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Barone: Thoughts on night three of the Democratic convention

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michael Barone,Politics Digest

Barack Obama went into this convention essentially tied with Mitt Romney. Most voters want to think well of whoever is president but most voters dislike the current economy and disapprove of his economic policies. In these circumstances I thought and think he needs a pivot, an indication of what new goals he would seek in a second term. We didn’t get that at this convention. Bill Clinton dramatically made the argument that no one–not even Bill Clinton–could have done better. This will be credible to many voters, but probably not to some current Undecideds.

In the first half of his acceptance speech Obama said he was going to present a list of goals for his second term. I want to study this more, but I think now some of his goals were meaningless mush (spend money saved on wars to improve society). He’s got the federal government and some talented career professionals to put proposals together, but there’s no evidence of it here. Other goals are rehashes from previous State of the Union or other speeches and are unlikely to capture anyone’s imagination. He continued his insistence on higher tax rates on high earners and rejection of Part D-like choice in Medicare which promises gridlock in the likely event the Republicans hold the House.

The bulk of the second half of the speech was devoted to reigniting the enthusiasm so obvious in 2008. “My fellow citizens, you were the change.” This is not a logical argument aimed at the head but an attempt to inspire the heart. There were callouts, as there have been constantly in this convention, to core constituencies in need of inspiration–the young, gays and lesbians, single women, blacks, Hispanics, public employee union members. One blogger wrote that this was a speech of a candidate confident he will win. I think it’s the speech of a candidate who feels pretty sure he will win if he can turn out his constituencies in large numbers as in 2008 and who feels he has less of a chance to turn around those now against him or undecided. Bill Clinton after his party’s defeat in 1994 took a different course and won reelection by a solid margin. Obama is currently ahead, if he is ahead, by just a smidgen.

Obama’s speech contained lots of false statements and distortions, in line with the convention as a whole. (Republicans had some too.)
A final note on foreign policy. Obama, like Sen. John Kerry (in a well-written speech that shows the imprint of Bob Shrum), pounced on Mitt Romney’s inexperience on foreign policy and some mistakes he’s made (calling Russia our number one geopolitical foe). That’s a potential weakness for the Republican ticket.

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