By Ernest Corea
They are done. Democrats and Republicans have completed their conventions, and President Barack Obama has secured the anticipated post-convention bounce.
The latest Gallup poll puts Obama at 49 percent among registered voters, compared with 45 percent for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. The Reuters/Ipsos poll also gives Obama a four-percentage-point lead over Romney, 47:43. Obama’s personal favourability rating has increased as well and his favourability:unfavourability score is up to 52:43. That’s a seven percentage point bounce.
Also part of the current reality is the news on the jobs front that was announced just a day after the Democrats’ convention ended. The number of jobs created rose to 96,000 in August from 86,000 in July. Undoubtedly, this is an improvement on the massive monthly job losses that President George W, Bush bequeathed to Obama, but nowhere near adequate to turn the employment situation around.
Comparing the effervescence of the Democrats’ convention to the sobering reality of weak job creation, Romney in a rare resort to humour said: “Yesterday was the party, today is the hangover.”
World famous economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman writing in the New York Times looked at future trends and said: “. . . the next four years are likely to be much better than the last four years – unless misguided policies create another mess.”
Affection for candidate
Political junkies love the conventions. Media folk revel in the opportunity that each convention gives them to burnish their reputations by being engaged in a special kind of coverage and comment. Academics and other consultants offer themselves for televised analysis and interpretation.
But the coverage obviously does not bring in the amount of advertising revenue that media bosses need, and the television networks have steadily reduced the amount of time devoted daily to convention coverage. Print media, however, continue to saturate their pages with convention news and “infotainment.”
Anybody who followed both conventions would have noted that from the beginning, the Democratic convention was energized, enthusiastic, and emphatic. They were, to repeat the Obama team’s favourite slogan: “fired up and ready to go.”
Reporters “working the floor” of both conventions noted that there was a sense of affection for Obama in Charlotte that eluded Romney in Tampa. There was, as well, an abundance of good fellowship among the Democratic delegates.
Commenting on the Democratic convention’s opening day, New York Times columnist Charles Blow presented readers with this vivid contrast between the two party conventions: “The rousing start to the Democratic convention here in Charlotte, N.C., makes last week’s Republican convocation in Tampa, Fla., look like, well, a tea party.”
Chuck Todd, the Political Director of NBC News, posed the question: “Who won the last two weeks?” The answer, he said, was “. . . when you compare Romney’s speech with Obama’s and the GOP convention vs. the Dem convention, it’s easy to conclude that Obama and the Democrats won the past two weeks.”
Commenting on the convention process, Todd said that “you saw the building up of Obama the man by Michelle; the contrast (between the two candidates/parties) and the economic narrative from Bill Clinton; and the way forward from Obama. Michelle put down the building blocks, Clinton put up the walls, and Obama put on the roof.”
“Big Dog” delivers
The party establishment reportedly had some concerns about how Clinton (the Big Dog, as he is affectionately known to the party’s rank-and-file members) would conduct himself on stage. Would he, for instance, seek some revenge for his wife Hillary’s defeat in the party primaries the last time around? They need not have worried. With wit and wisdom, he built the case for Obama’s re-election.
Clinton delivered a steamroller of a political oration, a 50-minute classic that left opponents and critics flattened in its path. It was a “call to arms” to his fellow Democrats, and an urging to his fellow citizens not to be misled by the “smoke and mirrors” tactics of his party’s opponents. If Obama had made this case for his re-election, he would have been shrugged off as being boastful. From Clinton, the case was difficult to dismiss.
He spoke confidently of what he claimed was the historic contribution of the Democratic Party to job creation. He said: “Well, since 1961, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our economy produced 66 million private sector jobs. What’s the jobs score? Republicans 24 million, Democrats 42 million!” Several news organisatiions crunched the numbers and found them to be accurate.
And here is how he nominated Obama to be the Democratic Party’s candidate for the presidency:
“We’re here to nominate a President, and I’ve got one in mind.
“I want to nominate a man whose own life has known its fair share of adversity and uncertainty. A man who ran for President to change the course of an already weak economy and then just six weeks before the election, saw it suffer the biggest collapse since the Great Depression. A man who stopped the slide into depression and put us on the long road to recovery, knowing all the while that no matter how many jobs were created and saved, there were still millions more waiting, trying to feed their children and keep their hopes alive.
“I want to nominate a man cool on the outside but burning for America on the inside. A man who believes we can build a new American Dream economy driven by innovation and creativity, education and cooperation. A man who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama.
“I want Barack Obama to be the next President of the United States and I proudly nominate him as the standard bearer of the Democratic Party.”
Overall, the Democrats had an impressive line-up of effective speakers including but not restricted to: First Lady Michelle Obama, Senator John Kerry, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, Mayor Julian Castro from San Antonio, Texas, Harvard scholar Elisabeth Warren who is running for Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat, and Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. In addition, of course, there were Obama and Biden.
They were all outstanding. Each one of them spoke with passion, and self-assurance, as well as with a withering contempt for the “other side.” Deval’s eloquence was particularly significant because he is the governor of Massachusetts where Romney also served as governor. Deval meticulously and with devastating effect dismantled the Republicans’ claims of Romney’s achievements there. He also urged his fellow-Democrats to “grow a backbone” and stand up for their party and its principles with confidence.
Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, was the convention’s focal point for foreign policy, although Obama dealt with that side of a president’s business as well. Kerry used lacerating words in describing the perceived amateurishness on the part of the Republican candidates. Romney’s recent “grand tour” of foreign capitals was not a goodwill mission but a “reel of bloopers,” he said.
Defining the choice between the two camps on the foreign policy front, he said:
“In this campaign, we have a fundamental choice. Will we protect our country and our allies, advance our interests and ideals, do battle where we must and make peace where we can? Or will we entrust our place in the world to someone who just hasn’t learned the lessons of the last decade?
“We’ve all learned Mitt Romney doesn’t know much about foreign policy. But he has all these ‘neocon advisors’ who know all the wrong things about foreign policy. He would rely on them – after all, he’s the great outsourcer.”
If there was one moment that outshone all others as illustrating the spirit of the Democratic convention, it was the appearance on-stage of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the survivor of an attempted assassination, who suffered a near-death experience and is not yet fully recovered. Her very appearance evoked a boisterous standing ovation which was repeated after she had led the convention in saying the American pledge of allegiance.
On the cutesy side, there was Castro’s three-year-old daughter Carina who, discovering that she was on camera and visible to the entire crowd, unselfconsciously and in a charming bit of play-acting, groomed and re-groomed her hair with exaggerated care. Said Castro later: “I will remind her of this sometime in the future, perhaps on her wedding day.”
All of which made for a robust and highly fervent convention: well-planned and well run despite the vagaries of the weather. It would be a mistake, however, if the party faithful were to assume that a successful convention means election victory is at hand. Post-convention bounces can disappear and, lest we forget, there is always that “October surprise” that is expected every election cycle.
So both sides look to a tight and tense last phase of the election campaign which includes the presidential and vice presidential debates.
The writer has served as Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon ‘Daily News’ and the Ceylon ‘Observer’, and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore ‘Straits Times’. He is Global Editor of IDN-InDepthNews and a member of its editorial board as well as President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council.