Democratic Optimism

The tone of the Democratic National Convention’s third night was clear: optimism.    Optimism about America, about the future, and about President Obama’s re-election.

That wasn’t the tone of the Republican convention.   Theirs was one where they said a dark and dreary future awaited America if Barack Obama were to be re-elected.    Ultimately, optimism is why the DNC may indeed provide the bounce for Obama that Romney did not get from his convention.

To be sure, both conventions did deal in fear.   Women were told to fear what America would be like under a Romney Presidency.   Latinos were reminded that Mitt had called for “self-deportation” and threatened to undo the Obama decision to allow “dreamers” to stay — children born or brought here young and while lacking documentation have never known another home.    The middle class was told that a Republican country would take from them and hinder their chances in order to give the wealthy more tax cuts.   Jobs would go off shore, the chance to create a sustainable economy would be harmed under a Romney-Ryan administration.   All those fears, often exaggerated, were on display in Democratic speeches.

However, unlike the Republicans, that wasn’t the taste the convention left in its aftermath.   The exuberant optimism of Joe Biden saying “don’t bet against the American people,” rang louder.    While fears of what Republicans would do were stated very clearly, there was never a claim that electing Romney would bring the downfall of the American dream.   The argument was pitched positively – President Obama represents the best hope for the American dream.

Ronald Reagan’s optimism was contagious, and was a key reason so many people who disagreed with him on issues still wanted him as President.

There was a time when the Republicans seemed to own optimism.   In the wake of a decade of crisis – defeat in Vietnam, Watergate, energy crises, the hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Ronald Reagan’s optimism was his key to success.  His message was simple: despite the fact things looked bleak for the US – that our best days may be behind us – our values will prevail.   Never bet against the American people.

This year, the Democrats own that message.   The Republicans have chosen to rely on economic pessimism to lead voters to choose to give up on Obama as unable to fix the problem.   What they forgot is that Ronald Reagan did not win because Americans gave up on Jimmy Carter.   Ronald Reagan won because he offered change – a coherent view of what could be done differently, with a strong sense that the first job would be to have Americans believe in themselves again.   That optimism was key to his appeal.

Obama and Biden both struck nationalist themes, again stealing territory from the GOP

Beyond that, the Democrats moved in on GOP territory in other ways.    While Mitt Romney failed to mention “the troops” at all, perhaps not wanting to arouse memories of Iraq and George W. Bush’s wars, the importance of veterans and the military was a theme of the convention.   Michelle Obama and Jill Biden trumpeted their work on behalf of military families.   Biden talked about his son Beau, and the President spoke deferentially about the duty of a country to care to those who have served to protect and defend it.

The convention also had a strong nationalist tinge, something that at times left many Democrats a tad uncomfortable.    Yet it served two purposes.   GOP rhetoric has often hinted that Obama is too internationalist and distant from American values.   Indeed, for many that’s the danger he represents, that he’s leading us to an America far different than than the one we grew up in.   The Democrats pivoted that to an argument that the world is indeed changing, but President Obama is responding in a manner shaped by quintessential American values.    Tied to the idea Romney is hiding tax secrets and off shore accounts, the Democrats have made clear that if there is a debate about who is more “true to America,” they’ll not stand down.

Finally, the Democrats embraced their own liberalism with a confident gusto that surprised some pundits.   They didn’t limit talk about Obamacare to a few lines buried in speeches shifting attention elsewhere.   They owned it.   They defended it, and they defended the core progressive ideal of government needing to play a powerful role to help provide equal opportunity.   They made an impassioned pitch for seeing progressive ideals as the true core values of the country, with the Ayn Rand like rugged individualism of the GOP out of sync with our community spirit.   They embraced clearly and strongly support for gay marriage and abortion rights.   They weren’t ashamed of being liberal.

Whether through politicians or stars like Eva Longoria, who was arguably more effective than Clint Eastwood, the Democrats didn’t back down from their core values.

The Democrats also rejected the notion that their goal is to create dependence or that Democrats don’t value success.  Indeed, in speech after speech they provided examples of poor folk working hard to create a better future, and stressed that the value of a job is not just the paycheck one earns.  Rather, the dignity one gets from having a job, and the example one can give to his or her children is the true value of being employed.

Will it work?   Will this convention catapult the Democrats to a clear lead and perhaps put the House in play?   After a lackluster Republican convention will Americans recall the hopes of 2008 and believe that the GOP offers simply a return to the policies that created this mess?

That’s where the Republicans botched their message.   By not setting a clear alternative to both the Democrats and their own policies before 2008, they come off as having  nothing new to offer.   It’s as if a guy weighing 320 goes on a diet to get down to a healthy weight of 230.   After a year he’s at 295 and still fat.   So he decides to give up exercise and better eating in order to go back to the old lifestyle because the new one hasn’t worked.    Maybe the new one isn’t working fast enough, but the old lifestyle is sure to fail!   Not giving a clear alternative left the Democrats an opening to say the GOP would go back to Bush era policies.

My gut, biased as it is for President Obama, tells me that this will work.   The Democrats needed to make their case clearly, optimistically, and without apology stressing how their vision is a truly American vision.    But even if it doesn’t work, even if the campaign spending by the Romney camp and continuing economic gloom allow the Republicans to have another big year, Obama and the Democrats were right to put forth a forceful and powerful message.   If they’re going to lose, they need to lose while standing up for principle, not trying to avoid politically risky moves.

Agree or not, President Obama did not shy away from the principles of his party

That’s another thing that helped Reagan – while the Democrats in the 80s were struggling to define who they were, no one doubted Reagan had a set of core values.   Now that’s reversed.   While the Republicans seem torn between the tea party hardliners and a Mitt Romney who even Republican faithful admit seems to have no core, the Democrats are united behind a President who lays out clear principles.    Just as the Democrats attacked Reagan’s principles in the 80s, without a clear alternative the public judged their argument unpersuasive.   Now it’s the Republicans without a clear alternative, and that could be the point that tips this election to the President.

  1. #1 by Jeff Fordham on September 7, 2012 - 18:43

    I really appreciate your posts over the last couple of weeks ! Its nice to see an even handed take on everything. You are spot on about the DNC and their well handled convention. Lets hope the optimism will bring in those undecided independents and moderates, and even sway some who considered Romney before really looking at him and Paul Ryan.

    Its all about my country and not a political party…..compromise is what Ronald Reagan understood and implemented for the sake of this great nation. Reagan saw the problems at hand, and knew that it was more important to work with Democrats to help move the country forward. Hell, he even signed a bill in 1988 expanding Medicare after years of fighting against Medicare from 1961 onward……calling socialized medicine …. aka Medicare ….”evil” . It kills me that no conservatives will bring up this fact that Reagan did a 180 degree turn around on Medicare after seeing the value and help it offered millions of Americans. Not only did he suport medicare BUT HE EXPANDED IT. I would love to shove that fact in Paul Ryans face at a town hall meeting ….but I don’t think there will be any non scripted town hall meetings for the fake fiscal crusader from Wisconsin.

    Proof of Reagan expanding medicare:

  2. #2 by Larry Beck on September 7, 2012 - 21:51

    Nice write up Scott. Going to paste it on my FB page

    ” They weren’t ashamed of being liberal.”

    Nor should they be because poll after poll shows that many of things they touted and that we call liberal have majority favorability. Why? I think it’s because the Democrats have been pulled so far to the right that the left is closer to the middle than it used to be in years back.

  3. #3 by SShiell on September 9, 2012 - 05:34

    Yep, and the following numbers reflect the optimism (???) expressed by the Democrats:

    23,136,000: The Number Of Americans Who Are Unemployed, Underemployed, Or Have Stopped Looking For Work. (Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Accessed 9/7/12)

    12,544,000: The Number Of Unemployed Workers. (Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Accessed 9/7/12)

    8,031,000: The Number Of Workers Working Part-Time For Economic Reasons. (Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Accessed 9/7/12)

    5,033,000: The Number Of Workers Who Have Been Unemployed For 27 Weeks Or Longer. (Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Accessed 9/7/12)

    1,043,000: Construction Jobs Lost Since President Obama Took Office. (Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Accessed 9/7/12)

    582,000 Manufacturing Jobs Lost Since President Obama Took Office. (Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Accessed 9/7/12)

    368,000: Workers That Dropped Out Of The Labor Force In August. (Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Accessed 9/7/12)

    261,000: Jobs Lost Since President Obama Took Office. (Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Accessed 9/7/12)

    41,000: Downward Revision Of Jobs Created Over The Last Two Months. (Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Accessed 9/7/12)

    15,000: Manufacturing Jobs Lost In August. (Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Accessed 9/7/12)

    1981: The Last Time The Labor Force Participation Rate Was At Its Current Level Of 63.5 Percent. (Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Accessed 9/7/12)

    43: Consecutive Months The Unemployment Rate Has Remained Above Eight Percent. (Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Accessed 9/7/12)

    39.2 Weeks: The Average Duration Of Unemployment – Nearly Double The 19.8 Weeks When President Obama Took Office. (Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Accessed 9/7/12)

    14.7 Percent: The Real Unemployment Rate, Including Those That Are Working Part-Time Due To Economic Reasons. (Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Accessed 9/7/12)

    11.2 Percent: The Unemployment Rate Had Labor Force Participation Remained Steady Since President Obama Took Office. (American Enterprise Institute, 9/7/12)

    8.4 Percent: The Unemployment Rate Had Labor Force Participation Remained Steady From July. (American Enterprise Institute, 9/7/12)

    8.1 Percent: The Unemployment Rate In August. (Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Accessed 9/7/12)

    7.8 Percent: The Unemployment Rate When President Obama Took Office. (Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Accessed 9/7/12)

    5.4 Percent: The Unemployment Rate President Obama’s Advisers Predicted If We Passed His $787 Billion Stimulus. (Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein, “The Job Impact Of The American Recovery And Reinvestment Plan,”1/9/09)

    • #4 by Scott Erb on September 9, 2012 - 11:35

      Yes, no one doubts that we’re still struggling — as is the rest of the world — with a debt driven global economic crisis thirty years in the making. But the idea that a President can magically mix a global crisis is wrong. Moreover, people have a choice — which candidate is more likely to govern with their values in mind? By being vague and focusing on tax cuts and spending cuts, Governor Romney’s playbook sounds an awful lot like the policies that created the crisis in the first place. By not charting an alternative to BOTH the Democrats and pre-2008 Republican policies, people have reason to suspect Romney has no solution. People have a choice — and right now, as Politico reports, Obama has the advantage as he’s made the more compelling case. Romney still has the debates, but he needs to put forth a true vision and plan.

      Many on the right seem stuck in ridiculing Obama and “liberals,” stuck in a kind of ideological haze whereby the left are a bunch of “socialists who want to punish success” while they are the only true alternative, that they don’t realize Obama is occupying the middle ground. The middle ground is where elections are won. Romney’s camp seems to think that they’d win just because the economy hasn’t improved as fast as Obama thought it would, they seem to have forgotten or downplayed the fact that the election is a choice between two people, and two visions of where the country should head.

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