Despite the careful choreography and showmanship, the Democratic Convention concluded with little in the way of news or surprises.
It's no surprise that we no longer need to refer to Sen. Obama as the "presumptive" nominee. It is no surprise that the Clintons gave rousing speeches in support of his candidacy. It is no surprise that the senator's acceptance speech, drawing on his substantial oratory skills, was socialist in substance and all things to all people in rhetoric.
It's no surprise that the video production introducing Obama made no mention of his Harvard education. And it's no surprise that, despite the intense commentary about the nomination of a black man for president, and the coincidence of this moment with the anniversary of Dr. King's famous speech, Obama barely noted this in his remarks.
Yet, despite the absence of surprises in these details, they nevertheless add up to a big picture that is enormously surprising.
This surprise is how many Americans appear willing at this point to place their bets for the nation's highest office on a candidate whom they still hardly know and who brings a resume to the job he is applying for that shows no experience in anything that he wants to get hired to do.
Moreover, in areas of policy, Sen. Obama's proposals are uniformly big government socialism that, in the past, has never delivered anything but mediocrity or failure.
Yet, despite all this, a Gallup poll of recent days showed registered voters saying they felt, by substantial margins, that Barack Obama would handle every single major domestic issue -- health care, economy, energy, taxes -- better than John McCain. It was only in foreign policy that McCain was favored.
Yes, the Obama candidacy is appealing to a lot of unhappy Americans and giving these folks hope.
Hope is a healthy and critical emotion. Without it, no one can go on.
But hope should be connected to prudence. It should accompany plans and behavior that are responsible and sensible. It should be what kicks in when we know we have done our part and then, with appropriate humility, acknowledge that everything is not up to us.
What is so unsettling about the Obama candidacy is that the hopefulness that it is eliciting does not have these characteristics. It's a kind of hope that is more accurate to call wishful thinking.
It's the kind of hope that goes along with behavior in which there is no logical connection between inputs and expected results. You just hope that what you want to happen will.
This is the "hope" that characterized so much of the subprime mortgage market that now sits in foreclosure. Folks getting loans for properties that they weren't asked to show in any meaningful way they could afford. The whole transaction was driven by the "hope" that prices will go up and up to justify the commitment that's been made.
There's a lot of speculation about why the Obama campaign has not soared. Why, when today's voter identification with the Democratic Party is 13 points higher than with the Republican Party, is the presidential race virtually tied?
I think it's because of the sense that the foundation of the whole Obama enterprise stands on emotional quicksand.
There are two ways that the Republicans can handle this.
One is the way Obama himself in his acceptance speech suggested they would: To drive a negative campaign and feed the many doubts that already plague the Democratic candidate.
The other is to reach out to the troubled hearts and minds of Americans today with a vision of substance.
Obama suggested in his speech that his lofty visions would be dismissed as a "Trojan Horse" for the abandonment of traditional values. He said this amounted to making a "big election about small things."
This was the most significant misstatement of his speech. Traditional values are not "small things." They are the biggest things. And the only terra firma that we really have in an uncertain world.
John McCain can hammer Obama into the quicksand on which he stands. Or he can point the way to the firm ground of real values on which this country was built and on which we must continue to stand.
I hope Senator McCain chooses the latter.
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