(Updated Sunday, October 19)
by James M. Wall
This weekend will be remembered as the time when Sarah Palin and Colin Powell gave the nation a final televised chance to choose between the past and the future.
In separate appearances on the NBC television network this weekend, Palin and Powell squared off in what may prove to be a moment in which Sarah Palin won some respect in her Saturday Night Live appearance, as she shared screen time, very briefly, with Tina Fey.
If you liked Sarah Palin already, you would have to like the manner in which she held her own reading from a script that allowed her to interact with larger-than-life movie and TV pesonalities.
She looked appropriately pained when Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey’s co-star in the hit show 30 Rock, told her, “You are even hotter in person”. Palin’s rejoinder was a zinger: “You know, your brother, Stephen, [a conservative] is my favorite Baldwin.”
In the closing segment of the show, Palin sat at the Weekend Update table. She calmly told her hosts that she “would not perform the skit” they had rehearsed. It was not “appropriate” for the campaign. She then watched the skit performed by a regular on the show, bouncing a bit to the music. Otherwise, she remained in her seat. Good choice for a candidate needing gravitas.
Palin was the only adult on the comedy show. She was so serious in her appearance that she seemed to be auditioning for, well, a job in Washington. It is a more attractive image, with a long missing gravitas, than Palin has shown in her campaign appearances and “gotcha” television interviews.
Makes you wonder: If Palin had been allowed to grow on the American public instead of being rushed onto the ticket as a savior of a faltering campaign, she might have made a real difference for McCain. Instead, she has been forced to play a role that gave her 15 minutes of fame and, just possibly, a lifetime of ridicule.
Palin will be remembered as a candidate who tried to take John McCain to the White House with a wink and a smile, all the while reminding increasingly angry rally crowds that Barack Obama “pals around with terrorists”. Pundits have been saying McCain is better than the smear campaign he has waged. It is possible that the same could be said about Palin.
But for now, all we know about Palin is that she is shouting lies about “terrorists”, trying desperately to get into the dark side of the American voter.
Those robo-calls warning us about Bill Ayers? They give voters an excuse to believe lies. Major media outlets have begun to report on the below the radar darkness of the robo-calls. Will the public notice this sharp criticism? Or are racism and ignorance, both of which thrive in the darkness, still alive and well in this land of the free and the brave?
Sunday morning on Meet the Press, Colin Powell made his endorsement of Obama official, outlining the process through which he moved to reach that conclusion. It was hard, he said, to go against his old friend John McCain, but in Obama, Powell sees a change agent. McCain’s choice of Palin for his vice president, and his campaign tactics in these final weeks appeared to close the deal for Powell.
Moderator Tom Brokaw pushed Colin Powell to discuss his “show and tell” WMD United Nations performance. You remember that dark day? It was the negation of a distingushed military leader’s career, and the turning point that gave Bush and Cheney the cover they needed to invade Iraq.
Powell defended that appearance as the best he could do under the circumstances. It was not a very convincing presentation, but then Powell is a diplomat who knows how to smooth off the rough edges of bad policy choices.
What impact will the Powell endorsement of Obama have on the campaign? The careful manner in which Powell outlined Obama’s strengths, and his testimony, as a former military and government leader should give Obama a boost among those voters still not sure if Obama is up to the job.
Powell specifically rejected the blatant lie that “Obama is a Muslim”, with the emphatic, “Obama is a Christian”.
Then he added a dimension too often overlooked by public officials and pundits discussing this issue. He said, in effect, so what if he were a Muslim? There is nothing wrong with a Muslim running for president.
Powell referred to a photo essay that included a picture of a grieving mother with her head resting on her son’s grave marker. Her son was 20 when he was killed in battle. At the top of the marker there was neither a Christian cross nor a Jewish star, but a crescent, a symbol of the Islamic faith, revealing the American soldier as a Muslim.
Powell’s endorsement at this stage of the campaign is huge. It could make the difference in key battleground states. And it certainly makes the Ayers guilt-by association tactic look more and more like a desperate Hail Mary pass that was batted down at the line of scrimmage.
THREE MORE THINGS: The Justice Department attack on Acorn in the final weeks of the campaign–which Fox News has made its 24-7 news headline–is designed to intimidate and negate Democratic voters. But it is not a new tactic. A similar attack on Acorn by Bush’s Justice Department before the 2006 congressional elections led to Senate hearings, chaired by (an angry) Patrick Leahy. This clip is from hearings conducted in the summer of 2007.
Newspaper endorsements are rarely important in national elections. But the rush to endorse Obama this weekend all suggest a trend that at least three national media heavy weights want to avoid four years of McCain-Palin. The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post have endorsed Obama. Even the Chicago Tribune, which has not endorsed a Democrat in modern history, has endorsed Obama.
(A Tribune publisher sat with Bill Ayers and Barack Obama on that education board in Chicago. Was the Tribune ticked off over the implication that its people “hang around with terrorists”?)
The US Supreme Court has ruled against a lower court decision that would have blocked Ohio voters from casting their ballots on November 4. The case was brought by the Ohio Secretary of State, a democrat. Watch returns from Ohio on election night to see if references are made to the blow for democracy struck by a conservative court.
The photo of Colin Powell is by Miller for the New York Daily News
My money is on Colin.