During the past two weeks, our two political parties held their nominating conventions. One was abound in encomiums to our military, muscular in its promotion of the killing of the world's most hated terrorist, firm in its values and beliefs and staged impeccably. The other one was the Republican National Convention. For those old enough to remember (or young, but REALLY into politics), it was hard to watch Democrats in Charlotte and think that this was the same party that nominated its 1972 standard bearer at the ungodly hour of 2:30 in the morning or had its 1984 candidate make a central part of his acceptance speech how he was going to raise taxes. The same party whose 1988 nominee will forever be etched in the nation's memory with his helmeted head popping up from a Army tank is now downright competent when it comes to stagecraft and messaging while the enduring visual of the Republicans' confab in Tampa will be a doddering 82 year old man talking to an empty chair.
While Democrats celebrated their diversity on the floor and in the stands in Charlotte, Republicans manufactured it by cherry picking its speakers. The Democrats happily defended not just the ideals of social justice, fairness and community, but argued for a "rising tide that lifts all boats" mantra that harkened all the way back to John F. Kennedy. Republicans, unable to capitalize on the jingoism of the George W. Bush years, muted their typical flag waving viz a viz the military and exchanged it for a full throttled defense of small business and predictable chants of U-S-A. And while Republicans made a facile attempt to highlight the nation's debt burden while neglecting to mention its own Presidents' responsibility for its accumulation, Bill Clinton conducted a graduate level seminar that all Americans could easily understand about the Democrats' superior record on job creation, wealth accumulation and long-term investment that grows our middle class, provides opportunity for the poor and STILL makes rich people richer.
While both parties sought to humanize their nominees through speeches delivered by their spouses, Ann Romney's odd "I LOOOOVE WOMEN" moment sounded as forced and fake as Michelle Obama's reference to reaching back and pulling others through the door of opportunity was eloquent. Mrs. Romney may have bragged about her husband's parenting abilities, the First Lady leveled a sophisticated attack on naked greed and capitalism without once mentioning Mr. Romney by name but rather, suffusing her critique of the "me first" mentality he represents throughout her remarks, which, even conservative commentators lauded as one of the best they had ever heard.
Most surprising was the full throttled attack Democrats eagerly leveled at Mitt Romney and the Republicans on everything from supporting the troops to appropriating the aforementioned U-S-A chant from them. John Kerry shish kebobed Romney for his gaffe heavy trip to Europe and the President zinged him for claiming Russia, and not Al-Qaeda, is our greatest threat. This Democratic party aggressively pushed the narrative that the Affordable Care Act was a GOOD idea, humanizing its impact by the moving testimonial of a mom whose daughter was directly impacted by the law's removal of lifetime caps on health coverage.
Ultimately, what the two conventions revealed was what many of us already knew. The Republican relationship to Mitt Romney is purely transactional. They are prepared to build him up right up until the time his candidacy is untenable, at which point they will drop him in favor of saving down ballot candidates to ensure at least one chamber of Congress remains in their grasp. Democrats, on the other hand, have genuine love and affection for the President and are prepared to do the hard work of phone banking, door knocking and getting out the vote that is necessary for his reelection or go down with the ship. A parade of Republican rising stars spent most of their time in Tampa trumpeting their own bona fides as a collective hedge against a Romney loss. A similar group of Democrats offered a spirited (did you see Jennifer Granholm?) defense of the President and justification for his re-election.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said it was time for the Democratic party to grow a backbone and defend its record, and in Charlotte the party heeded his words. Republicans, on the other hand, hid their most recent standard bearer, did not invite his running mate to address the crowd and avoided any reference to their last President at all costs. In the end, one party shrouded its record in secrecy, the other embraced it. With less than two months to go until Election Day, the Democratic Party came out of this latest phase of the election season with a clear upper hand. The President and his team must continue to press his advantage from now until November, and I think they will.