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September 08, 2008

The Forgotten Voter?

It's an odd thing.

I've heard little else for the past few days except Sarah Palin and her speech. I suppose it was alright.

But what surprises me is that there has been so little comment about the speech John McCain gave last week. I realize it began somewhat haltingly. That's not surprising; McCain is not a charismatic speaker. But I thought it by far the more remarkable of the two speeches.

I also can't help but think that in our enthusiasm over the latest 'shiny thing', we may be taking our eye off the ball:

From time to time I check in with fellow Virginian Larry J. Sabato about the state of the presidential race here and in other swing states. Sabato tells me:

”I’ve always said Virginia was a toss-up but unless McCain is losing by 5-8 points nationally, he can probably eke out a win. [Sarah] Palin has only a marginal effect in Virginia. McCain’s veteran ties are far more important in this veteran-rich state. ”

How big a factor are vets? He says, “Almost 15%. Vets may be a larger proportion of the voting population since they are older and their turnout is higher. And of course you can more than double that percentage once you include their immediate families.” (Virginia isn’t the only state where that is true, of course. Florida, for example, has the second largest veteran population after California.)

So while everyone is swept up by Palin-mania, it is important to remember that the race still will come down to a few states and some key demographic groups, some of whom – like veterans – get virtually no attention from the mainstream media.

While counting on immediate family members to double the vote is probably a bit overoptimistic (most military families I know, while solidly Republican, sport at least one Democrat), Sabato's point is worth considering, especially since there are quite a few vets in the South who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan:

Having been through a year long deployment myself, I found the Obama campaign's outreach efforts to military families both condescending and annoying, because although at times we may get discouraged, the trials and tribulations of deployments also can be a blessing in disguise.

As this Canadian soldier's wife (via AWTM) explains far more eloquently than I could ever do, not every hardship in life is something to be avoided or eliminated. Sometimes our lives are made richer by obstacles surmounted, burdens shared. It is, in fact, the bearing of loads that makes us stronger, wiser, more able; and each time we straighten our shoulders and stiffen our spines instead of giving in to fear and doubt, we gain confidence:

For seven months, our family lived, breathed, thought... Afghanistan. Most days were good, but some days were bad. Little things in life took on a greater meaning: hugs, kisses, and I love you's were done a whole lot more. I learned to love my husband in a greater way, and our sense of family was so much stronger.

I am one of the few privileged and honored to be in the presence of a returning soldier. I see the look in his eyes of fierce pride, knowing that it comes from accomplishments, of building wells, roads, opening and operating medical village outreach programs as well as helping those in need and making our world a safer place.

... I asked him once, "Please don't go... we need you more." The look in his eyes shamed me to the core. My Canadian soldier knew where his duty lay.

Her story reminded me of another love story. One that surprised me:

I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency; for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn’t my own man anymore. I was my country’s.

I’m not running for president because I think I’m blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need. My country saved me. My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God.

If you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you’re disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them. Enlist in our Armed Forces. Become a teacher. Enter the ministry. Run for public office. Feed a hungry child. Teach an illiterate adult to read. Comfort the afflicted. Defend the rights of the oppressed. Our country will be the better, and you will be the happier. Because nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself.

Somehow I didn't expect to hear that kind of idealism coming out of John McCain, just as I didn't expect to hear him admit that the party had lost the trust of Americans. But the sentiment was something I recognized, and something I'd like to hear more of.

And it still strikes me as odd that people are going on and on about Palin. But then this is an odd country. I never will understand it.

Posted by Cassandra at September 8, 2008 07:21 AM

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I watched his speech. It was delivered with dignity, humility but with great optimism and even enthusiasm.

President Bush set off the Angry Left when he said that 'If the Hanoi Hilton couldn't break John McCain, the Left isn't going to do it...'
I nearly snorted my lemonade up my nose.

That transcends the differences and speaks of the brothers in arms...at least it did to me. I don't necessarily like John McCain and when he talked about working together, you know the reality based community is going to find the going tough, but I think McCain deserves the chance to make the necessary changes because he is intimately acquainted with some of the mistakes! I think he is going to put Romney in a cabinet position...I can just see it now: A roadshow.


Posted by: Cricket at September 8, 2008 09:31 AM

I thought the last third of his speech was very updlifting.

He took us down into the darkest valley of his life, where hope dies, where the spirit can die, where life can end.
Then he climbed out of that valley, and spoke about a man transfigured. Himself.

It is a need of people to have metaphysical beliefs, though they may not necessarily be religious, or God centered. McCain gave his, and he touched some people with a transcendental story that is larger than simple partisanship.

But then, last Sunday there was some program on CNN where a bunch of snapper head comedians were mocking politicians, and spent an inordinate amount of time mocking James Stockdale, who ran as Ross Perot's VP in 1992. I was about to throw the chair through the TV, but instead walked out of the room.

As you said Cass, this is an odd country sometimes.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at September 8, 2008 10:12 AM

"He took us down into the darkest valley of his life, where hope dies, where the spirit can die, where life can end. Then he climbed out of that valley, and spoke about a man transfigured. Himself.

It is a need of people to have metaphysical beliefs, though they may not necessarily be religious, or God centered. McCain gave his, and he touched some people with a transcendental story that is larger than simple partisanship."

Indeed he did Mr. Brouhaha.

I have a good deal of respect for McCain the man, for his character and his willingness to stick to his guns. At the same time I'll admit that I take exception to his gun positions on some issues. C'est la vie.

Good speech or no, given the choice we have available to us in November, for me there is no choice.

McCain/Palin '08!

Now regarding shiny... hey, I'm just an average guy tha... uh, oh...
*sees a B-25 flash on the screen on the History Channel's recounting of Doolittle's Raid*

Huh? Now what was I saying?

Posted by: bt_what-me-worry_hun at September 8, 2008 10:44 AM

Hope this works. Here's something to think about.
God and the Soldier, we adore,
In time of danger, not before.
The danger passed and all things righted,
God is forgotten and the Soldier slighted.
~Rudyard Kipling

Posted by: Mike at September 8, 2008 11:56 AM

I think part of the reason so little has been made of McCain's speech is that most people who pay attention to politics - including the press - think they know all there is to know about him. It's the "yeah, right, McCain was a POW - that' not a BFOQ for President" approach.

Of course I knew he had been a POW but I had never heard the journey he took as a POW described quite as he'd described it in his speech. His honesty about being broken and about his reliance on his fellow POWs made me realize that his time as a POW or more accurately what he learned and how he reacted to that time is a qualification for President. It's neither a necessary nor a sufficient qualification but it is a strand of character I believe is very valuable in high office.

Less loftily, I had never truly realized how *long* he was a POW. Five and a half years. Dear God. I simply had no idea.

Posted by: Elise at September 8, 2008 12:22 PM

What surprised me was that I've always seen McCain as an arrogant sort of guy.

I think he described himself that way during the speech. But I saw another side of him that was interesting too, and it made me see him in a different light. It was enough to make me take a second look.

Not the POW stuff - I knew that. But what he took from it. That surprised me. I was glad he talked about it in the context of what it meant to him.

Posted by: Cass at September 8, 2008 12:29 PM

I don't want to go on and on, but those three paragraphs, I thought, were just amazing.

I kept hearing them in my head, long after the speech was over.

Posted by: Cass at September 8, 2008 12:39 PM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 09/08/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M at September 8, 2008 01:10 PM

I wouldn't say anyone is ignoring Sen. McCain. His speech got higher ratings than anyone else's, including Gov. Palin's and Sen. Obama's.

People may be more interested in Gov. Palin, or more excited by her (or, on the left, more horrified by her); but the Senator's words were heard by tens of millions.

Posted by: Grim at September 8, 2008 01:36 PM

I didn't say they were ignoring him.

I said there had been relatively little comment on his speech (and there has, relative to the comment on hers). All I kept reading was... 'boring, same old GOP boilerplate (this from Repubs and Dems), nothing new, blah blah blah'. That wasn't how it struck me at all.

So I was surprised, that's all.

Posted by: Cass at September 8, 2008 01:48 PM

I'd read that as a measure of effectiveness.

Anti-McCain speakers have been ridiculing the campaign for its regular references to his POW status as a defense against various issues. If they felt like they could ridicule him for bringing it up again here, they would. If they're not talking about it, it was effective.

I reposted Zell Miller's speech over at B5, because in some ways I think it's even more effective this year -- once the individual candidates are gone, you can see more clearly the animating principles. These are: a deep love of country; the need to defend the family; a demand that politicians put aside partisanship on matters of national security; and a note that investments in defense pay off even if you end up fighting a war that is different from the one you imagined.

It was crafted as a speech against Kerry and for Bush; but it's at least as relevant this year as four years ago. You can play it against Obama's "spitballs" speech where he promises to defund the military, and it's even more powerful because you can see that the principle is true regardless of who the actor is. It's not about Kerry, really: it's about a bad kind of thinking.

Four years ago, I remember how hard people went after Zell. This year, nobody's going after McCain for this. It's too strong a position to attack, and they know it.

Obama is now running on the question of whether or not he's as experienced as McCain's vice presidential candidate.

Sen. McCain has placed himself above the entire field. None of his opponents want to talk about him, but tens of millions heard his words directly. That's the strongest position I can imagine for him, and it's one he should be glad to hold for as long as he can maintain it.

Posted by: Grim at September 8, 2008 02:03 PM

"... At the same time I'll admit that I take exception to his gun positions on some issues."

Somebody a long time ago said that you can't please all the people all the time. There are things that McCain has done wrong in the past (like the notorious McCain-Feingold campaign finance law), but you take the whole man, not just the part you like (or dislike). Considering the whole Obama & Biden, and the whole McCain & Palin, there's no doubt about the choice for me, either.

Posted by: ZZMike at September 8, 2008 02:30 PM

I don't think, for a rational person, that there's ever been a choice between Obama and McCain.

The good thing about Palin is that she's gotten others out there who, even if they haven't figured it out, are at least concerned with the results. The number of GOP "not gonna vote" holdouts has shrunk tremendously, and is likely to be the difference in this election.

And, as far as Cass's original position, I think that the MEDIA has been striking a lightning rod in Palin. It's put the Dems on the defensive. In the meantime, there are LOTS of blogs out there commenting on McCain's speech, and the comments therein.

So the ones who support Islamic terrorism, the Dems, have been distracted by the same sort of tactic -- they're attacking the lightning rod, not the building they claim to be against.

Dems are more like Islamic terrorists than just about anyone realized.

Posted by: Obloodyhell at September 8, 2008 04:50 PM

While I didn't mind that John Kerry served in Vietnam, his actions made it seem as if he had had some sort of epiphany...which was to get out of there as fast and as legally as his skinny rich a$$ could.

"Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil..."23rd Psalm

I have only read two or three accounts of torture and imprisonment and I was shaken...that these men put it on the line and came back anyway...Yes, John McCain fought for us.

I watched his speech with that horrified fascination, and am still internalizing it.
I understand part of his injuries, but I know I would have died under such circumstances and he lived, and grew from it.

Posted by: Cricket at September 8, 2008 05:51 PM


I think it would have killed most of us. That's what makes people like Jeremiah Denton, James Stockdale, Bud Day, John McCain, and the rest heroes.

Sometimes regular guys do something in a moment of decision that is the right thing to do, and they become heroes. Some time a man has a moment to consider and chooses the right thing to do, and they become heroes..

These men flew into the mouth of the cat.

These men were in prison for YEARS; tortured, beaten, starved. They chose to resist to the last of their will and conscience. We'll never be quite sure how many men died in captivity in Viet Nam, but there were men who were captured in relatively good health that never came home.

The rest survived somehow. And they came home. But as Cass said, it's an odd country we live in.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at September 8, 2008 10:26 PM

Dorie Day, Bud Day's wife, was a member of my church while he was a POW. I was in high school. I remember everyone praying for his release, for years. I remember Dorie talking to my mom and the other women about the possibility, many times, that he would be released, then the broken-hearted disappointment when it fell through again.

Then, one day, he was released, and at her side. Of course, he spoke to the church about his imprisonment, and how the men relied on each other and each others' faith in God and in the United States to see them through the ordeal. There was one story that I remembered from then until now, but recently it had a surprising twist for me. I remembered Bud Day telling about his horribly broken arm, and how the Vietnamese guard broke it and casted it so that it would be useless when it was healed. And he said that another POW chipped the plaster cast off, and with bravery for him and agony for Day, pulled the arm until it was straight, then splinted it so that it could heal properly.

Recently I heard him recount that tale, and he said that the POW who reset his arm was "Dr. John McCain". He probably said his name years ago, but not until recently did I know it.

And, with that tale, I forgave John McCain for McCain-Feingold, McCain-This and McCain-That, and for sticking his thumb in the eye of conservatives, and for being himself. I knew when Mitt Romney withdrew from the race that I'd vote for him, because too much is at stake this year. When it looked like he would choose Lieberman or Ridge as VP, I knew that I'd vote for him anyway, because of freakin' Obama and Joe Biden on the other side. I might have even voted for him if he had chosen Hillary Clinton, but there are limits...

When I heard his speech, specifically the part about how his country saved him when he had been broken, I thought that we are very lucky to have him in the race against the flyweights O'Biden. And I thank God that with his choice of Sarah Palin, he may get the chance to return the favor, and save his country from Obama.

Posted by: MathMom at September 8, 2008 11:45 PM

IMO, Gov. Palin is the focus of so much attention nowadays because most Americans didn't even know she existed a couple of weeks ago, whereas McCain is a familiar face...and this particular news cycle won't have run its course until after election day.

I'm glad that many voters are learning that such a one as Gov. Palin exists, however; it will be a great learning experience for many, I think...

Posted by: camojack at September 9, 2008 01:23 AM

McCain's speech was extraordinary, and like Cricket, I'm still "working" on it.

I'd seen interviews with him before on the subject of his imprisonment and torture - most recently on CNN, of all places. It was a "Portrait of the Candidate" or some such with John King.

During that interview, as during others, although his answers were complete, they were short and matter-of-fact and each ended with an odd little smile. The kind that doesn't reach the eyes.

"Well, I was in desperate physical condition", was all he'd say - and then give that little smile.

I know that smile.

It's a way of allowing the listener to disengage.

You're releasing the listener from having to "go there". And at the same time, you don't have to "go there" yourself.

But this time he did go there, and he took millions of us with him.

What is probably even more extraordinary is that he didn't do it so that we'd learn about the imprisonment itself. It wasn't about him, per se. He needed to tell us all that so we'd understand how he got over himself. So he could tell us the love story you quote above.

He's often mentioned that redemption is something he believes in very deeply. This is why.

Posted by: MaryAnn at September 9, 2008 07:24 PM

MaryAnn, I love that comment.

Something very painful happened to me when I was still quite young. For years and years I didn't talk about it, I didn't think about it, and what is more interesting to me, I was unable to cry at all. Over anything.

Suddenly when I turned about 30 or so I started thinking about it - a lot. And suddenly I could let go. I think it was because finally it was far enough away that I knew I wasn't going to go over a cliff if I dragged it out into the open.

Biology and psychology fascinate me. We are protected by a million mechanisms that help us deal with things. But most importantly, people are amazing in their ability to adapt.

Posted by: Cass at September 10, 2008 09:33 AM