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We now are entering into the last fortnight of the 2008 Presidential Campaign. This period often marks the final descent into demagoguery, character assassination and hysteria as appeals are launched to the baser instincts of the populace in an effort to deflect reason. All who use such tactics are worthy of a firm rebuke and not worthy of a vote. But I would like instead to highlight some of the positive moments of the 2008 campaign in a series of posts in which I hope to highlight things done well.
My first award is for the best speech in a comic mode, and the winner is Senator John McCain. The speech was delivered on October 16 at the annual Al Smith Dinner, an event supporting Catholic charities hosted in New York. It is a white-tie affair, and by tradition, every four years both major party presidential candidates are invited to speak. The guidelines are clear. The speaker needs to finish in less than fifteen minutes and he needs to be funny. The speeches delivered at this year’s function were among the most entertaining ever (Obama proved himself very able), but the best performance was certainly McCain’s. Watch the presentation here:
Many observers have commented that the John McCain who appeared at the three presidential debates is not the John McCain they know. I belong to that group. The John McCain I know is this man: jovial, relaxed and having good fun as he takes good-natured jabs at his colleagues and himself. McCain’s problem in the debates has boiled down to one thing: the dynamics of the campaign put him in a position in which he had to be tough and on the attack, landing hard blows. It’s clear that this is not a role that McCain likes, and in fact he feels awkward trying to fulfill it. Looking back at this campaign over time, this is the McCain speech I want to remember.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”