Emily Bazelon and Christopher Beam discuss Obama's acceptance speech and McCain's veep choice.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Aug. 29 2008 6:39 PM

Conventional Wisdom

Emily Bazelon and Christopher Beam field questions about Obama's acceptance speech and McCain's veep choice.

See Slate's complete Republican National Convention coverage.

Slate XX Factor blogger Emily Bazelon and Trailhead blogger Christopher Beam were online at Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers about the big headlines after the end of the Democratic Convention and preceding the Republican Convention. An unedited transcript of the chat follows.

Emily Bazelon: Hi, everyone,

Chris and I are happy to be here this morning to chat about our week-long fixation—the Democratic Convention. Chris has been in Denver and I've been glued to my TV set, like a lot of you, I imagine. Fire away!

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Seattle, Wash.: Hi Chris and Emily!

So Sarah Palin. How do Obama and Biden attack her in the way they've been going for the jugular with John McCain without looking like bullies? Can they just ignore her? I'm really, really not being sexist, but she's no Hillary, if you know what I mean.

Thanks!

Emily Bazelon: The trickiness of attacking Palin is one of the reasons she's a great pick on paper. She helps McCain go after the women's vote, which his people think is crucial to his victory. She has executive experience. She has all kinds of wackiness in her bio—her husband is a snowmobiling Eskimo, her fifth baby was born this year, with Down Syndrome, she used to be a fisherman (fisherwoman). All that without even bringing up Alaska, the state the lower 48 thinks might not be real.

I don't think Obama and Biden can ignore Palin. But we really know nothing about how she'll respond to being on the national scene. What role will she play in the campaign? What will they use her for? One thing about her does help the Democrats, I think: She helps neutralize the argument that the Republican ticket is the choice of experience, because she's a 44-year-old who became governor two years ago.

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Claverack, N.Y.: The immediate reaction from one disgruntled Hillary supporter I know was, she was resentful that McCain would think her stupid enough to be won over by an inexperienced Christian conservative from Alaska.

I have no idea if that's a representative reaction, but there you are.

Emily Bazelon: How refreshingly rational—a story about a Hillary supporter that's about basing her choice for president on policy implications rather than gender. We'll see if that becomes the dominant trope, or if your friend is an outlier.

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Prescott, Ariz.: I have one idea for Obama. Make a commercial with lots of cute polar bears running around and talk about Sarah Palin's science-ignoring crusade to keep polar bears off the endangered species list.

Emily Bazelon: Ah, playing the polar bear card. And it could be paired with making the point that Palin's stance here undercuts McCain's support for fighting global warming. (Though to be fair, they aren't the same thing.)

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Washington DC: Last night's speech was amazing. How does he move forward and begin to flesh out his promises? What is the smartest way for the campaign to respond to McCain's choice?

Christopher Beam: Last night's speech worked, I think, because it serves as a blueprint for the next few months. Rip McCain for being out of touch, yet claim to be staying above the fray. Paint him not as a malicious person, but as a fuddy-duddy. It's not that he's cruel—just ignorant. He also had that long riff about "Change is ..." that answers all the people who were asking, "What do you mean by change?" He didn't exactly lay out the nuances of his tax policy or energy policy, but just the rhetorical repetition of "Change is ..." goes a long way toward undermining critics.

Responding to McCain's choice: The Clintons are more important than ever. Bill certainly set the tone for reconciliation Wednesday night ("That makes two of us"), but now that McCain has picked Palin, they've gotta double down. Have Hillary attack Palin herself. Suggest McCain picked her out of tokenism. Remember all the Hillary fans who said they'd be insulted if Obama picked Sebelius? Get them riled about Palin, too.

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Indianapolis: Why doesn't the Obama Campaign emphasize the "fall of the Moral Majority" (Bush and his cronies)—from Delay, Abramoff, Ralph Reed, Foley, Vitter, Craig, etc., which also has led to the total disregard for America's "moral authority" from players like Russia, China, etc.

Christopher Beam: I think they do get at this quite a bit—on the corruption front, at least. When Obama talks about politicians in the pockets of lobbyists, these are the guys he means. He also talks a lot about reestablishing America's moral authority in the world. But on the question of personal morality, I think he's rightly hesitant. Foley no doubt hurt the GOP in 2006, and Vitter/Craig have only made it worse. The brand is damaged. But Obama is running against McCain, and McCain isn't really lumpable into that category of moralizers. Also, that comes close to the "personal attacks" Obama says—says—he's going to avoid.

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Chicago: How do you think Obama and Biden will maintain their momentum out of Denver? What will their response be to McCain's VP choice, if any?

Emily Bazelon: The immediate response will include some gracious notes, I would think (and hope). But I'd imagine Joe Biden will feel pretty confident going into the vice-presidential debate. He'll have to be sure not to be TOO confident, in fact, since the bar will be so much higher for him (a veteran senator) than for her (a newbie governor).

About momentum, I think Obama-Biden continue the "eight is enough" theme, the driving home of McCain's ties to Bush, and their claims that it's unlikely that his maverick past will translate into a maverick presidency on the economy, the war, abortion rights. It's attack time.

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