I turn on the TV in America, and in the first ten minutes I see...

Barack Obama in Iraq, meeting with the troops and sinking his long basketball shot. My Lord. Politicians have to be tough, and driven, and indefatigable. They also have to be lucky.

We can think of unlucky examples. Gerald Ford, who out of college was offered pro football contracts, tripping on his way down the steps to Air Force One. The first George Bush, all-American* college baseball player, bouncing a ceremonial First Pitch before tens of thousands in the Astrodome (as immortalized in Richard Ben Cramer's What It Takes). Jimmy Carter, lifelong outdoorsman, being caught in a surreal photo that made it look as if he were being attacked by a crazed rabbit.Let's not get into Al Gore's luck in 2000.

I don't know how many times out of ten Obama would make that shot -- but with the (military) cameras running, he made it this time. And it becomes much harder to portray him as an anti-military outsider weirdo after the pictures of the troops clamoring to shake his hand. Politics is only partly rational. The late Mike Deaver, who didn't care how much TV reporters criticized Ronald Reagan as long as they kept broadcasting handsome-looking shots of him, would have appreciated the importance of this footage. If Obama wins, we'll see film of this trip three or four years from now and be amazed that the the worn, haggard looking man in the White House ever looked so carefree and fit. But that's how he does look now, and anyone who has seen campaigns knows how powerful these images are. (And I'm not even talking about the whole godsend for Obama of P.M. Maliki's comments.)

T Boone Pickens bewailing America's dependence on imported oil. I have spent no time on Pickens' plan and don't know whether it makes any sense. For purposes of argument, let's assume it doesn't. The mere fact of a grizzled tough guy saying, "This is an emergency," was startling to see  -- and welcome. Much like grizzled tough guy Ross Perot talking about budget-balancing in the 1992 campaign. His own plan had its problems, but he changed the debate.
Health Care Now with its wonderful "Magic Eight Ball" ad mocking the health insurance companies. History would be different if some comparable campaign had been launched in 1993 when Bill and Hillary Clinton were pushing their health care plan.

TV seems more interesting than I remembered, at least in this first blast. I hope it's as interesting in my next three days here.

UPDATE: Kumar, of Harold and Kumar fame, is now on House? WTF??? This is not right.

* Sorry, hyperbole. Thanks to Garrett Epps.