Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Party’s Over, Now Let The Race Begin: Post-Convention Blues

by Simon Lemieux

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney
So, despite best endeavours of Hurricane Isaac (it caused the Republican convention to be delayed by one day) both parties have held their conventions, the Republicans going first in Tampa Florida and then the Democrats in Charlotte North Carolina. So what happened and does it matter? What indeed was the role of the US Party conventions we have just witnessed?
You’d think the words "convention" or "conference" imply debate, decisions or some type of high-brow political engagement. You’d be wrong. Forget any of the above – the best word for these events is rallies; rallies of the faithful, for the faithful by the faithful with a few celebs thrown in for good measure – it is the USA after all. Music, slick presentations, evocative symbols, passionate speeches culminating in 'The Great Man’ – the candidate himself. Yep, Nuremburg in the 1930s eat your heart out. If you look at the Republican crowd you’d also find a racial hegemony (Condoleezza Rice excepted) that Speer and Goebbels would have been proud of. These carefully crafted events are not about debate, ideas or even direct electioneering; they are designed to package and present the candidates. A display of party unity, an event to quicken the hearts of the core vote, that’s really what the modern US party convention is all about. Ever since the shambles of the Democrats' 1968 convention, when they went about selecting the actual candidate at the convention and did it badly, these phenomena are all about presentation and image.
They need to appeal to their core voters, as I said earlier, so not surprisingly the Republicans focused on the need to vote Obama out; any candidate will do, even a Mormon and venture capitalist who cut jobs ruthlessly when head of Bain Capital. It was a fundamentally negative message; what did Mitt Romney have to say that was new, radical or interesting? Must have missed that bit…. Still, hear it below if you like. Hot on rhetoric, low on supported assertions. Did he admit we got the Olympics right in the end? NO HE DID NOT! An apology, not likely – this is all about domestic politics, not foreign policy. Make up your own minds from the final speeches below from the two candidates:
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney:

Democratic presidential candidate (and current president) Barack Obama:

Another feature of the conventions is wheeling out the WAGGs (Wives and the Great and Good). Both Mrs Romney and Mrs Obama spoke, telling everyone how lovely, caring and inspirational their husbands were. We ought to have heard Tammy Wynette's 'Stand By Your Man' at this point, but, instead, we bring on the kiddies. Americans just love a family man, so, just to prove the point, on they all trot…

Listen to Michelle Obama here:
Speaking of family values naturally brings us on to Bill ‘Zipper’ Clinton, who gave a well received speech. Now elevated to the ranks of the Great and Good, he represents that role past Presidents and candidates can play in lending their support to the current contender. Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain spoke up in favour of Romney; well, I guess someone had to…. But politicians whose star is on the wane are no match for true celebs. The Democrats always have the edge, Hollywood is always more liberal- leaning. So, bring on Scarlett Johansson, the Foo Fighters and Eva Longoria of Desperate Housewives fame. The Republicans had a tougher time finding their own A-List. Still, 82 year old Clint Eastwood was on hand --- along with an empty chair as you can watch below:

Actually, an empty chair pretty much sums up the real significance of both occasions. No substance and, above all, no 'bounce'. One of the main purposes of the conventions is too add a few points to candidates' poll ratings. The indications are that this time neither candidate managed this hoped-for bounce in approval ratings. Serves them right – the US economy is still struggling, the latest unemployment figures are still above 8%; Obama is not winning here. But can Romney inspire voters and present a viable alternative? He saved the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, but can he save himself? It’s still neck and neck after the party season of the conventions is over. Let the real campaigning begin . . . but no, hang on a minute, it’s already been going on for months, if not a year or more. Let the final leg begin, then . . .

See Simon Lemieux's reflections upon the Republican primaries.

Stephen Dunne wonders whether the Supreme Court has saved the Obama presidency.

Will Wallace imagines the consequences for Britain of a Mitt Romney presidency.

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