Handwringing the Convention

As much as the left has figured out and constantly reminds itself of the quintessential republican campaign tactic of attacking your strength and turning it against you, you’d think they might maybe have picked up on the Republicans arguably moer effective tactic; scaring Democrats out of doing things to help themselves. The latest manifestation of this is in the idea that the speech in Berlin really hurt Obama’s political standing, and for that reason the convention speech venue is a mistake and Obama should tamp it down as much as possible now that it’s irreversible. Michael Crowley has been on this skid for weeks, and now Andrew has bought into it as well.

Let’s just nip this nonsense in the bud right now; there’s no way having a convention speech delivered in front of 80,000 screaming voters can hurt anyone. If you need proof of that, just look at the primary. Obama was filling 20,000 seat arenas everyday, something that’s just unheard of in politics, and no one else was. Obama was rattling off benchmark speeches every week in packed basketball stadiums, and no one else was. will.i.am made a music video for him, no one else got that. Halle Barry and George Clooney fawned over him. And Obama won the nomination pretty handily in the early (read, vast majority) contests.

The point of the new meme is simple; Republicans know damn good and well the effect such a visual is going to have, so they’re doing their best to get the Democrats to botch it. And they know Democrats are always looking for these counter-intuitive image flaws in candidates. If neoconservatives can find Munich in every global event, Democrats are always on the lookout for the next Dukakis tank. But this ain’t it.

Obama’s primary rallies were hugely important to him. Far from being a negative, the sight of a political candidate selling out basketball arenas and concert venues was just unbelievable. It went a long way in cultivating the excitement around Obama’s candidacy, and garnering interest from potential voters who might not otherwise be so interested. Afterall, when you’re looking at something you’ve never seen before, you pay at least a smidge more attention. And that gave Obama his opening to make his sales pitch. If nothing else, it made Obama look big, exciting, relevant, in ways that Clinton’s smaller venued, lower key events simply couldn’t. The same thing goes for McCain’s townhalls. If you catch footage of a rally in front of 25,000 people waving signs, clapping, and responding with gusto to the candidate, and that’s followed by a room full of older people sitting around quietly while a 72 year old candidate fumbles through his words on stage, who’s going to go away leaving you confident in their ability to be President?

In any event, the very premise here belies the fallacy. The argument basically boils down to; “Obama’s popularity is a liability for him. He’s too popular that swing voters will turn off.” But elections are about winning the most votes, so you can’t be too popular. The fundamental assumption one must make to accept the argument itself renders the premise mute. And even if we accept that the Berlin speech was bad for Obama, which I don’t, the rationale behind that was the idea that Americans were just too backwardsly nationalistic to like seeing their candidates being cheered by “furenur.” Nevermind for a second that some of the most iconic images of Americana are Americans giving speeches in front of cheering European crowds, or that Americans generally like being liked by our allies and want to be a well respected global leader, the people in Denver won’t be Europeans, they’ll be American voters.

There isn’t really a downside to the convention speech angle for Obama. I suspect that much of the handwringing crowd assumes that Obama doesn’t really need to do anything to stand out from McCain in terms of convention’s, but they’re wrong. This won’t be a repeat of June 3rd, whe Obama secured the nomination and gave a speech at the XCel Center, while McCain was in front of a few hundred people (and a green screen) giving a poorly received train wreck of a speech. No matter how poorly McCain does on stage, he’ll be cheered, he’ll get his applause lines, and there will be a packed crowd of 20,000 or so waving banners and hoisting their placards on the convention floor. There always is, that’s just the nature of these things. If Obama were to give his speech in the Pepsi Center, there would be no meaningful visual contrast between McCain’s speech and Obama’s, other than Obama’s race, and I suspect that that largely plays into the desire to do something monumentally different. Obama has understandably sought to downplay the role of race with stark visual contrasts elsewhere, and this is arguably the best yet. There’s really no historical comparison to what Obama’s going to do, and I’m willing to predict that the visuals of the night will be jaw dropping. It could very well overshadow everything about the Republican convention, and could border on making the Republicans look irrelevant. John McCain is already pushing dangerously close to ceding the fact that the race is all about Obama and that he’s simply been reduced to the role of a reactionary constantly yelling “nuh-uh,” this could tip the scale.