Politics Straight, No Chaser
Conventions Lack Policy Substance but Reaffirm Values
Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 01:09
Much has happened in the political world recently. The Republican National Convention took place two weeks ago in Tampa, Fla. followed by the Democratic National Convention last week in Charlotte, N.C. Many people avoid watching conventions, seeing them as tedious and superfluous events. Conventions today are more like pep-rallies or party infomercials than forums for substantive candidate and policy evaluation. The scripts are tightly-knit and no real risks are taken. At the onset of party conventions in the mid-1800s, the stakes were high and in some circumstances disputes over the party’s nominee would actually escalate into violence. Today, not so much. Despite some drama at the RNC involving Ron Paul and his supporters walking out and Clint Eastwood’s bizarre ad-libbed address to an empty chair in which an invisible Obama sat, the conventions ran pretty much according to plan.
So, do conventions, being devoid of significant substance or surprises, still matter? To those who tune out of politics, it probably doesn’t. To others, however, convention speeches can provide enthusiasm and insight into the party and its top members. Evidence of this enthusiasm was displayed by Bill Clinton’s speech on Wednesday, which actually surpassed the ratings of the season-opening Giants Cowboys football game by more than 5 million viewers. The speech even tied TLC’s Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, a show about a wild, tiara-clad, Red Bull-drinking six-year-old. Now that’s a feat.
Clinton confronted some key Republican attacks head-on, especially the trending question of “Are we better off [after Obama’s first term]?” Obama has sidestepped this question for some time, but Clinton strongly and confidently provided a response. “Are we better off than we were when he [Obama] took office, with an economy in free fall, losing 750,000 jobs a month? The answer is yes!” he said.
Obama turned those figures around, creating 22 consecutive months of private-sector job growth and more than 4 million jobs since 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Clinton also staunchly defended other Obama policies, including the Affordable Care Act and its effect on Medicare. He called out Paul Ryan, derisively saying, “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry” when he heard Ryan’s attack on Obama’s proposed cuts to Medicare—cuts that are identical in Ryan’s and Romney’s budget plan.
The accuracy of Ryan’s speech caught more than just Clinton’s attention, however. Ryan’s speaking skills and his ability to capture the hearts of the audience, calling his mother his “role model,” were quite impressive and sincere. Fact-checkers found that sincerity was lacking, however, in the many false and misleading accusations in other parts of Ryan’s speech.
One of the most notable falsehoods involved a personal anecdote about a General Motors Corp. plant in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wisc. He noted that in 2008 President Obama made a speech at that very plant, promising that it would last for another hundred years. “Well, as it turned out,” Ryan expressed sullenly, “that plant didn’t last another year.” What he decided to leave out, however, is that the plant announced its closure before Obama was even elected.
Besides being a platform for call-outs and abundant rhetoric, the conventions also allowed the presidential candidates to address and, in their hope, improve perceived weaknesses or flaws.
Romney attempted to develop his “humanness” and likeability, a problem that has plagued the stiff and socially awkward businessman, with a sentimental speech from his affable wife, Anne. According to a Gallup Poll released in August, 54 percent of Americans find Obama more likeable, compared to Romney’s 31 percent. After the convention, however, a survey from the Pew Research Center showed some possible progress, finding that 25 percent of Americans now have a more favorable view of him.
On the other hand, Obama wanted to give off a realistic yet inspirational and united tone regarding his most vulnerable issue, the economy. He noted that he is proud of his achievements but is “far more mindful of [his] failings.” He continued, “I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now. Yes, our path is harder—but it leads to a better place. Yes our road is longer—but we travel it together.”