As an innocent bystander who watched from home and tried to follow the most important prime-time speeches and then channel surfed for different pundit reactions of both conventions, here is my assessment of the two presidential conventions of 2012.
The DNC won by a knockout. Outside of a platform kerfuffle about God not being mentioned and Jerusalem recognized as the capital of Israel, which was resolved to include both and reflect the president's view, this was a disciplined, well-organized, and on-message convention.
One could say the platform issue showed that the president is in charge of his party as he dictated the change. This is in sharp contrast to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's differing with his party's platform on the question of banning abortion in the case of rape and incest, which he opposes. The GOP platform still supports the passage of a constitutional amendment banning abortion with no exceptions made. Is this the case of the tail wagging the dog? As the GOP Speaker of the House John Boehner questioned: "Who really reads the platform?" I guess it depends on which side you're on and how much political juice you can generate from it.
All of the DNC speeches referred to the message of why President Obama should be re-elected: he is building an economy built to last, has saved the auto industry, killed bin Laden, ended the war in Iraq, is pulling the troops out of Afghanistan, stopped torture, passed historic health care reform, supports women's reproductive rights, gay rights, and the children of immigrants, and has restored America's reputation in the world.
The opposition may take issue with the first and last above declarations but the DNC speakers made an admirable case for Obama's domestic and foreign policy accomplishments.
Is it just me, or do the Democrats have a plethora of exceptional orators in their party? I recently wrote a blog for The Huffington Post praising the women who spoke at the RNC convention, feeling that they outshone the men. Well, the DNC presented many speakers of both sexes that took my breath away.
Governor Deval Patrick (Mass.) and Mayor Corey Booker (Newark, N.J.) come to mind. As well as the keynote speaker, Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, Texas. Rep. John Lewis (Ga.), who shared his stirring experiences as a Freedom Rider alongside Martin Luther King, reminded me of how far we have come as a nation concerning civil rights.
On the female side, of course we have the outstanding speech from the first lady, Michelle Obama, who gave us a compelling look at her husband. She assured us he is the same man she married and that he cares deeply about this nation and is working hard to restore it. With her oratory skills, she could easily have a career in politics should she choose to pursue it.
Then we had Sister Simone Campbell from the "Nuns on the bus tour" (organized to oppose GOP VP candidate Paul Ryan's budget) who brought the house down as well as former Governor Jennifer Granholm (Mich.) who reminded me of a pep rally cheerleader. Let's not forget the poise of Sandra Fluke and the reception given consumer advocate Massachusetts Senator candidate Elizabeth Warren who claimed "corporations are not people." Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the daughter of President Kennedy, reminded us of the quality of courage displayed by her father and her uncle Ted whose legacies highlight the Democratic party's commitments to equal opportunity and health care for all.
But the woman that stole my heart and created the most emotional moment of the convention was Gabby Giffords, former Congresswoman from Arizona who is recovering from an assassination attempt last year. She walked out onstage unassisted with her best friend, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fl.) to lead the pledge of allegiance to the flag. It brought tears to the whole delegation as well as some commentators. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC was clearly moved and shortly afterward requested the camera be taken off of her while she gathered herself.
Gabby's Gifford's courage and determination are an inspiration to a nation badly in need of healing. Watching her walk out there by herself unassisted reminded me of my recently departed 91 year old father, who had broken his femur bone at age 85. He had a titanium rod placed in his leg and the doctors told him there was a 70 percent chance he would need a walker or cane for the rest of his life. After a period of rehab, he was freely walking again around the mall. I was constantly reminded of him as I was watching the events of the DNC. He was a proud FDR Democrat who served as a Marine in Iwo Jima. I know he would have been moved by Gabby and this whole convention.
Gabby's story reminds us that with hard work and a positive attitude we can overcome impossible situations and rise again. This is not dissimilar to the message of the DNC convention. If we work together as a nation we can overcome these tough times.
The DNC craftily brought out the contrast of their theme of "opportunity and fairness for all" verses the RNC's "I built that." Gabby reflects a marriage of these two philosophies in that as she as an individual worked hard to recover and she was the one walking on her own. But she had tremendous help from the medical world, love from her husband and family, and the prayers and well wishes of an entire nation. She did the recovery but we all supported that.
Two interesting twists about the conventions are that the RNC highlighted African-American, women and Hispanic speakers while not particularly promoting the causes of those minorities. The DNC emphasized foreign policy having a full segment on honoring the troops past and present with videos and presenting them onstage. There were even times that the delegates chanted "USA" during certain foreign policy speeches. I felt I was in an alternative universe.
Unlike RNC speakers GOP Governor Chris Christie (N.J.) who was accused of self promotion and VP nominee Paul Ryan who was caught telling falsehoods, I can't think of a single DNC speaker that I heard who failed or faltered at their task. Even Senator John Kerry (Mass.), the 2004 losing presidential nominee, excelled as he gave a scathing critique of Mitt Romney's foreign policy gaffes. My favorite line was, "Mr. Romney, here's a little advice: Before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself," referring to Romney's switching of positions on Iraq and Libya. The address could be considered somewhat of a payback for Kerry who was accused of being a flip-flopper by George W. Bush.
After being introduced eloquently by his wife, Jill, Vice President Joe Biden delivered what I thought was the best speech of his life. He was both strong and compassionate and showed his deep connection with the common man while extolling his boss, President Obama.
In fact, all of the speakers spoke highly of the president and reinforced his image as an effective leader and caring, compassionate family man. This is in contract to the RNC speakers who rarely mentioned Mitt Romney but mostly spoke about their own life stories.
President Bill Clinton's Wednesday night speech was the highlight of oratory for me. I had forgotten what a great statesman he is. He was the perfect one to lay out the case for Obama's economic accomplishments and future plans for the nation because he has been there. He was the only president in recent history to balance the budget and actually have a surplus. It's like that old TV commercial "when Merrill Lynch talks, people listen." When President Clinton speaks about economics, people listen. He made me a believer. Some say his speech was too long. It didn't seem long to me. The time moved fast as I was enthralled, hanging onto every word.
This created quite a dilemma for President Obama. How could he top that? There was so much momentum created from the First Lady's speech to all of the great above mentioned speakers to President Clinton's masterpiece. How would he measure up? As everyone knows, the president has a great reputation as an orator, but the bar was placed very high for him. Could he deliver?
Yes, he did. It was a masterful speech combining humility, recognition that change is hard work, comparing his plans to his opponents, acknowledging that he needs more time to implement lasting change, and bringing the message back that we the people are the ones to create that hope and change. He said: "My fellow citizens, you were the change. You did that" (a subtle rebuttal to "I built it"?).
The ending of his speech was the most inspiring part to me:
"We don't turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up. We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that Providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth."
That about sums up the whole DNC. Pundits questioned whether there is an enthusiasm gap between Obama and the Democrats. None of that was present at their convention. In fact, the delegates seemed worked up to a frenzy. On the other hand, the RNC seemed to be a self promotional event with few mentions of the nominee. The one thing uniting the GOP seems to be their desire to not re-elect Barack Obama.
What will be the main motivating factor in the election? The Democrats' positive promotion of President Obama or the Republicans' negative critiques of him? And where does Mitt Romney come into play in all of this? Hopefully, the debates will make things clearer. But if a candidate were chosen for how well they managed their convention, I would give the edge to President Obama.
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