A tale of two conventions

Earle Scarlett

Saturday, September 08, 2012

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The Republican and Democratic conventions are over and an assessment of their revelations is in order. After the fanfare and euphoria, reputable polls indicate the race between incumbent President Obama and aspirant Governor Mitt Romney are virtually tied, although a bump is expected for Obama after the Democratic convention.

Expanding the middle class was central to Obama's renewed promise to rescue the economy from the disaster he inherited, and creation of new manufacturing jobs imperative. In contrast, Romney highlighted debt reduction and a smaller government as critical for job growth, claiming superior abilty to deliver on those fronts

Both candidates and their surrogates failed to mention the simmering economic malaise in Europe and its contagious effects across the Atlantic. However, the Democrats touched on the US trade imbalance with China in the context of US job exports and the urgency of reviving domestic business confidence to generate jobs at home and reduce current US 8.1 per cent unemployment.

The stark contrasts between the two parties go beyond fundamentally different visions for the future. The conventions evinced sharp distinctions such as inclusiveness-exclusiveness, forward-backward perspectives, and optimism-pessimism. The stage is now set for intensive and exciting presidential and congressional campaigns with far-reaching consequences.

The Democrats' picture of confidence and optimism, in spite of a troubled economy, is pitted against the Republicans' allegation that a Romney-Ryan ticket is better equipped to pull the country out of this economic and financial morass.

Romney accused the Obama Administration of not having business experience and resorting to divisiveness and recriminations. But he failed to admit to the concerted Republican congressional obstructionism intended to prevent the president's re-election at all costs.

As the election fever heightens, both parties have drawn the line in the sand on vision and values. But a chunk of the electorate are still undecided whether Barack Obama deserves another term or Mitt Romney should be the new president. The conventions gave a preview of what's to come on the road, especially in the battleground states. Exhortations for "citizenship" and "we're all in this together" versus "I built it" and "financial acquisition" as the sole measure of success will be among the core themes of the torrid battle for votes.

President Obama warned the same rules would apply to Wall Street, Main Street, and Washington DC, and promised creating manufacturing jobs "made in America" and doubling US exports. There will be no more "corporate welfare", and emphasis will be placed on education as the gateway to middle-class life and for students to fulfil their dreams to compete in the world. Romney echoed similar views on education, calling it the "civil rights of the time".

Displaying empathy, President Obama urged voters to be stakeholders in nation-building at home and to travel the rocky road to restore the American dream, reminiscent of San Antonio mayor Julian Castro's evocative imagery of his grandmother holding a mop and of him now holding a microphone.

Former presidential aspirant John Kerry cast the Republicans as stuck in a "Cold War time warp" evidenced by Romney's calling Russia the main geopolitical foe of the US, or the "new to foreign policy Republicans" who have scant knowledge of the relationship between force and diplomacy. Romney's Olympics gaffe with the US "closest ally" revealed an ineptitude to engage, for example, Beijing diplomatically, Obama chided. Without mentioning her by name, the president parried Secretary Condoleezza Rice's unwillingness to give full credit to the commander-in-chief in the capture of Bin Laden, and the folly of engaging in a costly war in Iraq.

The capture of Bin Laden and bailout of GM were signature Obama accomplishments brandished at the convention. Kerry excoriated Romney for failing to mention US troops in his speech. VP Biden expounded on his close relationship and loyalty to the president and profound respect for Obama's qualities of leadership - commitment, resolve, vision, with a "backbone of steel". The president never backs down, he stressed.

As for vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's depiction of the national debt, health care, and slow economic turn-around, President Bill Clinton's quintessential rebuttal citing "arithmetics" provided hard numbers, and emphasied that President Obama inherited the worst financial situation since President Franklin D Roosevelt. VP aspirant Ryan's voting record runs counter to his own rhetoric, Clinton intimated. Criticism resounded of new tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires and vouchers for medicare.

The array of brilliant speakers at the Democratic convention far outstripped the Republicans'. However important oratory may be, harsh realities, even poverty, still prevail.

Elections are not won at conventions. They are won in the trenches. The debates, both presidential and vice-presidential, will afford ample opportunity for the candidates to expound on social, economic, and national security and foreign policy issues.

In the final analysis, it's the political strategy and tactics in the battleground states that will largely determine the outcome. Strategists of both parties will have uppermost in their manoeuvres the requirement to capture the majority of the treasured electoral votes.

All said, President Obama seems poised to return to the White House, barring the unforeseen. That result will be good for the US and the world.

Earle Scarlett is a former US diplomat with global experience. He resides in Atlanta.


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