Monday, September 1, 2008

Impressions of the Democratic National Convention

Political conventions have become an orchestrated circus, full of fluffery and puffery, hyperbole and hypocrisy, distraction and disingenuous statements, magic and mendacity. The DNC was no exception, and there is no reason to believe the RNC will be any different.

Obviously, what distinguished this Convention from all that preceded it was the nomination by a major political party of an African American for the Presidency.

Yet, this was not a Rainbow Coalition. Where were the Hispanics, Asian Americans, and Native Americans in positions of prominence? Congresswoman Lynda Sanchez had a short speech, but that was about it. A growing political split between Blacks and Hispanics is inevitable. Hispanics are increasingly displacing Blacks from their traditional power bases in the economy and politics in major cities like Los Angeles.

Yet the odds of Blacks turning to the Republican Party are low and some Republicans are doing their best to repel Hispanic support with hard line immigration positions.

The second general observation is that we witnessed the end of two modern Democratic dynasties: the Kennedys and Clintons.

The prime time presentations were, as expected, excellent. The substance is irrelevant as these speeches are honed for style.

We witnessed the Last Harrah in Senator Kennedy’s speech. It was not a great speech, but a powerful and moving speech as the Senator left his hospital bed to appear at what is probably his last Democratic Convention. He apparently did not write the speech, which was somewhat disjointed at times, but he delivered in his inimical, forceful style.

Senator Clinton presented her acceptance speech, with the obligatory sops to Senator Obama. Much of her speech was “Me, me, and me,” so vote for Obama. Interestingly, she only mentioned her husband, if my count is right, a few times.

Michelle Obama is impressive in her own right. She is a working mother, educated at the nation’s top universities, a professional, and highly intelligent (probably smarter than her husband). Her achievements, like her husband’s, demonstrate the greatness of the American Dream, upper mobility, and strength of character.

However, the speech tried to transform her into a Stepford Wife with a Cheshire Cat smile. If the handlers could have, they would have presented her as a suburban soccer mom. Obviously the need was felt to personalize Michelle, and indeed Barack, as ordinary Americans in light of their past gaffes that indicate elitism and disdain for fundamental American values.

If Senator Clinton’s speech was “Me, me, and me,” then President Clinton’s speech could be summarized as “Be Like Me?” Barack will be a great president if only he follows President Clinton’s lead.

The former President delivered a speech he didn’t believe in as only Clinton could.

Joe Biden’s speech was mercifully short. He talked about his Catholic working class, Scranton background and the tragedies he overcame – truly a compelling personal statement. All I remember is “Always get up.”

The highlight was his 90 year old grandmother. He couldn’t find much to say about his or Barack’s legislative accomplishments. 36 years in the Senate and not much to show for it. How sad! He claimed the Violence Against Women Act as his, but that’s equivalent to Al Gore’s invention of the internet.

Senator Obama displayed his oratorical gifts to 40 million viewers. He is the greatest orator of our age. His was a soaring aspirational speech followed by a crescendo of fireworks – 45 minutes of empty rhetoric extolling the mantra of change. True change comes from the outside, which is why Senator Obama nominated a 36 year veteran of the Senate to be his running mate.

He laid out a laundry list of traditional Democratic pabulum. He even promised a taxcut to 95% of working class families, a middle class tax cut. He forgot to mention retirees and senior citizens.

Remember to follow President Clinton’s lead. Governor Clinton promised a similar tax cut 16 years ago, but once in office he realized that the only large pool of taxable income is from the middle class. Those of us, the vast majority, whose income is reported on W-2’s, have no loopholes, no special deductions, no shelters to minimize our reportable incomes. Hold on to your wallets.

He said little about Senator Biden’s accomplishments, just as Biden said little about Obama’s. The silence says everything. To fill the void Senator Obama repeatedly attacked Senator McCain, a role usually reserved for the Vice Presidential candidate.

Oratory is a great skill, but should not be confused with expertise, judgment, decision making, values, morals, or governance.

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