I don’t think I have been this nervous about an election since Brash vs Clark in 2005. There are about half a dozen swing states where Romney and Obama are neck and neck, and several more that are in play. So the conventions over these last two weeks are a big deal.
I was moderately impressed with the GOP convention. The fact that I was not more impressed was probably down to the fact that Romney is a pretty boring nominee, and the energy was one of getting Obama out, rather than getting Romney in. Though I have to say that I could not now envisage Gingrich being as credible on that stage, and I am glad he was eventually put out of the running. But someone like Rick Santorum would have been much better. And Sarah Palin would have been infinitely better.
Romney was, I think, pretty wise to exclude Palin from the convention. Palin has a way of making it all about her – no bad thing in itself – she is the finest political talent to emerge since Bill Clinton, but when you are trying to sell the actual nominee, having the shouldabeen nominee there is not going to help. You risk a Reagan moment like that of 1976, where Reagan’s speech was more memorable than that of Ford’s.
Of course, other speakers outshone Romney anyway, whose speech did the job, but in the merely adequate style to which we have become accustomed from him. Marco Rubio, who preceded him, is a freakish talent, and he just owned it when he spoke. Can anyone stop this man in 2020? Likewise, the wonkish Paul Ryan had some excellent moments, especially when he talked about faded Obama posters on bedroom walls. You can see how effective it was too – the Democrats (and Cameron Slater) cannot stop talking about how it was supposedly full of lies. Many people rubbished Christie’s speech, possibly because they expected him to tear Obama a new arsehole and he underdelivered. I think this is unfair – Christie gave an excellent, positive speech and showed that he is more than just a noisy union-buster from Joisey.
I don’t think I saw anyone do anything but wildly praise Condoleeza Rice’s speech, so let me be the first to say that I thought it was awful. It was a tepid defence of neocon foreign policy, which offered no convincing criticism of the current administration. In fact, Rice did not mention Obama once in her speech, when a couple of lines of laying into him might have been the most powerful thing said all week. Her halting delivery made me glad that Romney had not chosen her for the VP slot. As for what she said about Romney and Ryan, forgive me if I thought it was damnation with faint praise. She probably voted for Obama last time, and her speech gave me no confidence she won’t do so again.
But of course the speech everyone will remember from the GOP convention was that of Clint Eastwood. Watching it live, I was convinced that the Republicans had blown it very badly, and that I was watching a demented eightysomething actor "going Brando" on us. Now I am not so sure it was all that bad. Eastwood knew what he was doing. He’s an actor FFS! And here he is, on live TV, doing what no comic has hitherto been prepared to do: Make fun of Obama. Watching the speech on the internet, in isolation from the convention around it, the powerful message of Obama as an "empty chair" who is "not up to the job" and needs to be "let go" really hits home. Convention ratings have been very low, and for many voters, Eastwood’s speech could be the only thing they saw of the event. And that is no bad thing at all. Who better to reach independent and undecided voters? By accident or by design, Eastwood’s speech was a WIN.
Other than that fascinating pop culture moment, the best achievement of the convention was the attempt to humanise Romney and show his character and compassionate side. They did so well on that count that even I have trouble thinking of him as a lying flip-flopper any more. He seems like a good fellow who knows how to fix stuff. Let’s make him President then.
The convention TV ratings so far have been pretty piss poor, and even worse for the Donks than the GOP. I suspect this is because most people have already made up their minds, but in the case of the Democrats, I think it is a great shame. I want as many people as possible to watch the Democratic National Convention to see how out of touch the party has become with ordinary Americans. They insist on highlighting their stance on issues where they are in the minority view, such as the abortion and gay marriage debates. That’s not how you win votes. You can’t get Americans to support you by showing them how different you are from them. It is a marked change from the conventions of the 1990s, when it was the Republicans who were giving Pat Buchanan speaking slots, fighting a losing battle on the culture war front, and looking like the out of touch ones. Speeches so far have been nothing but rants on the straw men of women’s rights and class warfare. I was disappointed that Harry Reid only spoke for a few minutes. He defines Angry Old White Male. I would have given him a whole hour to rail against the world and lose even more votes.
Things they have done right so far:
Better enthusiasm levels than the GOP (but this means nothing, since I am sure Kim Jong Un generates the same levels at his conferences, and supporting Obama IS somewhat reminiscent of cult fanaticism);
Newark Mayor Cory Booker slayed it – even if his rhetoric was the same empty leftist crap, he yelled it in such an inspiring way;
Showing Mitt Romney’s old campaign footage against Ted Kennedy – if I wanted the Donks to win, all I would ever do is show old Romney footage, and I don’t understand why they haven’t made more use of it;
My local Mayor Julian Castro was good talking about his background, and his line about borrowing money from your parents to start a business was the most cutting thing said all evening. Another Obama though? It’s hard to run for President without holding a statewide office, and Castro has almost zero chance of that in Texas;
…and I have to say that Michelle Obama’s speech was… not bad. She kept the politics to a minimum and talked about her family and background, which is what she needed to do to distract from her husband’s failed Presidency. The past is a safer place for the Democrats than the present.
How is this convention going to pan out for them? Honestly, I think they are caught in a delusion. They really do think that Mitt Romney wants to outlaw contraception and tax the middle class so that him and his wealthy mates can go buy some yachts. The American public aren’t that stupid. They want to know how Obama is going to fix the deficit, and what they will see is a man who can speak pretty words, but can’t actually solve the problem. What the Dems do have on their side is Scientology Syndrome – by the time you realise your religion is based on some weird alien narrative, you’ve already invested so much in it that going back now would be suicide, so you double down. Are enough people really prepared to break from their faith in Hope and Change and acknowledge that there was nothing there but… an empty chair?!