Yet, there they were, some of the best in our business, posting post-convention analyses as balloons and confetti fell from the rafters. TV talking heads do it all the time, and look what you get.
It has been more than a week since the elephants packed their trunks, and a couple of days after the donkey show hit the road, plenty of time to grade both parties’ parties and to offer some unsolicited critiques.
We should grade conventions on the pass/fail system, because you cannot measure the success of a political campaign on a sliding scale. It is win or lose, pass or fail.
This time around, the Republicans
failed and the Democrats
passed. These grades have nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with stagecraft.
Conventions by their nature are long on rhetoric and short on reason. Lighting up the faithful while giving the perception that your party is the only answer are the purposes of today’s quadrennial bacchanals. Open conventions of the past provided a different kind of theater.
Think of any convention in terms of a pre-game pep talk. What we got from the Republicans was a team coached by the gentle Irish priest. “All right boys, I want you to go out there and do your best. I want you to hit your opponent, but do it in kindness, always rememberin’ God’s Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And no matter what happens at the end of the game, even if you come back here with mud on your face, you will always have pride in your heart knowin’ that you did you best.”
What we got from the Democrats was something you might hear in a New Orleans Saints locker room. “These bums don’t belong on the same field as you. They don’t belong in the same league as you. They exist for one reason, and one reason only: to get hurt by you. They want you to hurt them, they want you to break them, they want you to make them afraid to put on a uniform again. And you know what? You are not going to disappoint them.”
Maybe a religious allegory is more appropriate, given that the Democrats voted God off their island for a few hours, and then fought like hell when party fixers tried to fix it. In this case, you had a Presbyterian prayer circle going up against a Billy Sunday
tent revival. No contest, son.
I’ve written hundreds of speeches and remarks for CEOs of industry and academia delivered in a variety of venues from a football stadium to a living room. I learned you can inform and motivate, but you cannot do both equally. Going back to religion, preachers will quote scriptures, even out of context, but their goal is either an altar call or a call to alter social behavior. And the more you get the faithful fired up, the more they will take the message to the masses.
Perception is the other aspect of a convention; some may argue it is the most import aspect.
And this is where the Republicans failed miserably on so many levels. We all know why party planners chose to avoid, not ignore, but avoid Afghanistan, Iraq, and bin Laden. It was because Uncle Sam’s wars are low on the priorities of most Americans. The economy, their jobs, their homes take the top spots.
But that does not explain why Mitt Romney did not start his acceptance speech with something like this: “I accept your nomination for President of the United States. And as the person who will be our nation’s next commander-in-chief, I ask all of you to stand up right now and join me in saluting, by your applause, the men and women in our armed forces in Afghanistan, in Iraq, on our bases around the world, and here at home, risking their lives, and yes, sometimes giving their lives, so that we can come together tonight to exercise the freedom they fight to protect.”
And then, cameras would cut to see everyone in the hall waiving one or both of the American flags given to them at the start of the evening as they drowned out Romney’s words with chants of USA, USA.
Instead, Republicans presented a local chamber of commerce breakfast meeting, and walked away with mud on their faces, but pride in their hearts knowing they did their best. The Democrats earned their passing grade by engaging in old-fashioned mudslinging.
But Democrats may have the more difficult task, one of turning shallow showmanship into a solid political message that voters will believe.