In the interest of full disclosure, I did not watch all of last night's convention coverage. With the Mets in the fight of their lives, I had to flip back and forth. But I doubt that made any difference on my opinion, and I've since gone back and read or watched the speeches...
I am officially worried.
This entire summer, I predicted a blow-out. I guaranteed Barack Obama would shatter 300 electoral votes, sweep an impressive majority into Congress, and wield the "political capital" President Bush so pompously claimed in 2004.
But now, I'm worried about my party's November chances.
This week, Democrats haven't driven the final nail into the Bush Administration's coffin, or fortified their position as the stronger party for the next generation. They've only taken us half way.
All week in Denver, primetime speakers have stated the obvious: We cannot afford four more years of Bush policies. The American dream now seems out of reach. Barack Obama can change the direction of the country.
So while the speeches were good, and each major speaker accomplished the goal handed down by the 24- hour news media, there was very little overall connection to the overarching theme of why our country is so desperate for change. Instead they answered GOP talking points: what is Barack's story? does Michelle love her country? will Dems unite?
The speakers offered up worn phrases mixed with the most tired of political devices-- the encounter story. You know what I'm talking about:
"Once I met a woman with one leg, no house and the Clap..."
"... that's when I met Joe, who works 8 jobs, sleeps a half hour a month, and makes just $12k/ year..."
"An old Army vet told me the only thing he loves more than the American flag is apple pie, and the only thing he loves more than apple pie is a bald eagle carrying the American flag in his talons, and the only thing he loves more than that is if the eagle served him a heaping slice of apple pie in the Grand Canyon..."
(Is it just me, or is that stuff is entirely ineffective? I find it forced and disingenuous. And even if those encounters really happened, Democrats need to speak to the middle class, not the guy with no legs and VD.)
What was entirely lacking was meat to back up the words. When President Clinton was in office, his speeches were littered with statistics that illustrated our country's progress. Wow, you'd think, we're doing really well. He did some of that last night, but in all there was not nearly enough.
The only hard facts or numbers that stick out from this week is the price of gas, which we already knew, and may not even be a political winner thanks to confusion over the (lack of) benefits to drilling.
Of the four major speakers (Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and Joe Biden), President Clinton had the best appeal to average folks:
"In this decade, American workers have consistently given us rising productivity. That means, year after year, they work harder and produce more.That is what we needed, but we didn't get enough. In making their closing argument, Democrats asked for the verdict without presenting the evidence.
Now, what did they get in return? Declining wages, less than one-fourth as many new jobs as in the previous eight years, smaller health care and pension benefits, rising poverty, and the biggest increase in income inequality since the 1920s...
They took us from record surpluses to an exploding debt; from over 22 million new jobs to just 5 million; from increasing working families' incomes to nearly $7,500 a year to a decline of more than $2,000 a year; from almost 8 million Americans lifted out of poverty to more than 5.5 million driven into poverty; and millions more losing their health insurance.
Now, in spite of all this evidence, their candidate is actually promising more of the same."
In the minds of too many Americans, that comes across as America- bashing. Democrats have the charge of any party out of power, speak to the virtue of the country and enrage the electorate that its been so badly mismanaged. It's an awkward task made easier because this administration's mismanagement has been so blatant. But Dems didn't remind the public why we're so passionate this time around. The focus was on shorting out Republican attacks instead of building our case against the other side.
Two oil men took over the government and ran up record oil profits. Along the way they tanked the economy, re-wrote the Constitution and put unqualified friends in positions of public trust. Millions have suffered because of their incompetence-- that is this president's legacy. But Democrats shied away from addressing it explicitly, favoring general language instead.
It could just be the lawyer in me, or the Carville- influence. Maybe I'm just more into the pointed style. But as I watched the speeches, I had to remind myself why I don't like this president or the Republican party; why I believe the country is on the wrong track. Those are memories and connections I shouldn't have to make, the Democrats should be walking voters slowly down memory lane of the last eight years.
Maybe Obama pulls it off tonight. Maybe it won't even matter. Maybe I'm just being paranoid. Maybe, but I'm officially worried.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention John Kerry's solid speech on John McCain and international relations: