Political Animal


September 06, 2012 11:59 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

By Ed Kilgore

Well, tonight’s concluding convention session was accompanied by a (predictable) fire marshal lockdown of the arena which left many dignataries and even delegates outside, and ended with a provocative benediction from Cardinal Dolan that included antichoice and “war on religion” dog whistles. Plus there was no balloon drop, since there wasn’t time to inflate the suckers when the event was moved indoors.

In between, though, was a very focused effort to identify the Obama administration’s struggles with those of the country since he took office, which had the added benefit of making it easy to depict Republicans as unpatriotic and self-serving pikers whose carping about the incumbent reflected a desire to take America right back to the Bush Era.

Obama’s speech won’t be remembered as historic, but in the context of the convention it made sense. He continued the entire day’s heavy emphasis on patriotism, respect for the military and for veterans, economic nationalism, and the constant suggestion that “firing” Obama would make the sacrifices of the last few years meaningless. Despite predictions that Democrats (or at least Obama) would lighten up about Romney and Ryan, or maybe even ignore them, the president continued the day’s pounding of the GOP for lacking an agenda or any sort of empathy for middle-class Americans. (He also made an argument that I love but hadn’t heard earlier: that Republicans are opportunists who offer exactly the same prescriptions decade after decade regardless of the actual condition of the country).

Whether you buy the theme or not, it’s one that has the advantage of lending itself both to persuasion and mobilization. If you’re a swing voter, you saw a different Obama than conservatives have so often described: humble, emotional, tough, very patriotic, and offering the kind of undramatic but forward-looking agenda we used to regularly get from Bill Clinton. If you’re a “base” voter, the message was that it was matter of moral obligation and fundamental patriotism to actually get out there and pull the lever, lest the SOBs of the GOPs get the chance to immiserate Americans even more. And despite some fears by progressives that he might so lust for MSM praise that he would endorse Simpson-Bowles or specific “entitlement reform” proposals, he carefully walked through that minefield, repeating his willingness to negotiate towards a deficit-reduction “grand bargain” even as he accurately described the unwillingness of Republicans to compromise.

All in all, it was an address that was tightly integrated into the overall Convention message, and took advantage of his opportunity to play it a little safe given Romney’s poor performance and the boffo reception to Clinton’s and the First Lady’s speeches earlier. Some of the attack lines on Romney were quite clever, and will show up again in ads. If he made any mistakes (other than characterizations of the GOP agenda that some fact-checkers may complain about), I didn’t hear it.

So we’re off to the general election, and we’ll soon know if Obama will get a bounce from the convention, from tomorrow’s economic news, or from renewed Democratic enthusiasm.


Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Varecia on September 07, 2012 12:55 AM:

    Although women were so prominent in this convention, and they all did a terrific and inspiring job promoting women's issues, I really wish that someone would have framed reproductive issues in no uncertain terms of what this GOP war on women is really about: reproductive issues are really ECONOMIC issues. It's about keeping women from participating in the workforce. It's about reducing their family incomes through multiple, consecutive pregnancies because eventually day care costs will exceed any benefit from any job they have. It's about added medical expenses associated with pregnancy and parturition, and a lack of health care and insurance to deal with them. And we all know that the first steps in bringing women in third world countries out of poverty is to 1) provide them the means for family planning, and 2) education girls and young women, so we are under threat of being taken to the level of a third world country! So much is all tied together; health care, education, the economy, voter suppression, etc., etc. It's a much more comprehensive and insidious attack on women and class than many might think.

  • socratic_me on September 07, 2012 1:13 AM:

    I was pretty sure I heard a reference to the work of his "bipartisan deficit commission" in there. He tripped on by it, but I was waiting for it after Biden mentioned S-B by name in his speech.

  • c u n d gulag on September 07, 2012 7:30 AM:

    I loved the President's speech - and so did my 80 year-old Obama-lovin' Mama!

  • Celui on September 07, 2012 8:47 AM:

    This speech was more than I was hoping for: replete with substance, peppered with a few snarky asides which will certainly be repeated often, filled with homage to those who sacrifice for the betterment of all, and so often underscoring the message that this is a nation 'of, by and for' its citizens who bear the responsibility to maintain and improve its promise for future generations. And, Joe Biden was pretty damn good, himself. This was a formidable lineup of speakers, each of whom set the state for the President while at the same time, bearing witness that this election is about all of us pulling together.

  • AndThenThere'sThat on September 07, 2012 9:09 AM:

    And, Joe Biden was pretty damn good, himself.

    One of the best lines of the night: "Ask Bin Laden if he's better off than he was four years ago"

    That ball not only left the park, it's still in flight.

  • badpoetry on September 07, 2012 9:18 AM:

    Actually, I'm not sure that the speech won't be remembered as historic. Repainting "Hope" as an inspiration generated and enjoyed by the American people, rather than just Obama himself, was a master stroke... and an inspiration for the ages, not just for now. It really could hold up. (For instance, I could imagine a new fresh-faced politician 50 years from now quoting portions of this speech ["Citizenship!" "Hope!" "We travel it together!"] and being well rewarded for it.)

  • BJ smith on September 07, 2012 1:56 PM:

    Loved the speech, it was not as lofty, nor was it meant to be, it fitted the occasion for seriosness of the reality we are living.Ttouching on humility was genius, plus it was heartfelt most would agree, & capped Michelle & Bill, which it was designed to do.

    Loved that John Kerry got some belated sweet revenge,& Joe tugged heartstrings as only Joe can.Since Vets are my special cause their tribute was uplifting to the max. No one one knows what the outcome will be, but none of what happened for three days in North Carolina will do anything other than help.