by Wendy Simmons | September 7, 2012 3:00 pm
The Democrats had three goals for their convention this week in Charlotte, NC: to defend President Obama’s record, to convince voters that the Republicans plan to take the country back to the dark days of the Bush administration, and to make the case that with four more years of Obama at the helm, we will continue to slowly work our way out of the present economic slump. I give the Dems an A+ on achieving the first two goals and a B on the final, perhaps most important goal. They also get extra-credit for showcasing veterans and patriotism.
Bill Clinton’s full-throttle defense of the Obama presidency was without question the best speech of the convention, perhaps the best speech of his entire career. He arrived to a hero’s welcome and spent 48 minutes defending the Obama administration and the Democratic agenda more generally with detailed and robust policy wonkery, infused with the Clinton charm.
That speech accomplished in less than an hour what Axelrod and the gang have been trying to achieve for more than a year: explaining just how bad the situation was on Obama’s inauguration day, assuring the public that no president could have restored the country to full employment in just 4 years and dismantling the legitimacy of the Republican plan to “double down on trickle down.” He effectively highlighted the profound lack of policy detail on display in Tampa last week and called out the GOP for rejecting a long history of compromise in favor of rank partisanship.
While Bill was by far the highlight of the convention, Michelle Obama’s warm and passionate tribute to her husband was a close second. Her speech functioned as an attack on the Romney campaign, albeit a subtle one. Mitt Romney has struggled to convince the electorate to like him; his profound wealth has created a barrier between himself and the average American that has been hard to overcome.
Although Ann Romney did an admirable job last week trying to assure voters that Romney shared their values and could be trusted with the presidency, Michelle Obama’s narrative of her husband’s humble roots had the effect of showcasing the stark difference between the life experiences of these two candidates. Obama has consistently been more “likeable” than Mitt Romney, according to polling data, and Michelle’s speech served to cement that impression.
Indeed, Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama wooed not only the political commentariat across the spectrum, but apparently had a profound effect on the electorate as well. The Gallup daily tracking poll shows a significant jump in Obama’s approval rating after those two delivered their prime-time addresses. According to today’s numbers, which were taken September 4-6, President Obama’s approval rating jumped 3 points to 52% and his disapproval rating fell 2 points.
Vice President Joe Biden also made an impassioned defense of Obama. Although Biden is often known only for his “gaffes”, his speech last night showed some real muscle. He told his own story of growing up in a middle class family that struggled and of working closely with Obama to focus on how policies affect the average American. He reminded voters of how courageous it was for Obama to order the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. His pitch was clearly designed to reach out to working class and middle class white voters, a group the Obama campaign has had trouble with this election cycle. He did that effectively.
While Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama and Vice President Biden, along with countless other speakers, did a stellar job defending and explaining the past four years, it was ultimately up to the president himself to present a vision for a second term last night in his acceptance speech. On this front, his effort was satisfactory, not inspired. Obama has a nearly impossible challenge: to convince the American people that even though we are still in the midst of an economic slump, we are slowing working our way out of it and with another term in office, he can help us make even more progress.
Obama’s speech last night did not include any new, specific, policy proposals to combat the seemingly entrenched problem of unemployment. He did, however, promise that he would not give in on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the middle class. Although he mentioned it only in passing, he reiterated his desire for a “grand bargain” in the spirit of the Simpson-Bowles commission, which calls for major reform of taxes and entitlements at the same time. In short, much of his speech was a reiteration of what his agenda has been for the last 4 years. He framed it optimistically and encouraged Americans to stick with him for another round.
Although he did not have any new policies to offer, Obama and his party made a convincing case this week that the GOP offered nothing but tax cuts. They (primarily via Bill Clinton) strongly defended the foundation for recovery that has been built under Obama’s watch.
Mitt Romney was rightly excoriated last week for failing to even mention the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the veterans who have fought in them. The GOP is typically thought of as more patriotic and militaristic than the usually more dovish Democratic Party. There was something refreshingly dissonant about the focus at the DNC on veterans, the war efforts and the successful elimination of Osama Bin Laden.
While Obama’s biggest challenge has and will continue to be a weak economic recovery, his party and convention did a yeoman’s job of reminding America of what an effective commander-in-chief he has been.
In short, the DNC was largely a success. It rallied the base, reached out to undecideds, highlighted the achievements of Obama against unlikely odds, and made a reasonable, if not overwhelming, case for another 4 years. On these factors alone, Obama should receive a bump in the polls over the next couple of days.
However, before the convention planners had even begun to clean up, a new and depressing jobs report was released, showing that only 96,000 jobs were created in August. Although the Democrats won the convention battle handily, in November it may not matter a bit.
The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.
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