SO... DID BARACK OBAMA DO
WHAT HE HAD TO DO?
What the Democratic
Convention did, and
did not, accomplish
Saturday, August 30, 2008
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
Putting aside the fact that, the day after the 45th Democratic National Convention in Denver wrapped up, Republican presumptive presidential nominee John McCain then took over the news headlines with his choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate (about which I will have more to say than I have already said in my [second] Commentary of 29 August when I write my next Commentary previewing the 39th Republican National Convention yet to come), it is time to look at whether or not Barack Obama and his Party did what they had to do going into the Fall campaign.
Before I provide my own "review", let me here just say a few things about that phenomenon known as post-Convention "bounce":
The term relates to the more usual spike in the public opinion polls that a Major Party's national ticket usually gets and which first becomes apparent in the earliest hours immediately following the adjournment sine die of that Party's National Convention. In the case of the adjournment of this year's Democratic Convention, 'tis been said that McCain's choosing of Governor Palin wiped out the effect of any such "bounce" for the Obama/Biden ticket.
However, in reality, post-Convention "bounce" has largely proven to, ultimately, be irrelevant- even back in the "good ol' days" (up through a mere four years ago? [;-)]) when there was a space of some weeks between each Major Party's Conventions- in part because the General Election is still a significant distance away in time (even this year, the Republican Convention will adjourn a good two months before Americans will go to the polls) and, therefore, it is rather hard to argue that what the polls might be saying now at all reflects what the actual vote (to here express the oft-stated cliche: "the only poll that actually counts") will be come 4 November- but also because such "bounce" is the more usual occurrence...
if the postman comes round to deliver your snailmail faithfully every day, excepting Sundays and holidays, at or about 2 PM, it is only news if, one day, he hasn't shown up by 3:30; likewise, post-Convention "bounce" is only news when it doesn't occur (as happened in a number of polls after John Kerry was nominated by the Democrats in 2004). Even then, however, "bounce" is more something for pundits and political geeks to talk (and argue) about than any real indicator of who will ultimately win the Presidential Election (as it turned out, there was still a very good chance for Senator Kerry to have pulled it out in the end: after all. a shift of a mere 60,000 votes from President Bush to Kerry in Ohio and George W. Bush would've been a one-term President like his father).
As things have turned out, Obama got his "bounce" and- yes, while McCain's announcement of a running mate the very next day well ate into this- McCain will almost certainly get his "bounce" and we will all thereafter be "off to the races" in any event. In short: I will take the polls in late September going into early October (those taken just before, during and immediately after the first two Presidential Debates, as currently scheduled) far more seriously than any now in late August going into early September (and the polls taken in late October going into early November the most seriously of all!).
Now, on to the Democrats and their so recently held Convention itself:
Coming into Denver, the Obama/Biden ticket in particular and the Democratic Party US in general had to do the following three things at minimum:
1. arrest a drop in support for Barack Obama's presidential candidacy, as compared to John McCain (pre-Sarah Palin, obviously), that seemed as if it were what I described- in my Democratic Convention preview Commentary- as having been one more like the so-called "death spiral" experienced by pilots of private planes who have lost their sense of the location of the horizon while in a cloudbank.
2. unify the Party around Senator Obama's presidential candidacy by more gaining- and, more to the point, holding on to- the support of disgruntled supporters of rival presidential contender Senator Hillary Clinton.
3. establish a policy theme for the Obama/Biden campaign which contained specific "bullet points"- and, in addition, would make Obama appear to be a potential President of the United States- in his Acceptance Speech (without being overly strident while doing so-- it is perfectly OK for other speakers, including your own running mate, at your Convention to lash out at the other Major Party [an important function of all the "speechifying" at a Convention is, after all, to create adrenaline amongst the delegates and alternates in attendance, most of whom are Party workers who will have to do the "grunt work" during the Fall campaign-- and nothing gets the political adrenaline going like a clever, where not also pithy, jab at the other side]; it is also acceptable for the presidential nominee to contrast himself to his opponent-- but he cannot be all that strident or come off as too clever!)
So, how did Barack Obama actually do?
As for 1., this was successfully done: the fact that Obama/Biden did get that short-lived post-Convention "bounce" described earlier shows that, going into the Fall Campaign (once the other Major Party's Convention is over, of course), Obama has found the horizon and has corrected any serious defects in roll, pitch and yaw that might have been in evidence throughout this past Summer once Senator Obama had firmly clinched his Party's presidential nomination back in early June. At least for the time being, the only question is whether or not Barack Obama can regain altitude.
Re: 2. The jury is still out on this and- as I wrote yesterday (29 August)- Senator McCain's choosing Governor Palin as his running mate is ever the potential "spanner in the works" in relation to this (although, again, the Alaska Governor is not going to pull in the vast majority of Senator Clinton's Primary/Caucus supporters/voters simply because she happens to be a woman). For, as I pointed out throughout my daily Commentaries while the Democratic Convention was still ongoing, whether Mrs. Clinton's- and, by extension, both President Clinton's and vice-presidential nominee Senator Biden's as well- appeals for Party unity will be more heeded than in the breach thereof yet remains to be seen (and will not be at all apparent until those first useful public opinion polls come out in mid-to-late September).
Party unity is never instantly gratified in the first place (as both McCain and Obama have certainly discovered this year, assuming they did not at all know or expect this going in) and the absence of a "unity photo-op" including Senator Clinton (presumably with her husband onstage as well) at the very end of the Denver Convention, after Senator Obama's Acceptance Speech, is, as I suggested in my own comments about that final portion of the Convention, altogether telling.
My view, as I now type this? This is quite the nagging problem, albeit a problem still correctable (60 days is a lifetime in a Presidential Election and, in addition, Governor Palin's own political, sociocultural and economic conservatism could very well actually make it more difficult for moderate and left of center independent voters lukewarm about Obama/Biden to all that easily warm up to the McCain/Palin ticket: this, in turn, would also be a sign that similarly-minded Democrats, even if they do still so strongly think Senator Clinton would have been the better presidential nominee, might have little choice but to- however reluctantly, where not also begrudgingly- "come home" while in the voting booth on 4 November).
Finally, as to 3. Barack Obama struck the proper tone in his Acceptance Speech and, whether one agrees with him and/or his Party or not, he did put forth that "bullet point" list of his Fall Campaign policy themes he simply had to put out there; in addition, he did look- and sound- like a potential President. What I found interesting about his Acceptance Speech is that it was quite different in tone from all the "speechifying" he himself did on the campaign trail (a fair sample of which was shown, at regular intervals, to the Convention in those 'Barack Obama in his own words' videos)--
the delivery of his speech was, for the most part, measured- perhaps tempered would here be a much better word: there was very little, if any, of that "rapid fire" pacing that one saw in the segment from his 2004 Keynote Address where he talked about 'not red States, not blue States, but the United States', and there were few of the homey "laugh lines" made at an opponent's expense seen while he was still out on the pre-Convention hustings.
Problem is: it might actually have been a bit too presidential-- with the columned backdrop (which Republican political operative mocked as 'Barackopolis') and the sole American flag placed behind Obama as seen on camera, it had at least something of the feel of a State of the Union- rather than a State of my Proposals- address; Obama has to well avoid those campaign activities that can (however fairly or unfairly) be seen as bordering on hubris (the way his 'European tour' earlier was perceived, by more than a few, as having something of an "I already have the job anyway" tone- although a lot of this was actually stirred up by the leaders of European Nation-States [most of whom are positively fed up with their alleged ally George W. Bush and see a potential John McCain Presidency merely as "four more years of the same" even moreso than the hardest of hard-core Obama supporters]). This is a political tightrope almost as thin as that Senator McCain himself walks for completely different reasons (which will be addressed in my next Commentary).
Having said this, the mere fact that Obama is the very first African-American Major Party presidential nominee by itself lent a certain solemnity to the scene (keep in mind that, in a very real way, Barack Obama has fully become the political equivalent of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball more than six decades ago: for he is now the very face of Black America [even though there are, of course, many African-American Republicans who, while justly proud of Obama's achievement, are not necessarily going to vote for him come November] and, if he should fail utterly in his quest to become the first Black CEO of USA, Inc. ["utter failure" being here described in relation to this, and this alone, as: Obama can lose this election and still hold his head up high-- but he cannot lose it badly, he cannot afford to take an electoral drubbing], it may very well be seen as a serious setback for the Black Community... this is something that Obama would not have faced as a presidential contender had he not won his Party's nomination and it is not something that Senator Clinton would have faced, on behalf of women, had she, instead, been the presidential nominee)-- a solemnity that probably, especially with its tie-in to the day happening to be the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 'I Have A Dream' speech, could not be at all avoided.
As I myself noted at the time, Senator Obama's claiming his "prize" seemed altogether subdued, certainly not all that joyous (at least on that stage at Invesco Field at Mile High: his running mate and those gathered in the stadium to hear him certainly seemed joyous). Perhaps, this was the very "burden" I then perceived.
Thus, Obama/Biden gets a passing grade ("Satisfactory") on 1. and 3. but, as regards 2. (Party unity)-- well-- "Needs improvement"! Overall, I give the Democrats a B minus (on the American public school A, B, C, D, F scale) coming out of that Party's National Convention--
but, of course, the Obama/Biden national ticket has yet to take the "final exam" (on which there will be no "grading on a 'curve' " and absolutely no "extra credit" questions)!