“Conventional” Wisdom and Previewing The Debates

by Nicole

Looking back on the Republican and Democratic conventions, the differences between party philosophies have never been greater. That being said, the Democrats decisively won this battle.

5. OPTICS: The stage setup in Charlotte, where the Dems’ convention was held, was more aesthetically pleasing than that of the Republicans in Tampa. From color contrast to the actual placement of images and graphics on the jumbo tron, the optics in Charlotte seemed to be superior and visually appealing.

4. Diversity of Delegates: There is no doubt that, as far as television goes, the delegates’ presence at the convention play a key role in how the parties are presented to Americans who aren’t regular observers of the political process. In 2012, the stark contrast between how much of America was  in Tampa and Charlotte is very telling. We simply cannot sugar-coat the obvious fact that, compared to the DNC, the Republican delegation in Tampa was severely lacking ethnic diversity. To be blunt, the RNC was looking very old and very white. However, we saw a huge amount of cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity in Charlotte. Between Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Muslims, students, women and many other groups, the Democratic delegation left the impression that inclusiveness reigned supreme within the party.

3. Superiority of Speeches and Scheduling: Without speakers, the conventions would be utilized only for the process of formally nominating the party’s Presidential candidate.  The speeches are what make the conventions become nationally televised and scrutinized events. That’s why it is very important that the schedule of speakers and quality of speeches are thoroughly vetted and carefully placed.  It is common political knowledge that if speeches and/or scheduling of speeches are or seem to be disjointed, the convention could go down the drain well before the candidate even speaks. This is why I am baffled by the decision to include Clint Eastwood’s soliloquy in the 10pm Eastern hour on the final day of the RNC. The video introduction (or what should’ve been the introduction) for Mitt Romney was very well done. Instead of having the Eastwood debacle followed by Rubio’s speech(….I mean campaign for 2016), the video should’ve been shown right before Romney took the stage. In my mind, I envision the video fading to black, then Romney appearing before the convention hall. This would have been a much more effective presentation. Because they decided to go the Eastwood-Rubio route, the talk around the country was not focused on Romney, but the clownish and self-centered appearances of the men who appeared before him. There were a few bright spots in the RNC’s speaker lineup, though. Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice delivered an excellent speech that mentioned the importance of repairing the nation’s broken education system, stating that it “is the civil rights issue of our day”.

Overall, the Dems did a better job of speaker placement, and the DNC speakers did a much better job of…well…speaking. Michelle Obama’s speech was both aspirational and effective in terms of reintroducing her husband to the country. In short, she conveyed a message that says her husband’s personal beliefs and morals are in line with the way he governs. She did a great job of laying out some of the President’s biggest policy accomplishments such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and Student Loan reform. The Keynote speaker, Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, was the breakout star. He explained his life story of growing up humbly as a Mexican child who went on to achieve great things. He, unlike the Republican Keynote speaker Chris Christie (or any other RNC speaker for that matter), managed to give a rousing endorsement of the party’s candidate. Bill Clinton was also…well, Bill Clinton. He was the Explainer-in-Chief, comically slamming Republicans on lie after lie while weaving in and out of the philosophical differences between both parties. No one campaigns like Bill can, and times like this make you wish there were no term limits.

I can go on and on contrasting the RNC and DNC speeches, but there is no need to. Anyone with a fully functioning brain who caught any of the speeches from both conventions should realize that the Dems’ effort was decisively superior to the effort from their Republican counterparts.

2. Substance Depending on what side of the political spectrum you’re on (or lean towards), there was not a definitive win in this category. For me, however, the battle of who actually had more substantive speakers is another “W” in the win column for Dems. From Julian Castro to Bill Clinton, many of the headliners discussed President Obama’s policies in-depth, and did a great job of explaining how they will effect Americans. The Republicans, however, did a great job of… telling us why we shouldn’t reelect President Obama. Instead of focusing on Romney’s  supposed economic credentials, many RNC speakers decided to demonize “Obamacare” and perpetuate the lie about the Obama Administration cutting the work requirement for welfare. In addition to pretending that the Bush years didn’t happen, the Repubs offered up the same economic policies that are derived from the Reagan era, or as President Obama put it:  “Have a cold? Take a few tax cuts, roll back a few regulations and call us in the morning”. The only “new” concept that I heard came from Congressman and Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who now says that this is the party who will fight to preserve Medicare. This is coming from a guy who’s budget centered on essentially turning Medicare into a voucher program. I don’t know about you, but I’m just a little doubtful of Ryan’s credibility on this issue.

1. The Candidates In all honestly, neither of these speeches were intellectually stimulating for me. Policy wise, they were underwhelming. They were substantively bankrupt, rhetorically flat, and full of platitudes and generalities. But tone matters, especially when you are making an emotional appeal for America’s vote. In my opinion, both candidates were definitely making an attempt to sway the emotions of the electorate. It amazes me that the Democratic Party has become the party of anti-terrorism, and the Republicans are becoming the protectors of entitlement programs. The difference is, while Romney was clearly pandering, Obama actually has something to boast about. The killing of Osama Bin Laden has become a centerpiece of Obama’s reelection campaign, and it was evident in his speech, stating that “Al Qaeda is on the path to defeat and Osama Bin Laden is dead”. Obama also proudly took on the role of Commander-in-Chief, saluting our active duty soldiers as well as our veterans. In Romney’s speech, however, he stupidly (whether it was him or the speechwriter) failed to mention the troops. This left a gaping hole in which Obama and several DNC speakers took full advantage of. (see John Kerry’s speech. It was a doozy.) Overall, Romney seemed like a political newbie, who will pander on all issues to whoever listens. He preached about “small government”, but neglected to mention his days as Governor of Massachusetts, where he was arguably one of the most liberal Republican governors in the country. His entrance seemed very arrogant and presumptuous, walking through the convention floor as if he was about to deliver the State of the Union address. His speech was no different. This was in stark contrast to Obama’s delivery, which was uniquely humble and expressive of his appreciation to those who have and will help him get reelected. He seemed to be not demanding, but asking for America’s vote, stating that “if you reject the notion that this nation’s promise is reserved for the few, your voice must be heard”.  Some might call this class warfare, but I just call it making an appeal to your base.

I mentioned before that both speeches were underwhelming. Well, Romney’s speech may have been just a little more underwhelming that Obama’s. The only reason that Obama did not generate the same reaction as he did at the 2008 and 2004 conventions is that he fell victim to the excellence of his own oratorical skills. He has set the rhetorical bar so high for himself, that it has become virtually impossible for him to reach such heights again. Romney, on the other hand, may have delivered the best speech of his campaign, but it was certainly sub-par in comparison to Obama’s.

With the conventions set and done, we will all start looking ahead to the debates. Here are the dates, locations, and formats of the upcoming debates this fall, courtesy of the Commission on Presidential Debates:

First presidential debate (October 3, 2012, University of Denver, Denver, CO)

The debate will focus on domestic policy and be divided into six time segments of approximately 15 minutes each on topics to be selected by the moderator and announced several weeks before the debate.

The moderator will open each segment with a question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond. The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a discussion of the topic.

Vice presidential debate (October 11, 2012, Centre College, Danville, KY)

The debate will cover both foreign and domestic topics and be divided into nine time segments of approximately 10 minutes each. The moderator will ask an opening question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond. The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a discussion of the question.

Second presidential debate (October 16, 2012, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY)

The second presidential debate will take the form of a town meeting, in which citizens will ask questions of the candidates on foreign and domestic issues. Candidates each will have two minutes to respond, and an additional minute for the moderator to facilitate a discussion. The town meeting participants will be undecided voters selected by the Gallup Organization.

Third presidential debate (October 22, Lynn University, Boca Raton, FL)

The format for the debate will be identical to the first presidential debate and will focus on foreign policy.

The debates will no doubt make or break the decisions of undecided voters this fall. Unlike the conventions, which can be very static in nature, the debates provide the voter with a dynamic and real-time presentation of the candidates’ poise, knowledge, and ability to dissect and debunk political arguments. The debates are usually where the policy wonks have the most fun, simply because they are more substantive by nature. The fact that all of the debates are taking place in October gives the voter an opportunity to digest and analyze them all within a short period of time. One thing is for sure: the economy will be front and center for everyone watching, and each candidate will have to substantively address the financial struggles of the electorate.. or voter turnout will be significantly lower than 2008.

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