know that already" before moving on to discuss alternative sources of energy. And in an impressive feat of semantic gymnastics, Palin singled McCain out as the only candidate who has truly fought for the American people, implying that the figurative fighting for the rights of Americans is less meaningful than participating in combat. By her own logic, does this mean that the men and women currently serving our country overseas are more qualified than Palin herself?
But what stayed with me most was the stunning homogeneity of the RNC crowd -- in Denver, the cameras showcased incredible diversity, whereas the RNC cameramen seemed to have a rougher road, forced to linger on a token Asian or African-American face before pulling back to reveal a mostly white (male, aging) audience. With this crowd, eagerly lapping up Palin’s and Giuliani’s barbs at the opposition, it felt less like the inclusive lovefest of Denver than a relentless pile-on, fueled by bile instead of optimism. As I watched the sea of faces light up mostly at Palin’s insults and rarely at her plans for the future, I wondered what the opposing camp would have to say.
This afternoon, Obama responded to Palin’s jabs: "I’ve been called worse on the basketball court." When pressed about Palin’s record, he told reporters: "I’ll let Gov. Palin talk about her experience. I’ll talk about mine."