Obama Nomination, Palin Pick Cap Week In Politics

Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in Denver. And John McCain named Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times offer their insight.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

A week in politics, as a British prime minister famously said, is a long time. Well, try a day. Last night, it was Barack Obama's speech in Denver spelling out what he means by change and going after John McCain.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Sen. OBAMA: For over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy, give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the ownership society. But what it really means is that you're on your own.

SIEGEL: Well, today, it was John McCain unveiling his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): I never really set out to be involved in public affairs much less to run for this office. My mom and dad both worked at a local elementary school, and my husband and I, we both grew up working with our hands. I was just your average hockey mom in Alaska.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SIEGEL: Well, that should be enough for our regular political observers to chew on. E.J. Dionne and David Brooks join us from Denver. Welcome back.

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, Washington Post): Thank you.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, The New York Times): Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: And let's first deal with the Obama speech last night and then we'll get on to Sarah Palin. E.J., did Barack Obama deliver the goods?

Mr. DIONNE: I think he did. And you know, what's interesting is I don't think he delivered the goods for the faithful. This was a speech that very consciously toned down some of his rhetorical power. And it was sort of less an inspirational speech than a speech aimed at a machinist in Ohio or a nurse in Pennsylvania saying, look, here's what I'm going to do. I understand the plight of the middle class. I'm going to do something for you.

He emphasized his middle-class tax cut and he went after John McCain. He did get to some inspiration at the end with the - an allusion to Martin Luther King and the anniversary of the I Have A Dream speech. But I think, politically, it was a very smart speech.

SIEGEL: David Brooks, I saw you comment on the speech on PBS and you didn't seem to be wowed by it.

Mr. BROOKS: I confess I was a little disappointed. I thought it was an A minus, B plus speech, by no means, a bad speech by Barack Obama standards. I don't think it was one of his best. Part of it was the sort of speech where he showed some steel. And I thought that was done extremely well.

I noticed Pat Buchanan called it one of the great speeches of his lifetime. And Buchanan likes steel, so he did that part very well. Another section was the policy section where it was a very coherent argument. I thought it was a very conventional argument. Really, it could have been given by any Democrat. Not much new or suggesting Barack Obama had thought creatively about these problems.

And the third section was the post partisan section, which was the original Barack Obama. And I thought that was the weakest section, in part because it lacked some of the magic that a lot of us loved back in Iowa, and in part because it was undercut by the other sections, which were very partisan, and applied some of the old rules from the partisan playbook.

So, it was a good speech. By any normal political standards, I thought it was quite effective. I just don't think it was one of his best.

SIEGEL: Well, let's move on then to today's news. David, the choice of Sarah Palin. Did John McCain just throw away the claim of Obama's inexperience by deciding that someone who's been governor of Alaska for two years is ready to take over the presidency should he falter?

Mr. BROOKS: A bit, though, maybe not much more than Barack Obama threw away the mantle of change when he picked Joe Biden. The guy has been in Washington a long time. It's a risky change. You know, people who have not been in national politics, they get thrown into this overnight, there's some serious risk involved.

Nonetheless, when you look at her resume and her life, it's almost a perfect sort of life for a Republican candidate these days. High school basketball star, came in second in Miss Alaska, five kids, the oldest is going to be deployed to Iraq, the youngest has Down Syndrome. What I like most about her…

SIEGEL: Well, she has no experience in national issues, David. There's no involvement with national politics at all.

Mr. BROOKS: Well, no, what I - well, like Bill Clinton, she's a governor.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BROOKS: And - but only been a governor for a couple of years. What I like most about her, and what is most potentially the most exciting, is she is an exemplar of a certain sort of the young Republicanism, which is to say she's not from the old Ronald Reagan or even the old social conservative mold.

She is fiscally conservative but she really bravely took on Republican corruption on her own state. She's an Evangelical but more progressive on gay and lesbian issues than other conservatives. She's for drilling in ANWR but also very vocal on global warming. So she's going to confuse a lot of people. But I think she is an example of the sort of young Republican who's rising in a post-Bush world.

SIEGEL: E.J. Dionne, do you agree?

Mr. DIONNE: I think there is some good news here and a lot of potential bad news. The good news is that McCain shook things up. We moved so quickly off Obama's convention. The choice shows he doesn't take this election for granted despite all the talk in August that, gee, he's doing awfully well against Obama.

He threw a long passer in Invesco Field yesterday, and that shows something good. And the fact that she is a woman, Republicans put a woman on the ticket. Democrats are saying they did that 24 years ago. Nonetheless, that's helpful. And I like the fact she was a basketball player.

The bad news, potentially, is number one, she does undercut the experience argument. John McCain - and I hope he lives a very long life - but he has said himself that the issue of who his vice president is, because of his age, is more profound. And clearly, she has very little national experience. Jumping into a national political campaign is really, really hard. And you have no idea how somebody who, even apparently, a very good politician, is going to react to that.

And lastly, if putting a woman on the ticket is designed to get some of the stray Hillary Clinton voters, she is very strongly pro-life, which will make a lot of Republicans happy. It was seen to be impossible for McCain to pick a pro-choicer like Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge, but it's hard to see how that aspect of her appeals to swing Hillary voters.

SIEGEL: David, what do you make of that whole argument that there are disaffected Hillary Clinton voters out there and that a woman on the Republican ticket could lure them in?

Mr. BROOKS: It's possible. You know, the voters who were disaffected are not the sort of people who were at this convention in Denver. The voters who were disaffected were not that engaged in politics, tend to be politically independent, tend to be white, working-class women, places like Ohio and Michigan.

And in that case, the fact that she's pro-life actually won't be the key issue. The choice will be, is she like us? And just from one - the sense of her, the way she portrayed herself even on her opening statement today as the hockey mom, there may be some cultural sympathy.

But again, she does have to show some seriousness. She has to cross a threshold as a potential president or else people won't buy her. And that'll be a huge challenge. It's a high-risk, high-reward choice.

SIEGEL: One last question to both of you. Looking ahead to the Republican Convention next week, what is it that the GOP must accomplish at its convention to be set right as the campaign really begins in earnest after that? David Brooks, you first.

Mr. BROOKS: Bush-McCain. They need to break that link. The Democrats were very effective in making that link, Bush-McCain, Bush-McCain, Bush-McCain. They really need to show they're conservative but they are not Bush-McCain. And they need to break that link very decisively and very clearly.

SIEGEL: E.J.?

Mr. DIONNE: I agree with David. And it's a very tricky thing to go to a Republican Convention and say you should vote for John McCain because he doesn't always vote with the Republican Party. Now, the Republicans want to win, so I'm sure they're willing to do that. But it'll be a complicated message.

The other thing is they are clearly going to want to go after Barack Obama. They still want to make this election more about Barack Obama than McCain, and certainly, than President Bush. But I think they have to take a little care in that because if they want to break the link with Bush, they can't look like they're running exactly the same kind of campaign that the Republicans ran against John Kerry.

SIEGEL: E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, David Brooks of the New York Times. Thanks to both of you.

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.

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