More on the Convention

Before the evening’s festivities start, a response to Ezra’s pessimism:

Say what you will, but that’s a fractured message. Some of it isn’t the Obama campaign’s fault: They couldn’t wish away the hangover of a long and bruising primary. Michelle Obama was never going to be an attack dog. Ted Kennedy is ill. Barack Obama does need Bill Clinton’s endorsement. But even so, there are exactly three speeches on this lineup that went forcefully at McCain. Two of the three — Kerry and Schweitzer — weren’t broadly televised. And Biden’s was the least forthright of the set. So of all the major speeches at this convention, only one televised address went directly at McCain. That seems like a wasted opportunity to me. It doesn’t mean the convention is going poorly, but judged in the context of the RNC convention following right on its heels, it seems problematic. Some of this was clarified when I talked to a speechwriter last night who said that this convention was being used to inoculate Obama from next week’s attacks. That’s a strategy of preemptive defense, and though I’m not a professional, it sounds like a bad move.

While I agree that the messaging does seem completely incoherent, it’s worth remembering that the 2004 convention was relentlessly on message; and it didn’t really do any good. Also, as far as attacks go, you could compare the 2004 keynote speeches. The Democrats had Barack Obama’s relentlessly positive message on unity, the Republicans had Zell Miller’s relentlessly crazy attack on John Kerry. Obviously Bush ended up winning, but does anyone really think he won it because of the conventions? And 4 years later, what’s the most enduring convention memory from 2004, and who’s in the better position, Barack Obama or Zell Miller?

It’s also worth remembering how television is covering the event. Cable networks are basically showing 2 speeches per night, and the broadcase networks are mostly only showing the headliners. And of the 6 highlighted speakers so far, only Biden could realistically have been more negative. But then, they had sent Kerry out to take that role. And on Tuesday they had Brian Schweitzer attacking. And both of them were scheduled well to do it, between the two highlighted addresses on the evening, and during the 10:00 hour. It’s not necessarily the convention planners fault that the cable networks aren’t actually showing the convention, and I don’t think anyone, even someone as cyncial about cable as myself, expected the coverage to be this bad. It might be worth demanding that television networks actually show the speeches the next time around if they want access to the convention, but that’s not something that can be fixed now.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that Obama is ahead of John McCain, and generically Democrats are even more favored. You generally don’t “attack” when you’re ahead, and Democrats don’t necessarily need to savage McCain, or even Bush, to win. Voters clearly want to vote for Obama, but the McCain campaign has succeeded somewhat in making voters uneasy about him. So the trick isn’t necessarily to attack McCain, which almost always comes with pushing up your own narrative, it’s with making voters comfortable with Obama. I wouldn’t call it “inoculating” him from the Republicans, I’d call it creating disconnect. Republicans are going to go out there next week and say he isn’t patriotic, that he doesn’t look like you, that he’s elitist, that he doesn’t understand your situation, that he doesn’t have strong family values, and all the other standard tropes, and the goal of this convention, I think, has been to create a viewing environment wherein swing voters who watch both conventions (and frankly, judging by the ratings, I think we’re really overestimating the amount of impact that’s going to be had) listen to those attacks, remember what they saw and heard at the Democratic convention, and wonder if the GOP speakers were looking at the same thing they saw. That was clearly Michelle’s role, as well as Biden’s. To humanize the ticket, to make it relateable, to make it look like your family, and to make people comfortable with Obama, and let the overall mood of the country take care of the rest. It might seem risky at the moment, and I think us bloggers would generally like to see more aggressive campaigning as a rule, but it’s worth keeping in mind that Democrats are still in a very good place electorally, and that people like Ezra and myself are not representative of the average person who pays little attention to the ins and outs of a political campaign.