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Yelling at the television

THE DEMOCRATIC convention forced me to an unpleasant realization: I’ve become one of those crotchety old guys who yell at the television in helpless frustration: “Lies! How can they say such things? How can anyone sit still for this stuff?”

And this week, I’m in for more of the same with the Republicans.

What sets me off? Oh, take your pick — the hyperbole, the self-importance, the us-against-them talk, the stuff that Huck Finn called “tears and flapdoodle.”

Take, for instance, this typical bit from Hillary Clinton’s speech:

My friends, it is time to take back the country we love. And whether you voted for me or you voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team. And none of us can afford to sit on the sidelines. This is a fight for the future. And it's a fight we must win together. I haven’t spent the past 35 years in the trenches... to see another Republican in the White House squander our promise...

Let’s deconstruct that a bit.

Take back the country? From whom? Did I miss something? Did the Russians roll right on through Gori and into Washington? No? You say Americans are still in charge, just the “wrong” Americans, of the wrong party? But your party controls Congress! Take it back from whom?

... a single party with a single purpose. Now there you’ve hit on the biggest lie propagated by each of the major parties, the conceit that there is something coherent and consistent about such loose confederations of often-incompatible interest groups. Did you not just spend the last few months playing with all the force you could muster upon those very differences, those very tensions — between feminists and black voters, between the working class and the wine and cheese set? What single purpose, aside from winning an election?

This is a fight... No, it isn’t, however much you love to say that. Again, I refer you to what the Russians are doing in Georgia — that’s a fight, albeit a one-sided one.

... that we must win together. Actually, that raises a particularly pertinent point, which is that the only “fights” that “must” be won are the ones in which “together” is defined as all Americans, or all freedom-loving peoples, whereas such divisive factions as your party and that other one that will meet in St. Paul militate against our being able to win such fights together.

I haven’t spent the past 35 years in the trenches... You’re absolutely right; you haven’t. So spare us the war metaphors.

... to see another Republican in the White House squander our promise... Like that’s what matters, the stupid party label. Like there isn’t more difference between you and Barack Obama in terms of philosophy and goals and experience and what you would bring to office than there is between John McCain and Joe Biden. Come on! Please!...

Sigh. Fume. Mutter.

This stuff wouldn’t upset me quite so much if not for the fact that this was to be the year that we rose above this stuff. That’s why I so happily supported both John McCain and Barack Obama in their parallel bids for the White House. Both men offered themselves as alternatives from the incessant, bitter, destructive partisan warfare of the Clinton-Bush years.

John McCain is the man the GOP’s partisans love to hate, the guy they call a “Republican In Name Only,” the man they stooped to new lows to destroy in 2000, the senator who’d just as soon work with Democrats as Republicans, the candidate who, coincidentally, has been giving Sen. Clinton a lot of love in his latest campaign ads.

Barack Obama was the Democrat who made it abundantly, eloquently clear that he was not running in order to “fight” against his fellow Americans. So all week, I looked forward to his acceptance speech, and when it came I was... disappointed.

Maybe I had built it up too much in my mind, depended too much on it to wash away the bad taste of all those boilerplate party speeches I had heard. He said many of the right things. He said “Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past,” but as for most of it — well, read David Broder’s column on the facing page.

When he said “part of what has been lost these past eight years... is our sense of common purpose,” I thought, yes, but it’s been happening a lot more than eight years, and you know that. But he said it that way because of his audience. That’s what made the speech flat, by Obama standards. He had to avoid offending the kind of people who love the bitter politics that he had been running against.

What I had wanted to hear was the kind of thing that caused me, while blogging on live TV the night of his South Carolina primary victory, to write “What a TREMENDOUS victory speech!” A sample of what impressed me so that night:

“We are looking for more than just a change of party in the White House.... We are up against decades of bitter partisanship that cause politicians to demonize their opponents... That kind of politics is bad for our party, it’s bad for our country, and this is our chance to end it once and for all.”

That sort of anti-partisan vehemence would not have played well in Mile-High Stadium. Maybe, as he escapes the gravitational pull of Denver, the Obama of January will come out to inspire us again. I hope so. In the meantime, on to the Republicans....

Just moments ago as I write this, as he announced he’d chosen Sarah Palin as his running mate, Sen. McCain promised the GOP crowd that he’d “fight for you.”

Lord help us.

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