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September 2008

Consistency, Change and Conventions

Between the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention, and their coverage on PBS (especially the Lehrer NewsHour), I've probably watched more TV in the past two weeks than I have in the past two years. It seems that change is very much in the air - or, at least, on the air - but it appears that the conception of change is not consistent across parties ... and, indeed, in at least one case, it does not even appear consistent within a single individual.

I've watched the party nomination acceptance speeches of Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin and John McCain, as well as the speeches by Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton - which, I suppose, could also be considered speeches of acceptance (of Obama's nomination) - and the speeches by Fred Thompson and Joe Lieberman - which often times seemed to focus more on rejection (of Obama) than acceptance (of McCain).

As is the convention with political conventions, and politics in general, the speeches were generally high on emotion and low on fact. One generally has to turn elsewhere to learn more about the facts. One source I found increasingly helpful - both for facts and an emotional uplift (particularly during the Republican convention) - was The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (part of Comedy Central's Indecision 2008 coverage).

The Daily Show obviously plays loose with the facts and exhibits a certain bias throughout its coverage, and this applies to its coverage of the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention. However, I suspect the level of truthfulness and bias is on a par with Fox News, and it's important to remember that the former is billed as a comedy show while the latter is billed as "fair and balanced" reporting. And, although a vocal minority on the right claims that PBS exhibits a left-leaning bias, and John McCain once claimed that cable networks are less biased than PBS and "superior in some cases", I think most people recognize that PBS offers the least bias and greatest depth of any news and information source on U.S. television.

Regardless of one's views of the respective (if not respectful) biases exhibited by various organizations and shows, there was a recent segment on The Daily Show that reviewed some of the facts and fictions about John McCain as a maverick reformer - or, as they so humorously reframe it, reformed maverick - which contrasts sharply with his running mate's claim that

"As for my running mate, you can be certain that wherever he goes, and whoever is listening, John McCain is the same man."

As the following video suggests, consistency is in the eye of the beholder:

Personally, despite my disagreement of some of Senator McCain's views, I had a generally positive impression of him during what the video describes as "The Wild Years (1936-2006)". But, in the segment "Abandoning Everything He'd Ever Stood For (2006-present)", the juxtaposition of statements by Senator McCain and Presidential Candidate McCain highlights striking inconsistencies in his views of the intolerant right wing of his party, a woman's right to choose (about which The Daily Show had a great segment entitled "Bristol Palin's Choice"), taxes, and the "difficulties" encountered in the war in Iraq.

Now, I suppose these statements could simply reflect that John McCain is an agent of change (i.e., he is willing to change his own views). And, as they showed in another segment on his acceptance speech, his views on change are not terribly different from the views of change articulated by the Republican nominee for president in 2000, George W. Bush, on topics such as abortion, education, taxes and bipartisanship (see the segment between 4:51 and 5:48):

I'm reminded of Ghandi's views on consistency, change and truth:

"My commitment is to truth as I see it each day, not to consistency."

Ghandi never ran for the office of U.S. President (or Vice President), and I suspect that holding - or admitting to - this kind of perspective would not serve candidates well in this time and place. He also once noted that

"I have sacrificed no principle to gain a political advantage"

This uncompromising policy would also not serve him well in U.S. politics.

But speaking of consistency, change, conventions and compromise, I want to note that in her introduction to the president's speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention, First Lady Laura Bush reminded the conventioneers that she had introduced her husband during the 2000 Republican National Convention as "a man of character, whose principles would not shift with the winds of politics or polls". I do believe that President Bush has an uncompromising commitment to the truth as he sees it ... and I suppose that one of the things that has bothered me during the last 8 years is that his view of the truth is often inconsistent with mine.

A few years ago, in a revelation of the truth as he sees it, President Bush claimed that God told him to invade Iraq, which is more consistent with reality than any other rationale I've seen regarding his reason(s) for doing so. The high cost of the war in Iraq - and the willingness to continue paying the price - is one of the important differences between the two U.S. presidential candidates. While McCain supports the war, I don't believe he does so for divine reasons ... but, as a final note on consistency, change and convention, it is noteworthy that the "beautiful, charismatic, and creationist" [as Jon Stewart put it] Republican Vice Presidential candidate appears to share Bush's view that the war in Iraq is "a task from God". In the truth as I see it, this does not reflect the kind of change we need.