This week marked two major historical events with two history making
sequels. On the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s passionate
‘I Have a Dream’ speech, the first African-American presidential
nominee delivered his acceptance speech in front of the largest outdoor
stadium crowd and the largest worldwide audience via technology. And
just about on the anniversary of the women’s right to vote, the
Republican party named the first woman ever to the presidential ticket
as a running mate to the nominee.

How did they unfold? Rapidly. Within a roughly 15 hour span overnight from Thursday to Friday.

On the day of Obama’s speech, Sen. John McCain ran only one
television ad, congratulating Obama for his success and achievement,
noting the historically important day. “Well done,” he concluded. It
was classy.

As for the Obama speech, the grandiose setting turned out to be
impressive and inspiring. When he strolled out to thundering applause,
it was something to behold. When he began to speak, it was a special
moment for everyone who remembers the terrible racial tensions of Dr.
King’s day and even after. No matter what your party, you had to be
touched by what the scene represented, while the crowd continued to
roar.

But wait….within minutes, the speech devolved into partisan attacks
on John McCain. Obama unleased accusations and criticisms, one after
another, and it started sounding like another of the string of stump
speeches of the past several months. In that setting, he could have
ennobled, inspired, elevated. But he criticized and complained, with
the list of what’s wrong in America. Followed by such a sweeping list
of all solutions he promised, the montage of them all made it into Jon
Stewart’s opening routine on ’The Daily Show’ Friday evening.

Plenty of people – media and common folks – were surprised.

“This was not a classic Barack Obama speech,” said
Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, who has studied conventions
since 1952. “It was not an elegant speech. But that may have been on
purpose.”

Republican pollster David Winston warned that Obama ran the risk of
damaging his unifier image by launching bare-knuckled thrusts at his
opponent.

“His attacks on McCain were pretty tough, and that’s the one element
of his speech where he was in danger of conflicting with his brand,”
said David Winston, a Republican pollster.

“The question is: Will viewers interpret that as a harsh attack, or will they just view it as a contrast?”

One questions is….why didn’t he rise above this attack level,
especially on such an auspicious day? He overlooked Dr. King, he
overlooked McCain’s congratulatory ads.

This morning, John McCain’s dramatic announcement of Sara Palin as his running mate drew a quick criticism from the Obama campaign. Which came off so badly, it was quickly reversed by Obama himself.

Obama, who is eager to win over female voters who backed
his rival Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primaries, blamed the mixed
messages about McCain’s choice, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, on campaign
aides with a “hair trigger.”

Reaction flaming through the media today has revealed the partisan
fault lines of some. I’ve heard one critic on a PBS show with Bill
Moyers complain that Palin is a “ferocious anti-choice” candidate,
echoing the worst refrain of the day from the aggressively pro-abortion
forces who are railing at this particular choice.

The reporting in this WaPo piece was at least fair in its choice of language.

In choosing Palin, McCain also doubles down on the
maverick argument; Palin is the face of reform in the Republican party
nationally and is clearly not of Washington — a key element of her
biography given how negative voter sentiment toward the nation’s
capital is currently.

Palin is also strongly pro-life and well liked by conservatives of
all stripes, and her selection will be greeted with a huge sign of
relief among those within the Republican base who feared that McCain
might pick a pro-choice candidate like Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) or
former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.

Pause for a moment and realize the significance of a major media
outlet using the term “pro-life”. The style books these days require
them all to rely on what has become their instant disqualifier:
‘anti-choice’. Good for WaPo for the honesty.

Furthermore, they credit the Alaskan governor for the tough
anti-corruption reputation she swiftly earned in her state in winning
and carrying out an administrative role (as opposed to the legislative
of the other three candidates on presidential tickets).

Palin won quick confirmation from the fiscal
conservative wing of the party in the form of Club For Growth president
Pat Toomey. “At a time when many Republicans are still clinging to
pork-barrel politics, Governor Palin has quickly become a leader on
this issue,” said Toomey. “She is a principled reformer who understands
how badly wasteful spending has marred the Republican brand.”

She’s had the honesty and integrity to hold her own party up to the
highest standards, which the rest of the country is just learning.
Today.

Palin’s newness on the national scene is both her greatest strength and her biggest weakness.

On the one hand, she will be greeted as a fresh face with a
compelling personal story that voters will likely react well to. (Palin
also has a son serving with the Army in Iraq, an interesting parallel
with Democratic V.P. nominee Joe Biden.)

On the other, picking Palin complicates the argument forwarded by
McCain that Obama’s short resume makes him ill-equipped to be commander
in chief. In picking a candidate who has been a statewide elected
official for less than two years, McCain will be hard pressed to argue
that experience in public life is a critical component of serving in
national office.

But that also takes the ammunition Obama’s campaign fired so quickly
at Palin….out of their hands as well. How can they claim lack of
experience disqualifies her for being vice-president, when Barack Obama
arguably lacks experience to be president?

In Palin’s speech in Dayton today, she was positive, uplifiting and spirited. This part said a lot:

People expect us to govern with clear convictions, goodwill, and a servant’s heart.

It’s a new day.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....