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ROBINSON: A tale of two conventions

Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson

A tale of two political conventions

CHARLOTTE, N.C.Judging by the party conventions, you'd wonder why this election is even close.

In Tampa, despite some unexpectedly amateurish stagecraft, Republicans put on a credible display of unity and resolve. No one could come away doubting that the party very much wants to defeat President Obama in November.

But I think it's fair to conclude that the GOP's emphasis is on "defeat Barack Obama" rather than "elect Mitt Romney." And many of the party's rising stars, judging by their convention speeches, seem to believe it's likely that Romney will lose.

Coming to Charlotte, I expected to see a party on the defensive. Instead, Democrats orchestrated a convention that felt strikingly focused and spirited. Speakers relentlessly emphasized the "re-elect Obama" side of the equation, relegating "defeat Romney" to second billing. The oratory was superior, the visuals were more telegenic and there were no Clint Eastwood moments.

You can't conclude that just because the Democrats' three-day infomercial was better than what the GOP put on, Obama is going to win. But even if the conventions aren't remotely as important as they once were, they're not meaningless. They do say something, and this year the message for Democrats is decidedly hopeful.

As I said, the GOP did a respectable job. The most obvious missed opportunities came on the final night -- not just the Eastwood Incident, but also the failure to ensure that some of those tributes to Romney's character from individuals whose lives he touched aired on the broadcast networks. But none of this amounts to a major disaster.

Thematically, however, there was a meandering quality to the Tampa convention. In large part, this was due to the decision by some of the marquee speakers to spend more time talking about themselves and their accomplishments than about Romney.

I'm talking about Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida -- both, not coincidentally, seen as potential presidential candidates in 2016 should Romney lose. It was hard to imagine why Christie and Rubio -- and several other speakers as well -- would give such priority to their own political prospects if they really believed Romney would be occupying the White House for the next eight years.

In Charlotte, by contrast, there was practically no freelancing. Every speech centered on one of two clear themes: Why voting for Obama and the Democrats is right and why voting for Romney and the Republicans is wrong. Self-indulgence and self-promotion were not allowed.

Even one of the most famously uncontrollable speakers of our time, former President Bill Clinton, stayed relentlessly on message throughout a masterful 50-minute speech. Republicans who suspected -- or hoped -- there might be a glimmer of daylight between Clinton and Obama must have been disappointed.

Clinton's powerful argument for Obama's re-election was constructed like a lawyer's brief. He systematically countered the Romney campaign's main lines of attack -- Medicare, welfare, didn't-build-that -- and offered a wonderfully succinct distillation of how Democrats see the difference between the two parties: "We believe that 'We're all in this together' is a far better philosophy than 'You're on your own.'"

Clinton's embrace of Obama -- political during the speech, physical when Obama walked onstage at the end -- was complete and unreserved. Might the former president, totally by coincidence, have also begun to lay the groundwork for a presidential run by Hillary Clinton in 2016? If so, I think he just wrapped up Obama's support.

All right, Clinton is a unique political asset whom Republicans couldn't be expected to match. But frankly, in terms of speechifying, any one night in Charlotte was better than the whole week in Tampa. The Democrats' first evening featured a barnburner from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a stemwinder from San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and a rafter-raiser from first lady Michelle Obama -- plus a couple of also-ran speeches that would have been considered rhetorical highlights at the GOP convention.

And for all the talk of an "enthusiasm gap" favoring Republicans, the energy levels inside the two arenas tell a different story. It's not that the Tampa hall lacked enthusiasm, it's that the Charlotte hall seemed absolutely on fire. Maybe it was desperation among Democrats who realize that Obama could possibly lose. Maybe it was the acoustics. Whatever the reason, I don't know anyone who didn't notice the difference.

Conventions don't win or lose elections, but they can help or hurt. This tale of two cities says President Obama has had a very good couple of weeks.

Eugene Robinson is an associate editor and columnist for The Washington Post. Email him at eugenerobinson@washpost.com. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/eugenerobinson.

Comments

kevin 2 years, 3 months ago

For once Robinson "hit the nail on the head." You are so right, We want anybody or anything but Obama, period. Thy will be done in Nov. It seems to be more an election of the "haters' vs the "lovers." In this scenario, I am certain it is the haters that have it right. hate having a country loaded down with 10X the debt that any GOP President ever made. having less jobs and no improvement in over 4 years. having a country "sink" to its lowest level in the eyes of the world. Having a "socialist" government, after swearing on a Bible to uphold the law of this land. I could go on an don but I don't want to waste my time telling the people in this country what they already know. We need real change! Obama out.

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notblind 2 years, 3 months ago

Obama - "You don't like my anti-American pastor of 20 years? Ok I will go to another church".

Romney - "I'm a Mormon, end of discussion".

In a nutshell, that's the difference between the candidates. One is a political animal that will say or do anything to get elected. The other is a business leader [ plus the Olympics ] that has probably created more jobs with private money [ including his own ] than Obama has created with taxpayer money. One guy knows how to get things done. The other is an expert campaigner but has never stayed in one job long enough to gain any credible expertise that would benefit him [ and us ] in the next rung.

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Say_that_again 2 years, 3 months ago

That's wild! You expect president Obama to travel back to Chicago for church! If he did that, you would criticize him for wasting tax payer money. Then your point about Romney -"I'm a Mormon, end of discussion". You should add to that other statements like -"I'm only releasing 2 years tax returns even though everyone knows I am hiding something, end of discussion" and "so what if I drove companies into bankruptcy, end of discussion". Also "So what if I avoid taxes with offshore tax avoidance schemes, end of discussion". This technique should not work with voters and definitely will not work for international affairs. With the constant reversal of position, Romney has proven he will say anything to get elected. Obama has a proven track record for pushing forward with most items on which he ran. As for his "Business" experience, it was based on bleeding companies for his own profit. We do not need someone in the White-house that believes the middle class is only there to serve the wealthy. Running Bain is nothing like running a country. It is the responsibility of the President to work for all Americans, not just the wealthy. By his own admission, Romney has stated "I like firing people". To make the statement that Romney has created jobs shows a total lack of understanding of Bain capital and what that type company did. They would take over companies, reduce expenses, primarily payroll with layoffs. Then sell the company. Other times they would close the companies, firing everyone and just liquidate assets. A few companies did survive the process and may have more employs today than when they were sold but those few jobs cannot be credited to Romney and are far outnumbered by those that his process removed.

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notblind 2 years, 3 months ago

Obama changed churches long before he was elected president. The second there was backlash when he was campaigning he dumped Rev. Wright immediately.

As for Bain, I like the one where the first lady was bragging on a daycare corp that Bain backed.

Keep trying though.

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Say_that_again 2 years, 3 months ago

If that is factual, then be so kind as to give a name of the church to which he changed his membership prior to becoming president. Before you waste too much time looking, please note that he was traveling around the country campaigning during this time, probably stopping at different churches every Sunday when he could find the time. To be fair, I didn't waste my time looking because the possibility of his choosing a different church during this period is so remote. Do you think before you write? What's your point about Michelle Obama praising Bright Horizons? It only proves that Michelle Obama does not allow her politics to cloud her judgement of a company. I never claimed that no companies succeeded after Bain took over.

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jack 2 years, 3 months ago

By his own admission, Romney has stated "I like firing people".
"What Romney actually said was, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me," and he was talking specifically about switching health insurance companies if a provider isn't giving good service."--PolitiFact Georgia
But please, don't start doing any independent research on your own before repeating cherry-picked facts that fit your particular ideology. It wouldn't be as entertaining.

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Say_that_again 2 years, 3 months ago

Do you have any concept of the meaning here? The fact still remains that Romney gets pleasure from taking away someone's means of making a living. It was a stupid statement coming from someone that thinks they have sufficient knowledge to run the country and demonstrates how out of touch he is.

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jack 2 years, 3 months ago

I understand the meaning quite well. It's the freedom to take your business elsewhere if you are not receiving good service. Clark Howard advises the same thing daily on his radio program. To proclaim Romney gets pleasure from taking away someones ability to make a living as FACT is asinine.

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gwinnettisgreat1 2 years, 3 months ago

Democrats told us something all right! We are better off now than we were 4 years ago! Hogwash. Our debt is 6 TRILLION higher, taxes are higher, cost of living is higher, jobs are fewer, there is more people on welfare than EVER before.

Keep voting Democrat because you are black, BO is depending on your allegiance.

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Say_that_again 2 years, 3 months ago

Please, lets take an honest look: These facts are easy to find: Percentage increase in the debt: Ronald Reagan 189%, GHW Bush 55%, Clinton 37% GW Bush 86% and Obama 35%. In addition to this, we have government spending increase at its lowest percentage since Reagan took office. Part of the problem has been the Bush tax cuts which are still in effect. President Obama has signed into law additional tax reductions for working people. This makes your claim of higher taxes also totally wrong. Cost of living increase is slower than average. I am not black, nor am I stupid or too lazy to do the research. I will be voting for Obama because his stated plans, along with the things he has done and is pushing to do, will continue the progress toward a more sound economy. The very few details that Romney has released, coupled with his choice of Ryan, indicate a move in the wrong direction, duplicating the failing methods of GW Bush that got us in the mess. If Romney has a good plan, then he should release all the details so some real economists can analyze them. All Romney is doing now is trying to change the subject away from the economy, which by every resource is improving, and away from his tax returns, which he obviously has something to hide.

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