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Switching Back Into Convention Mode

Alan Brinkley--who is the provost and a professor of history at Columbia University, as well as a National Book Award-winning author--will be writing for us throughout the Republican convention.

Last night's session of the Republican convention was as bizarre as any I've ever seen--and having grown up as a convention junkie, I've seen (and attended) a great many. It was jarring to flip around the networks and cable channels and find all the important broadcast journalists in storm gear somewhere on the Gulf Coast, hardly mentioning the campaign or the convention. It was also symbolically jarring for the Republican convention to open with scenes so redolent of the GOP's worst moment since Watergate. McCain was smart to relocate to the Gulf Coast.  It would have been a terrible image had he been hobnobbing in Minneapolis while a disaster was occurring in Louisiana. But in fact, there was no great disaster in the Gulf, and thus probably no great political dividend for McCain (and no real redemption for Bush, who decided this time to fly to--rather than over--the endangered area only to find himself without anything much to do). Watching late into the night, I saw a few interviews with Obama, but virtually nothing of McCain. What a no-win situation he was in. He probably had to come to the Gulf, but all it got him was a day in which he should have been the major figure in the news and instead was almost invisible.

And then, of course, there was Sarah Palin. Everyone in both parties is trying to be either enthusiastic or at least polite about this choice, but can there ever have been a less qualified vice presidential candidate in the last century? Not to mention the great likelihood that all the various revelations of the last few days had not been disclosed to the McCain campaign before she was selected? There was clearly a vetting failure by both candidates. I'm assuming this will not be a Tom Eagleton rerun, that Palin will survive the surprises. And she probably will help with the evangelical right--but is very unlikely to help with many of the disillusioned Hillary supporters she tried to embrace at her announcement.

Having taken on a rather pious, non-political demeanor during the storm, how easily can McCain (and the rest of the party) turn back to the scorched-earth destruction of Obama that they surely have in mind? My guess is, very easily.

--Alan Brinkley