Saturday, September 8, 2012

Convention Wisdom

I've been absorbing the Republican and Democratic political conventions through the past fortnight, flicking on the television every weekday evening and catching the last 2-3 hours of speech-making, politicking and grand-standing straight through. I love that I found C-PAC and got my conventions without the narration of commentators, however much insight they may share about background maneuvering and hidden messages. I'm hugely partisan in this race, as sensitive to the differences between the parties as I've ever been, and as certain as many times before of the divergence in the paths the US faces, depending on the outcome in November.

It's unending of course, this schism between the two main parties in American politics. But through much of my life, the choice in Presidents has seemed to me only a bit more consequential than a Tweedledum-Tweedledee reckoning, so far as they way American lives were going to be lived. But, particularly since Reagan's election in '80, the effect of the way the country is steered has appeated to take on greater importance.

I know that there are different America's. I've lived mostly on America's coasts (or out of the country altogether). But I've spent enough time in the South and Midwest, and have engaged with enough conservatives in other vicinities, to understand how fundamentally differently Americans see their relationship to the nation and to one another. If I had to boil it down, I'd say that one of the core differences lies in how we judge the characters of those fellow citizens who are like us, and those who are not like us.

I think that the politics and principles of conservatives reflect, by and large, a conviction that "my kind" of people are strong, resourceful, independent and dependable, and that the other kind are weak, lazy and immoral and need to be watched with extreme suspicion.

And I think that the politics and principles of liberals reflect, by and large, a conviction that "my kind" of people are caring, creative, smart and communal, and that the other kind are brutal, selfish and hypocritical, and need to be watched with extreme suspicion.

And of course, I think that I'm on the right side, for the right reasons, and that I totally 'get' where the other side is coming from. And my side being the liberal side of the equation, I try to compensate for my tendency to think I'm smarter and more caring than those who vote differently than I, and that they are narrow-minded and greedy. Naturally, I can't be an impartial judge as to how well I manage that.

I think I manage it well enough though, to be impressed with the Republicans' lauding of the virtues of entrepreneurial spirit, and their warnings against a culture of entitlement. And I was likewise aware of the Democrats' over-selling of Obama's achievements and their demonizing of the opposition's moral intent.

But all-in-all, for 3 days and beyond, I worried over the Republicans' blasting of Obama's every act and intention. I feared they were having an effect, succeeding in eroding the faith of those wanting to stick by Obama. I thought back to 2004 - certainly the low point in my estimation of the American electorate's judgement. I was befuddled back then, absolutely not getting how we could send George, Jr. back for a second term, after years of ineptitude and unprincipled action.

But as the Democratic gathering in Charlotte got going, I was rejuvenated. Just as 2004 was a low for me, 2008 had been a huge endorsement of my fellow Americans' wisdom and our willingness and ability to "aspire to a more perfect Union.". And I saw that vision being endorsed, repeatedly and powerfully, from the podium. Most importantly, I saw the Democrats actually repudiating the stance of the GOP, with intelligent arguments and with evidence.

Now get you, I thought the Republicans put forward some great speeches as well, most notably, Anne Romney, Condoleeza Ric, Susana Martinez and Chris Christie. But the Dems were represented brilliantly, by speaker after speaker.

Joe Biden was pretty damn good. Michelle Obama was even better. I was very impressed by the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Sandra Fluke. President Obama gave a strong, solid speech, with a nice balance of rational argument and inspiration. But it was absolutely Bill Clinton who delivered the best speech of the entire two weeks. He inspired, he entertained, but best of all, he took the Republican position and arguments and dismantled them, point by point, and presented a stirring and well argued acknowldegment of Obama's accomplishments, and of the difficult circumstances under which he's achieved them. And he spoke with such dignified naturalness, with no hint of artificiality or manipulative intent. He spoke like one whose been there, telling it like it was. As he spoke, I felt that Clinton was laying out a blueprint for the remainder of the campaign, which, if followed, could not but lead to another four years for Obama. He was Brilliant!

But here we are now, a couple of days later, and the campaign is really just beginning, and the outcome far from being decided. And it's time to get more involved. Over the past few years, I've signed my share of petitions, and sent a few emails, and donated a bit of money to campaigns and organizations I believe in. But I realize that I'll need to step it up if I want to take an active hand in shaping the future of the country of my birth, and of the broader world we all live in.

As absurd, inhumane and distant from lived realities as it can be, politics is important. At its core, it's about negotiating the relationships among us, about meeting needs, and about values. Whether we've ever voted or not, politics moves us, one way or another.

Today, I was able to make contact with Democrats Abroad, and to learn a little about the actions they are taking to support Obama and other Democrats. I intend to participate in a few phone banks over the coming weeks, encouraging others to register and vote. Maybe I'll have the opportunity to actually talk ideas with a flexible or open-minded Republican or Independent. I'm hopeful.


  1. I could not agree more about your summary of the conventions. Seen with European eyes, it seems unbelieable, that the Republicans should have a chance at all to win the upcoming elections. Like you, I can understand their lauding of traditional values being appealing to some people. But one should think, that their obstructive politics of the past 4 years, revealingly one-sided in favour of their wealthy clientele, should have been enough to disqualify any of their candidates from running for president. They have tried to choke every single initiative of the Obama administration and not presented any new vision or constructive solution of their own. Surely more of the same politics, that lead us into the mess in the first place, cannot be the answer! But America is not Europe. One of the crucial issues for these elections, as I see it, will be to get enough people, who actually sympathize with Obama, to get up and vote. Therefore I am very glad, that you (and hopefully many others) are taking up the fight to get people to engage themselves. Hope with all my heart that you will succeed!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jürgen. If only more Americans were as perceptive about the doings of our politicians as you are! It’s frightening how successfully members of the struggling middle class are persuaded to act against their own interests.