A Bad Convention

On the one hand, I agree with Ezra that the convention has been dreadful, but on the other hand, not so much. To wit:

Say what you will about the 2004 Convention, it had a theme. Conversely, the first night of the 2008 Democratic Convention had Michelle Obama bring the warm and fuzzies, Ted Kennedy calling forth tears and hankies, and Jim Leach speaking quietly and pedantically without any serious promotion from the Obama campaign. The second night of the 2004 Convention saw Barack Obama tearing apart the arena. In 2008, we had Mark Warner with a well-crafted speech that fell flat because it was an attack structure that refused to name the politician it was attacking. You had Hillary Cinton giving a powerful address, but it was an address that was broadly aimed at problems in the Democratic Party, not the problems with the Republican Party.

The first two days of the convention were wasted, or seemed so from my vantage point. Tonight, Joe Biden will tear into McCain. And tomorrow, Obama will do whatever he does. Then on Friday, at noon, John McCain will announce his vice presidential nominee, strangling any convention bounce in the crib. Then the Republican Convention will begin, and you can be assured that they will remember Barack Obama’s name.

The messaging could be a lot better, and I’m really wondering why whoever is in charge of scheduling has that job, but on the other hand, it’s worth remembering those last couple of points. McCain has already let everyone know he’s rolling out his VP on Friday, which has to play into the mindset of “convention bounce” planning a little bit, and the Republican attack on Obama, er, convention, is next week. I don’t see how you could expect to get a bounce in that environment period, and it’s one thing the Republicans set up well.

But the advantage that Democrats still have is that the public overwhelmingly wants to vote for a Democrat. The lingering problem is the continued efforts to make Obama seem unrelatable and foreign that leave low-information, “gut” voters feeling uneasy about him. But given the overwhelming lean away from Republicans in general, Democrats don’t need to make a hugely compelling case for Obama, nor do they need to completely tear McCain apart. They need to, at the least, make Obama a “generic Democrat.” In other words, to make people identify with him. That was Michelle Obama’s job (and the kids’), and they did it spectacularly. The closing picture from Monday night was sickeningly sweet, so much so that Juan Williams was choking up at it.

Also, people aren’t seeing the convention. Unless you’re a political geek like me watching more or less everything starting a 5 P.M., you’re not seeing these speeches. The broadcast networks aren’t showing them, and cable talking heads are talking over them. Last night, for example, no one other than C-Span viewers saw Lily Ledbetter, Ted Strickland, or Brian Scweitzer, all of whom gave really good speeches. I agree that Mark Warner left me wondering what exactly the point of even having him there was, but I imagine there will be duds next week too.

And the infomercial nature of political conventions, and non-stop coverage thereof, tend to give a swing to the moment, based on nothing but sheer inundation. If I were asked to pick a moment that was really going to be of great importance, I’d look to the first debate, when the two candidates are going to be onstage together going back and forth. If Obama does poorly there, then I’ll get worried.

So yeah, before we all go losing our collective shit about the conventions, lets take a deep breath, keep some perspective to what exactly is going on, and remember how hugely unpopular Republicans are right now.

It’s also worth wondering if, counterintuitive as this may be, Obama’s speech doesn’t step on McCain’s VP rollout. It might be a tall order, but if Obama goes out there and gives a truly great speech in front of all those people, it’s not hard to see image obsessed cable heads greeting McCain’s announcement with “well that’s nice, but damn how about that speech last night?”