Others around here have focused on the fact that the campaigns are now framed by two very stark distinctions in the world views and visions of the two political parties. It has been characterized by the contrast between “We built it” vs. “We’re all in this together.” The icons of the Parties might be the lone cowpoke (perhaps the Marlboro Man, even -- Montana sheep herders need not apply) out on the range to the tune of a spaghetti western soundtrack, and a work crew building a Habitat for Humanity shelter, respectively. Others might draw the dichotomy along different lines, but individual vs. community outlook seems to sum it up. I think there’s also another contrast that may play itself out in a significant way over the remaining several weeks until November 6.
If you had to describe the dominant emotions of the Tampa gathering in two words, what would they be? For me, they were anger, and fear. The place was awash in negativity toward government in concept, Washington DC in particular, and a caricature of Mr. Obama most specifically. The attacks were relentless, and credible mostly to the extent that they reinforced to each other the strawman image of the President that they had built-up over the past several years.
History was no match for frustration with current circumstances, and fear that the direction of the society was passing beyond the reach of those accustomed to steering it. Almost any claim or charge would do, as long as it fit the narrative. As unhappy as the GOP base is with its candidate, it was loudly united in its disdain for his competitor, and downright phobic about the prospect of a second term.
The Dems, by contrast, arrived in Charlotte in a beleaguered state, having been pummeled by their opposition across lo, these many months of Republican Primary headlines and dark SuperPAC-financed warnings. Once gathered, however, they have been buoyed by their speakers’ reminders of Mr. Obama’s considerable accomplishments against zealous odds, and even more so by the definition of their alternative vision of American communitarianism. Suddenly they weren’t just defending a lukewarm economy by way of a bunch of wonkish stats – they were promoting an American way-of-life that goes beyond money, and is proud of it.
By the time the engaging and, remarkably, credible President Clinton concluded his populist manifesto on the evening of the second day, the Charlotte crowd was roaring and dancing in the aisles. That speech was a memorable masterpiece, combining actual policy, actual data and Clinton’s unique man-of-the-people charm – and persuasiveness. He is clearly the only Yale-educated lawyer who can pull-off the use of the term “fixin’ to” in a sentence – and perhaps also the only one who can turn “brass” from an adjective into a noun, in context. His unique gift for distilling issues to their essence and conveying them understandably provided substantial undergirding for the delegates’ rising spirits. At this writing, I haven’t yet heard Mr. Obama’s Acceptance speech, but I’m willing to wager that it will double-down on the positivity and enthusiasm thus far created.
Looking for an historical antecedent, I recall the 1980 campaign season, when a somber Jimmy Carter preached sacrifice and implied decline, whereas Mr. Reagan threw open the drapes on “Morning in America.” I think the Democrats have taken a page from his book, and will leave the Carolinas with joy and positivity around a good job, in-progress that’s been hard-won, that will similarly offer a fundamental contrast with the dusky, angry gloom of the GOP.
Americans generally don’t like to be pissed-off and pessimistic when an optimistic, proud and, yes, Forward-looking alternative is presented. We prefer happy endings to our dramas. I believe that the positivity gap, perhaps as much as the clearly contrasting particulars of the two visions now laid-out, will be decisive between now and in November. We’ll get an early indication based on whether there’s a significant post-convention bump for the Dems -- one that that has so far eluded the GOP.
[Note: this entry has been saved in rich text format – if this doesn’t work to eliminate all that hinky punctuation that sometimes appears, I may need to delete it and try plain text – TFC]
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