As a Democrat Abroad, I’m worried about the US presidential election.
I still think Barack Obama will be re-elected president, but the Republicans have finally started running a smart campaign. The Republican National Convention in Tampa last week developed a strategy that might work.
First of all, the Republican hierarchy proved that Mitt Romney was a human being. For so long, he seemed like a robot from Brooks Brothers, the famous American clothing store that Ivy Leaguers and rich people frequent.
Second, the Republicans recognised that unemployment was the biggest problem facing the Obama administration, and Mitt Romney emphasised that in his acceptance speech: “What America needs is jobs. Lots of jobs.” Although this coming from a man who once said he likes “being able to fire people,” is a bit hard to take. Okay, he was talking about insurance companies providing health services, but his company, Bain Capital, has been criticised for its leveraged buyouts, in which some companies have been bought and sold.
And Clint Eastwood’s rather bizarre performance on the last day of the convention made a valuable point about jobs. Talking about the night in November, 2008 when Barack Obama won the election, Eastwood said: “They were saying, I just thought, this was great. Everybody is crying, Oprah was crying. I was even crying … and I haven’t cried that hard since I found out that there are 23 million unemployed people in this country.” Many people criticised Eastwood’s speech, but all a lot of Americans will remember is that the Oscar-winning actor endorsed Romney – and Hollywood stars usually support the Democrats.
Thirdly, there is a good chance the Tea Party Conservatives and the right-wing religious groups, who admire Romney’s choice of running mate, the good-looking, deer-hunting, staunch Catholic Paul Ryan, who also likes to trim budgets, will get out the vote in a country where voting is not compulsory. I don’t believe in compulsory voting, but Americans could sure use a dose of it in this election! And this is important because the gloss has gone off Barack Obama, whose economic record draws criticism, as well as his war on terror program. My cousin Tom, a retired lawyer, and normally a Democratic voter, said he was troubled by those Obama policies: “For a constitutional lawyer, he seems remarkably willing to throw the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments under the bus.” Tom said he hoped in a second term Barack Obama wouldn’t “feel any need to out-crazy the crazies on national security policies.” This was a few months ago, and I was talking about a second term then, too.
I have also been disappointed by Obama’s national security policies and his broken promise on closing down Guantanamo Bay. Clint Eastwood mentioned this in his speech, referring to its nickname “Gitmo.” Eastwood was addressing Barack Obama in the empty chair on stage (a prop that not everyone liked, including satirist Stephen Colbert): “I know even people in your own party were very disappointed when you didn’t close Gitmo. And I thought, well, closing Gitmo — why close that, we spent so much money on it. But, I thought maybe as an excuse — what do you mean shut up? (LAUGHTER) … OK, I thought maybe it was just because somebody had the stupid idea of trying terrorists in downtown New York City.”
But at least Eastwood mentioned foreign policy. In Mitt Romney’s speech, foreign policy was indeed a foreign country. The ones he referred to were: China, and how Obama’s “assault on coal and gas and oil will send energy and manufacturing jobs to China;” Iran’s nuclear threat; the President throwing “allies like Israel under the bus, even as he has relaxed sanctions on Castro’s Cuba.” Romney accused Obama of abandoning “our friends in Poland, but is eager to give Russia’s President Putin the flexibility he desires …” He then had a go at Putin, saying he “will see a little less flexibility and more backbone.”
CONDOLEEZZA RICE REMEMBERED THE DAYS OF JIM CROW
Thankfully, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave an excellent speech on foreign policy the night before, which was also chock full of politics (not that I agreed with all of it!). Her argument was that the US was no longer leading the world on foreign affairs, and declared to much applause: “My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead — and one cannot lead from behind.”
She began with her recollections of 9/11 and ended with a stirring remembrance of things past in her own childhood, when Jim Crow still ruled the South: “And on a personal note – a little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham – the most segregated big city in America – her parents can’t take her to a movie theater or a restaurant – but they make her believe that even though she can’t have a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter – she can be President of the United States and she becomes the Secretary of State.” The Romney campaign would love to have her back as Secretary of State.
The other major speech of the final two days of the convention (I covered the first day in my previous blog http://wp.me/p1Ytmx-7y ) was by Paul Ryan, the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee, as mentioned above, the darling of the Tea Party. Despite criticising the Obama campaign for its attack ads, Ryan blasted the President on his admission he hadn’t communicated enough: “Ladies and gentlemen, these past four years we have suffered no shortage of words in the White House. What’s missing is leadership in the White House. And the story that Barack Obama does tell, forever shifting blame to the last administration, is getting old. The man assumed office almost four years ago – isn’t it about time he assumed responsibility?”
Ryan also pledged more jobs from the Republicans: “We have a plan for a stronger middle class, with the goal of generating 12 million new jobs over the next four years. In a clean break from the Obama years, and frankly from the years before this president, we will keep federal spending at 20 percent of GDP, or less. That is enough. The choice is whether to put hard limits on economic growth, or hard limits on the size of government, and we choose to limit government.”
The convention, of course, lapped up his every word, but one paragraph bothered me: “We have responsibilities, one to another – we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.” Previous Republican presidents, including the Bushes, Reagan, Nixon, and Eisenhower, never showed much initiative in protecting the weak.
But the audience loved Ryan, seeing in him a future president, a man with an economic background, who promises jobs. If he does become vice-president and that promise is unfulfilled, he can forget his dream of moving into the White House.
ROMNEY: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT OBAMA NOW?
Let me end with a comment from Mitt Romney when he asked how many of the audience had woken up feeling that something really special was happening in America. Naturally he had an answer: “Many of you felt that way on Election Day four years ago. Hope and change had a powerful appeal. But tonight I’d ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”
A good line, but if he had asked a gathering of Democrats they would have said that feeling has continued for the last four years, not every day, but especially on the days when the President travelled overseas, and gave speeches like his “New Beginning” address in Cairo in 2009: “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress.”
And the program the Republicans call Obamacare made a lot of Democrats happy. Here’s an excerpt from an email Jeremy Bird of Organizing for America (OFA) sent volunteers in 2010 after the health care reform law was passed: “This past week, we saw what change looks like. And now, it’s time to celebrate. After a year of non-stop work from OFA volunteers like you — reaching out to friends and neighbors; going to countless phone banks, town halls, canvasses, and rallies; placing millions of calls and emails to Congress; and so much more — health care reform is now the law of the land … To celebrate the biggest legislative accomplishment in generations, OFA is holding health reform celebration events across the country.”
Now it’s over to Barack Obama and the Democrats to reply at their national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, which begins on Tuesday night Australian time. I will be watching and report on the three-day political extravaganza later this week.
PS I took notes of the convention while watching CNN and Fox News, but if you’re wondering where to read the full text of the speeches above, check out the Washington Post website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics