The above video is the song they chose to play as President Obama took the stage Thursday night. The opening refrain are the only two lines that played: The more you see the less you know / The less you find out as you go. More than the irony and hilarity of those two lines playing for Obama, the song itself is about heartbreak and loss. Seriously, loss in homemade rags basically sums it up. Who is in charge of picking the music at these things anyway? This choice was as bad as the RNC playing Sweet Home Alabama to introduce Condi Rice. WTF? Anyway…
For his talk of moving forward, Barack Obama is running a retro-campaign. As he walked us down the circular staircase into his preacher’s voice in his acceptance speech, I couldn’t help but notice his over-reliance on the simplistic three-point structure I teach my students in remedial college writing. 40 minutes is a long time to keep using this strategy, but he did. Over and over again he would assert a broad topic, then hit on three major details of that topic. This is how he has hypnotized unthinking Democrats over the course of the last five years. They are still held in thrall by his elementary trinity strategy.
But beyond his well-entrenched form, Obama didn’t offer much new in the way of substance. He has definitely earned the nickname I gave him: Rerun (remember What’s Happening!!?). He invoked FDR and Lincoln, being careful to add an ironic line regarding the former about how not every problem can be solved by a new program or dictate from Washington. This from the man who gave us Obamacare. Regarding the latter, he added a self-serving flourish about his own failures, as if that could make him as great as our 16th president. But this is not the Civil War, and it’s not even the Civil Rights era, facts that Obama finds much to his disliking.
His speech was riddled with ironies. Obama gave lots of bullet-pointed items on what he’d like to change in a second term, but he didn’t provide any substance anymore than Romney did the week before. That’s the nature of modern campaigns and conventions, and Obama looked rather silly complaining about Romney doing it while he did it himself. He mentioned a million new manufacturing jobs he would like to create and expected applause for what hasn’t happened yet while a mere 23 million people remain out of work. He talked about reducing oil imports without ever mentioning that gas prices were so high and that so many people were out of work that of course we were using less gas. He just wanted to take credit for the reduction without owning the causes. He talked about environmentalism and coastal safety without mentioning the disaster of the BP Oil Spill that happened on his watch and which his administration floundered in addressing.
He also stole many, many ideas from other people. This is what Obama does, and he’s usually pretty good at it, but this time he was too transparent. He talked of having “held in his arms” the parents of our dead soldiers, a line he cribbed from Jesus Himself. His talk of government reform leading to a leaner, more efficient government was stolen straight from Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney. He also stole Romney’s “Believe” slogan, and attached it to his rerun idea about this election being about you, not him, even as he claimed to be the voice of you. He talked about “getting back to basics,” a marketing strategy that is being used by countless companies trying to find purchase in this disastrous economy, and preached from the pulpits every Sunday. He’s going to move us forward by getting back to basics. Change you can believe in, huh? I don’t think so. I think it sounded like he put his old ideas and the ideas of several others into a centrifuge and gave it a whirl. Whatever it spat out is what went into the speech.
It was quite a lot to take in if only because it was such a manifestation of his own arrogance and hubris and that tends to wear on people after a while. I watched so much of this Convention, at least as much as I watched the RNC in Tampa, and here’s the message I’ve decided they tried to sell: We think we’re badasses. So please, please, please don’t destroy our convictions and assumptions with logic, please don’t take our teddy bear away from us! This is the way toddlers and teenagers think and act. Compare that with Tampa’s message of We’re adults and we can help, so at least give us a listen and a chance. Neither one is necessarily a winning message, but I know which one I’m more inclined to take seriously and support.
It’s important to keep in mind here the facts on the ground of the electoral landscape. Obama needs at least the numbers he got in 2008 to meet the renewed enthusiasm on the right. No one on the right who stayed home in 2008 will do that this year. Paulbots will have less potency than PUMA did, quite frankly. There are zero McCain voters moving into Obama’s column while there are plenty of Obama voters moving into the Romney column. Independents, by most major polls, are surging toward Romney more and more. And Team Obama doesn’t have quite the GOTV effort that the media would like you to think he has, or else they wouldn’t need to open up twice as many field offices in New Mexico, for crying out loud, just last week. Meanwhile, events like this are happening across the country. And while Independents and the GOP are energized, Obamacrats are depressed, especially younger voters, despite this convention. It won’t budge the real numbers in any meaningful way.
Obama’s campaign is retro because it looks back, not forward.
It is about two things: social issues and a Republican Party that doesn’t exist as he would like to sell it anymore. The promise of Romney is that he threatens a new paradigm for the GOP and for America itself. While Obama is busy with invocations of FDR, Romney actually is the FDR of the GOP. Not in policy, of course, but in being the kind of person who is confident and competent enough to actually solve the problems that need to be addressed, and the vision to try the kind of bold actions that are called for. He can rebrand the GOP with that confidence, competence, and vision. I have little doubt he will.
What Obama doesn’t understand about social issues is that they have no value this year. They are like Confederate money circa 1888: quaint and collectable, but they won’t purchase a damn thing, not even a hold on the electorate anymore. They are nails he can hammer away at, but they fly into thin air. The only people they matter to are the people Democrats told them to matter to–gays, blacks, Hispanics–and those constituencies aren’t enough to cobble together a win. Because Dems left women out of this equation for so long, that has come back to bite them and they are not a special interest group that can be captured in the same way these others groups have been. And Dems really have no one to blame for that but themselves. Hillary and Sarah are too fresh in our minds, as is the utter hypocrisy of the Democrat’s idea of a war on women just four years after they executed the equivalent of a World War on Women.
As far as the GOP being the party Obama wants them to be–the party of Nixon, Reagan, and W. Bush–that is not who they are anymore, and that is a narrative that has been fed into the subtext of our consciousness for several years now. It won’t resonate with anyone but hardcore Obamacrats, those zombie Democrats who are operating on some sort of thoughtless instinct and in search of flesh, who tune out all other interference but what they want, which is more Obama.
Over and above the promise of being the GOP’s version of FDR, Romney also holds the promise of being finally able to get the party past the Nixonites. You don’t see them on the scene anymore. They are all old and too feeble now to work in any administration, and the bridge that is Condoleeza Rice is far to savvy to let the stink of the old-timers stay upon her. He has tamed the Tea Party after the Tea Party, like Rome’s lions, ate the old guard Christians, a constituency you also don’t hear much from anymore. It is the GOP, not the Democratic Party, that is looking and moving forward, and the great moderate middle of the electorate understands this on some level.
I still think that middle, led by the boomer and Gen-X constituencies in the Midwest, will lead Romney to victory. They will do this not so much because they like Romney or buy his message, but because that message resonates a bit more than what Peggy Noonan called the “soft extremism” of the left these days. These voters, especially those Gen-xers like me, have a message to deliver, and it is a retro-message to be sure. It is a message about convictions, assumptions and teddy bears and just who it is a President should serve.