Commentary: The Democratic National Convention

Sep 11, 2012

I again asked students in my American Political Parties class at Columbia College if President Obama’s acceptance speech was a success and if it changed their minds about him.  Of the six who sought the bonus points, four went in supporting Obama and none changed their minds.  Most comments were about the emotional power of the speech and how good a public speaker he is.  The criticisms were of the lack of specifics.  One was very positive despite her feeling that he had made little progress on his promises from four years ago.

Both students who did not support Obama still do not.  One admires his speaking ability but disagrees with most of his stand on the issues.  She complained that it is the same speech he has given for the last four years.  “Worn out clichés” was about the kindest thing the other one said about the speech.

I tend to agree with most of my students’ comments.  It was a good speech, strong on emotive content, lacking a lot of specifics – a fairly mainstream Obama stump speech, an activity at which he excels.  He pushed plenty of the Populist buttons.  His biggest applause line was, predictably: “Osama bin Laden is dead.”  One of my students noticed, as did I, that a number of delegates were curiously disengaged at times.  He did leverage his status as incumbent, as well he must.

I have waxed nostalgic during the last two weeks.  The first convention I recall was the Democrats’ in 1956 one, when conventions were covered gavel-to-gavel on all three television channels.  Yep, if you didn’t like ABC, CBS or NBC, you were out of luck.

I watched the 1968 Democratic convention and was thunderstruck when Sen. Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut used his speech to accuse the mayor of Chicago, the host city, of using Gestapo tactics to deal with protestors, to which Mayor Daley replied – it didn’t take much lip-reading – with words that the Federal Communications Commission still will not allow on the air, even in these permissive times.  On the split screen was the Battle of Grant Park, the late 60s version of reality TV.  Ah, the good old days.  It was all quite amazing.  The Democrats lost in 1968, changed their nomination rules and conventions have been sort of boring sense.  When big news in the run-up to the 2012 Democratic convention is Barack Obama’s recipe for home brew, you know things have gotten pretty tame.

So where are we in the campaign, after the conventions and before the debates?  It feels like Obama is ahead and that it is his election to lose.  Barring a Todd Akin-scale gaffe, Obama is in pretty good shape.  And Obama, as the incumbent, still might have an October Surprise in his hip pocket.  There is one potential serious obstacle in his path, however, and I’ll talk about that in a future commentary.