As I wrote in my last post, a political convention serves very little long term purpose. The cheering partisans all feel elated in the moment, confident of victory and sure of their candidate’s qualifications to be president. Next week, the Republicans will leave their convention feeling just as sure of themselves as the Democrats do today. So my obvious partisanship aside, what can you really take from this convention? No, the capacity crowd at Mile High Stadium does not translate into broad, nation-wide popular appeal, nor does Obama’s, by most estimates, knock-out speech mean that McCain will be in any way… well, knocked out. That said, I think there will be a few lasting results from this convention that are worth mentioning.
First, this is a very significant moment in our nation’s history. While some may down-play Obama’s race because he was raised by a white mother and white grandparents, there can be no doubt that this was a cathartic moment for Americans. Does it heal all racial wounds and being the long multi-cultural, tossed salad era of American utopia? No, of course not. But few, if anyone, thought that it would. We live in a world of symbols, where meaning is derived from what we see around us, and to see a black man standing on that stage, and God willing in the oval office, is the most potent symbol of racial equality imaginable. Does it reflect the reality? Of course not, but it can pave the way to where the signified can actually match the signifier.
The subtext (or perhaps not-so-subtext) to this convention was unity in the Democratic party. In what has been billed as a modern day War of the Roses, the house of Clinton and the house of Obama have had to find a way to unify into a single political force. As I said before, this was always going to happen. The questions, of course, were to what extent would Bill and Hillary work to unify the party and would Hillary supporters leave the convention fully supporting Obama? With the Clintons’ speeches Tuesday and Wednesday, the roll-call stunt, and tonights rousing final spectacle, there can be little doubt that any delusion of a divided Democratic party is dispelled. Were I a GOP strategist, the one thing that would worry me about this convention is not Obama’s final willingness to hit back against McCain’s negative, Rovian politics, but that the Democrats were so successful at unifying. Those who recall the 2000 and 2004 elections know that Rove thrives on exploiting so-called “wedge issues.” We can be sure McCain will use those in this election to further divide the electorate, but if there was even a hint of division within the DNC coming out of the convention, McCain would be able to exploit those cracks and the Dems would continue their losing ways in November.
While still too early to say for sure, I think Michelle Obama has gone along way to reclaim her image. Her with Barack and their two daughters is just too powerful of an image to combat. Expect Republicans to push every button they can, so her character is not yet safe, but I think the charm offensive worked well and the Republicans will look particular disingenuous and heartless if they try the “the fist bump is actually a terrorist greeting” tripe again.
“Bush… *cough* excuse me, I mean McCain…” Who knows if the “McCain is running for dubuya’s third term” strategy will work, but you have to give the Dems credit for picking a lane and sticking to it. Virtually every major speech highlighted the similarities between McCain and Bush. In fact, I can’t even count the number of times their names were hyphenated together: Bush-Cheney-McCain foreign policy, Bush-McCain energy plan, Bush-McCain voting record, Bush-McCain hot dog stand, etc. As CNN’s John King mentioned after the second night of the convention, we have to remember that the persuadable people in this election are actually a pretty small percentile. I think the Dems will win or lose based on how well they were able to convince that persuadable population that McCain offers “four more years of a failed Bush presidency.”
I fully expect the GOP convention to instill a similar sense of furor in its partisan crowd. However, I don’t think that the Republicans have as many questions to answer about their candidate or their party unity, so I don’t think they stand to gain as much from their convention as the Dems did. I expect that Obama comes out the net winner in the convention round because he’ll have the holdout Hillary supporters back in his corner. But that advantage will do him little good if he doesn’t do well in the debates later in the month.