What a weird Democratic National Convention! The two most popular speakers by far — Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton — aren’t running for office. And the man who is supposed to be the Master Orator of the 21st Century, Barack Obama, gave one of the flattest, most disappointing talks of his career.
More on that in a moment. First, I’ll discuss what had to be the strangest moment of a very strange convention: The bungled effort to change the Democratic Party platform after it had been approved.
It all began when the people framing the party platform decided to delete all references to God. If allowed to stand, it would have marked the first time the Creator was not acknowledged in the platform of either major political party.
When the omission sparked a ton of media comments and Republican criticism, word came down from high — no, not heaven, but the Obama White House — that the platform had to be amended — immediately.
Antonio Villaraigosa, the Mayor of Los Angeles, was serving as chairman of the convention when the effort was made to put God back in the platform. He read the new language, then called for a voice vote to approve it. He told the assembled delegates that the change had to be approved by a two-thirds majority.
When he called for the “ayes” and “nays,” he and the assembled multitude got quite a shock. The “ayes” didn’t get anywhere near the two-thirds approval necessary. Many commentators who were there in person thought that the “nays” actually got more votes.
Then Villaraigosa did something that was really stupid. He called for a second voice vote. The same thing happened again. If anything, the “nays” were even louder. Then the poor guy called for a third vote. The shouting got even more boisterous, but the results were the same. If the “nays” weren’t a majority, they sure kept the “ayes” from a two-thirds approval.
At that point, Villaraigosa looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Not knowing what else to do, he declared that the measure had passed, thanked the delegates and banged his gavel.
Officially, God is now in the Democratic platform. But, in fact, His presence there was roundly booed by a heck of a lot of Democrats at their national convention. If the Republicans don’t remind potential voters about this a few hundred times between now and the elections, they’re making a huge mistake.
Political conventions are supposed to be more carefully scripted than a big-budget movie. Every speech is vetted several times (unless you’re Clinton or Clint Eastwood). Every moment is carefully planned — especially those in the prime-time hours on national TV.
So what the heck happened in Charlotte, N.C.? It’s hard to tell who screwed up, but somebody did — big time.
By the way, this wasn’t the only misstep at the Democrats’ gathering. There was another lulu on opening night, when a Hollywood-style video greeted delegates with the news that “government is the only thing we all belong to.” Republicans immediately countered by pointing out that we don’t belong to government; government belongs to us (in theory, at least).
Clinton and Michelle Obama helped the Democrats recover a lot of ground. Although I’m not sure Clinton did the President a favor when he reminded delegates that nobody could have kept all of the promises Obama made four years ago. But no matter; the party faithful love the guy. I’m sure many of them regret he couldn’t duplicate Franklin D. Roosevelt’s record and run for third and fourth terms.
Finally, we got to Thursday night, when it was time for Barack Obama to take center stage. Many people expected him to be as impassioned and inspiring as he was four years ago. By all accounts, he failed decisively. Former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan described his speech as “stale and empty.” FOX News commentator Charles Krauthammer agreed, saying it was “one of the emptiest speeches I have ever heard on a national stage.”
But the criticism didn’t come only from the right. Liberal columnist Michael Tomasky, writing in the left-wing Daily Beast, called the President’s speech “dull and pedestrian… with nary an interesting thematic device, policy detail, or even one turn of phrase.” Many of the Democratic commentators on television agreed afterward that the President’s speech left a gigantic “enthusiasm deficit.” Some even admitted that Joe Biden gave a better speech.
So what happens now? If the Republicans are smart, videos of all those angry faces booing God will become as commonplace as Obama’s insulting comment to entrepreneurs that “you didn’t build that.”
Sure, the economy will remain the No. 1 issue in voters’ minds (as it should be). But a heck of a lot of voters cares about values, too. A substantial majority does not like the idea of putting no limits on abortions, demanding that voters pay for them and not notifying parents when a daughter who is a minor wants one.
And in virtually every State where it’s been put on the ballot, including the People’s Republic of California, a majority of voters has declared that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. Make the election about these issues and the Republicans should not only win the White House, they should also keep control of the House and regain a majority in the Senate.
I’m not foolish enough to believe that such electoral victories will lead easily or automatically to fiscal sanity in Washington or end the influence of the empire-builders who think the United States should be the police of the world. The Republicans in the past had a lot of gusto for both guns and butter. They can ladle out the pork just as eagerly as any Democrat.
But let’s never forget that our Founding Fathers wisely put the power of the purse in the House of Representatives. The Constitution insists that every spending bill originate there. If the House won’t approve it, the President can’t spend it. Period.
Yes, there will be some tumultuous times before we finally get government back under control. But come this November, we have an opportunity to take some significant steps in the right direction. Let’s make sure we do so.
Until next time, keep some powder dry.