Parting Shots

by Daniel Foster

For the past few days I have been feeling like Super Man under a red sun. I think it’s partially due to the drain of slogging straight through 20-hour days in Tampa to — I’ll be fair — 18-hour days in Charlotte. I know, I know, cry me a river, Foster. But it’s also due in part to thinking that the Democratic convention was more effective than the Republican. I certainly felt that way over the first two nights here and was seriously pondering Jay’s question: How do we ever win?

Which is why I needed a mediocre night like tonight to boost my spirits. Joe Biden is certainly capable of giving a broad but effective aw-shucks populist speech. This wasn’t it. There’s a weird thing about Biden. Usually when a politician says one odd thing or deploys one unusually lame trope in a speech, the snarky classes will seize on it. But Biden speeches can sometimes deploy dozens or more — truly flooding the zone. But the part that stuck with me was the section about “Me and Barack’s” vision for the future. It included a line about how women will “once again” be able to make their own decisions. It’s the most literal (if you’ll excuse the expression) indication that Obama-Biden are running against President Romney. I have to think that’s a dangerous strategy.

As for the president: I thought the State of the Union was in the winter? It’s not that it was a bad speech, it’s that it was a typical speech. Romney did a pretty good but not a great job, I thought. But he also had a deeper character/relatability hole to dig himself out of, and he more or less pulled it off, getting just personal enough (including the brief choke-up that never descended into the kind of manly throat-clearing theatrics Biden displayed tonight, in the course of bizarrely referring to our KIA “fallen angels”) without veering into gross sentimentality. Obama gave a stump speech. Did it have more novel policy than Romney’s? You bet your sweet keister. Did it need to, considering Obama’s first-term record? No diggity.

There were also a couple of laughable moments, especially in the foreign policy section that was meant to highlight what the Obama camp considers (probably rightly) a strength. But the way to do that isn’t to condescendingly suggest, as the president did, that Romney and Ryan are “new” to foreign policy. All that does is draw attention to the fact that the president’s case for his qualification to be commander-in-chief is that he is commander-in-chief. And the stones it took to call Romney out for “insulting our closest ally” re: the London Olympics incident (cf. iPods and Churchill busts) could build a mighty henge.

I still think the Democratic convention was a bit more effective — in the room, at least — than the Republican. But that’s probably largely because Republicans don’t love Mitt Romney the way Democrats love Barack Obama. And thank God. Interacting with the delegates in Charlotte and watching them on the floor was scary. Not in a I’m-going-to-be-jumped way — they seem like good and decent folks — but in a holy-crap-these-people-worship-this-guy way. I’m pretty Hamiltonian, but I’m constitutionally incapable of revering a politician the way some of these folks revere Obama. The looks in their eyes . . .

But I don’t know that Charlotte will move the needle for President Obama. And maybe that was by design. Maybe he’s running a prevent defense. Again, a risky strategy. (For my part, I’d suggest a zone blitz on Romney’s weak side, rolling the free safety over to bracket Ryan on the go route, but I digress.)

Speaking of things that play well in the room, I’ll give you a behind-the-scenes take. Over the course of Tampa and Charlotte I watched speeches on the floor, in the press stands, in the general-admission seating, in the halls on monitors, and off-site on TV. To be honest with you, I think watching on TV is the best way to do it. Either an unvarnished CC feed or C-SPAN for you civilians. Things play different on TV than they do on the ground. It’s good to have that perspective, because everybody in the room is already voting for his guy. Anyway, don’t tell the boss.

Good night, Charlotte. See you tomorrow, New York.

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