On Thursday night, Barack Obama stood behind a dais in Charlotte, North Carolina with two things on his mind. Like his Republican challenger, the President set out to deliver a speech that would capture the hearts and ballots of the quadrennially important, undecided American voter. But, in a rite of passage for all incumbent Presidents, Obama also had to focus on reaching out his hand to bring back the disillusioned and discouraged masses who had soured on the audacity of his false hope. We were the ones who bought high on his promises of change we can believe in only to sell low when that change never really materialized. Now, the POTUS needs us again and to win us over he unleashed an onslaught of neo-liberal persuasion upon at the Democratic National Convention. Barack sent out his stunning wife to warm the crowd on Tuesday with her eloquent professions of adoration for the First Husband only to have Bill Clinton tear the roof off the sucker on Wednesday night with a speech that reminded the country why Bubba was and is the best political speaker of the past half century. We were given a healthy dose of Biden bravado on the climactic night of the convention and even saw John Kerry act like the Presidential nominee he never was. All of this led to Barack Obama’s acceptance of the Democratic nomination and what amounted to a preemptive State of The Union address illuminating the accomplishments of a second term that might not happen.
In contrast with President Clinton’s speech on Wednesday, there wasn’t much arithmetic in Obama’s address. The President didn’t go into any detail about the success of the Affordable Care Act or the big bailout of the financial sector. He went to great lengths to present himself as having a good deal of foreign policy experience and neglected to discuss any of the specifics regarding the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Other than the odd line about creating jobs in the manufacturing sector and raising fuel standards, there was little evidence that any action had been taken during Obama’s first term. This is blatant falsehood, but it’s a falsehood that the Obama campaign wants to place in the minds of voters come November. In a shrewd move, The President has begun acting like he’s already won the election, regardless of opinion polls or unemployment numbers.
The Romney camp’s only chance to win this election is to make it a referendum on Obama’s first term and not a comparison of the two candidates. By every available metric save “experience running hedge funds and exploiting offshore tax havens,” Obama has Romney beat to rights. There is absolutely nothing exciting about Mitt Romney. Outside of his wife and offspring I sincerely doubt if there is a man or woman alive who is genuinely inspired and excited by his Mitt-ness. There are millions of Americans who will vote for him in November, but they’re mostly voting against Obama as opposed to for Romney. It’s a carbon copy of the 2004 election, when you had an incumbent president who was immensely unpopular with the opposing party’s base, but no decent candidate to challenge him. I mean, Mitt Romney is really just John Kerry’s more attractive, less politically savvy, conservative brother. The two men are both exorbitantly wealthy old white men who are thoroughly unlikeable, unable to relate to people and were elected to office in the state of Massachusetts. Kerry never managed to connect with the electorate enough to win him The White House and, unless he catches fire during the debates, neither will Romney. His only hope is that enough people hate Obama enough to vote against him.
In order to ensure that this wave of anti-Obama voters never surges, The President and his handlers decided to make this election a choice of ideologies rather than a choice of men. Throughout his speech on Thursday, Obama kept reminding Americans that they had come to a crossroads with regards to the future of our country. On the one hand is the extremist right who wants to dissect Medicare, privatize Social Security and give the rich a free ride. They are anti-choice and anti-woman. Their America has no place for nuanced foreign policy or reasoned debate. However, the Democratic party is the 21st century champion of equity and fairness. Theirs is a path that values education and the environment. Democrats are the only ones who truly look out for the middle class and can begin chipping away at out country’s Brobdingnagian debt. They are the party that can live out the promise of our forefathers.
Not all of these things are true, but there is an element of truth in each and every one of them. Unlike the GOP, which has decided to completely abandon the idea of an objective reality, the Democrats have chosen to exaggerate rather than lie. President Obama spent his time on stage as as a sort of Presidential hype-man. The speech was equal parts Martin Luther King and Don King. Yes, there was talk of the American Dream and the unparalleled opportunities1 that we all enjoy, but a lot of Obama’s speech was good ole fashioned event promotion. Tuesday! Tuesday! Tuesday! Come see the biggest election in the history of our great nation! Vote for the party that won’t turn America into a feudal state! Get a free sticker! The Democrats are doing something that is usually the province of their Republican counterparts. They’re making this an election about values and beliefs, not people and political records.
Was Obama’s DNC speech a barnburner? No, but it was never supposed to be. After the four years he’s had in office, the pyrotechnic displays of his 2008 campaign would be inappropriate. He inherited the worst situation for an incoming President since FDR and he did a decent job. If we were ranking presidents right now, you’d have to say the man would come in smack dab in the middle. He could have done a hell of a lot better in his first four years, but he also could have done a hell of a lot worse (see Bush, George W). He also wants you to forget that those four years ever happened and look to the future. This is a campaign that knows that they underwhelmed during their first act, but are confident they can bring down the house in the second. In order to get that chance, they’re banking on convincing the American people that their mediocrity was simply a prelude to prosperity. Or, if that fails, reminding us that mediocrity is always preferable to the calamity offered on the other side of the ballot.
1For those of you keeping score at home, these opportunities are actually quite paralleled. The biggest part of American Exceptionalism is unwavering and unsubstantiated belief that we are better than everyone…ever.