The Party Line
Tue September 11, 2012
Some Thoughts From Charlotte’s DNC
Before the convention, we heard a lot about the lack of Democratic enthusiasm among the electorate, but the delegates in the arena were not having any of that. It was obvious from the beginning, with Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker’s platform address, that the attendees started at a high energy level.
Sure, there were a few duds in terms of enthusiasm (a certain US Senate Majority Leader come to mind).
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick delivered what I think could have been a keynote address. Delegates truly felt that he captured the common themes going forward for the general election.
But the barnburner of the opening session was the first lady's speech.
At points, you could hear a pin drop because everyone was so captured by her address. But as she neared the end, the crowd's energy really became apparent and set a level for Wednesday's business and leading into Thursday's acceptance speeches by the vice president and president.
Compared to Monday's session, Tuesday’s overall session was truly flat, with the exception of three components: the 10 o'clock hour (primetime, the move from BoA Stadium to TWC Arena, and the beginning of the session with the platform amendment altercation.
Surprisingly, some real controversy at a very-well scripted DNC occurred during the second day’s proceedings. Two amendments were offered to: 1. reinstate the 2008 platform language that includes "God" in the following statement: "... gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential" and 2. to align the platform with "what advisers said was Obama's personal views on Jerusalem."
With only about a quarter of the delegates present as the session was gaveled into order and the motion was proposed, the chair went through three rounds of voice votes (the last being a "screaming" vote) before accepting the 2/3 vote to amend the platform.
In the age of carefully scripted conventions, this was a significant unforced error that Republicans pounced on. The Democratic Party had similar language in its 2008 platform. Has anyone heard of cut and paste, perhaps?
Then there was the decision to move President Obama’s acceptance speech from Bank of America Stadium to Time Warner Cable Arena. While the GOP was instantaneous in its glee (substituting "You didn't build that" with "You didn't fill that"), Democrats responded that 65,000 folks had community credentials and another 19,000 were on the waiting list—more than enough to fill the stadium (well, more than would be at a Panthers game...but I digress).
These hiccups will likely be forgotten.
While the weather was seen as the major factor for the change in venue, I would add other complicating factors. For one, there’s the sheer logistics of moving everything from the arena to the stadium, especially for the television networks. They needed about 12 hours of lead-time before the crowd arrived at 1 p.m.
There was a report that the Secret Service "suggested" the move due to the threat of lightning. Granted, wet Obama fans would be one image that the campaign could live with, but someone struck by lightning was too much of a risk for convention planners and the Secret Service as well.
After that announcement was made, former President Bill Clinton took the stage Wednesday night. Clinton was classic Clinton.
He was a storyteller, who looked like he was chatting to every individual in the packed arena; an ad-libber, who doubled the words of the written speech; and the one who could appeal to the base (90 percent approval by Democrats) and independents (67 percent approval). Heck, even Republicans give him a 43 percent approval, based on Gallup.
He was the classic Southern narrator, mixing humor (“It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did”) with a deep level of policy wonk. Again, classic Clinton. He set the stage for President Obama to present his “forward” vision of why he deserves another four years in the White House.
The energy level on the last night of the convention was certainly apparent among delegates. They got an earful from a variety of folks, including James Taylor (when he appeared next to an empty chair, he remarked: “I know it’s an empty chair. It makes you nervous, doesn’t it? It’s all right, I’m gonna sit on it. I’m not gonna talk to it.”)
There were some dazzling performances by Senator John Kerry (who launched into his own “flip-flop” attack against Mitt Romney) and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who looked like she was going to break the podium apart in a fiery populist speech.
Surprisingly, Vice President Joe Biden – known for his gaffes – gave a much better speech than I expected.
Along with a personal perspective of his parents and life, Biden gave a simple but effective message: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”
He gave behind-the-scenes perspective at how President Obama arrived at these two critical decisions, and I thought they were among the most powerful rhetorical tools that were used during the week.
President Obama’s speech, on the other hand, seemed to suffer from a common ailment: speech by committee. Yes, Barack Obama is a wonderful orator, and he certainly was competing with his own previous deliveries.
But the speech was one that seemed one-part “Clinton State of the Union,” one-part Michael Douglas’ The American President, and one-part true Obama.
Along with the laundry list of policy proposals (but no real specifics given behind them), Obama’s first part of the speech read like he was giving the annual message to Congress—and his delivery matched the occasion (I’m here to give this, so just let me get through it).
Then came the declaration that “I’m no longer just a candidate. I’m the president.” My mind immediately cued the scene where Michael Douglas declares: “My name is Andrew Shepherd, and I AM the president.
Finally, we got the real Barack Obama, one that delivers the lofty oratory with visionary statements laden with American ideals. By that point, some folks were not sure if we were still in Bill Clinton mode or Andrew Shepherd mode, which was disappointing.
Delegates were engaged and roared their approval, while the president often would keep talking through their reverberation (a delivery no-no, but he is the president).
Overall, the DNC matched and exceeded its prime objective: energizing the base for the long, two-month haul through to November 6.
I would be surprised, though, if we see much “bounce” come out of the convention weekend, especially with the mixed jobs-report delivered less than 10 hours after the president’s speech.