Advancing a Free Society

Waiting For Charlotte: Will The Democrats Get The Tampa Treatment?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

I’d like to discuss the upcoming Democratic National Convention. But first, I need to purge some snark from my system – snark fueled by four days of the media doing their best to find every irony, contradiction and inconsistency pertaining to the Republicans’ convention in Tampa.

Nitpick #1: The party’s being held at Time Warner Cable Arena, which doubles as the home of the Charlotte Bobcats – last year, the NBA’s worst team ever, percentage-wise. The brains behind that gang that literally can't shoot straight is Michael Jordan, who came from Chicago with the promise of delivering hope and change for pro hoops in the Queen City. As an executive, Air Jordan is Error Jordan – less a cash cow than he is Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. Sounds a bit like another Chicago icon that’s soon descending on Charlotte.

Nitpick #2: As apparently 18,000 worshipers inside said arena isn’t suitable adoration, the party’s taking the proceedings al fresco for President Obama’s acceptance speech (trying to replicate the 2008 experience in Denver, presumably minus the over-the-top Greek columns). Choice of venue: 73,778-seat Bank of America Stadium, in the shadow of the headquarters of the mega-bank that’s the root of Republican evil. Never mind that BofA and similarly demonized banks are generous donors to the Democratic cause, or that Thursday’s night organizers are giving away free tickets (appropriate for the party of freebies), lest the nation see thousands of Obama supporters disguised as empty seats.

I could go on with the odd little subplots:

  • The party that’s now embraced same-sex marriage in its platform is gathering in a state that passed a “defense of marriage” constitutional amendment in May;
  • The man who got the ball rolling on same-sex marriage eight years ago by issuing wedding licenses in San Francisco, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, is nowhere to be found on the list of convention speakers (though North Carolina’s “lite guv” earned a spot);
  • Beverly Perdue, the state’s Democratic governor – at one point this summer, the least popular governor in America – gave up the notion of seeking a second term this fall, which is hardly the sign of a state trending reliably blue after Obama narrowly carried it in 2008.
  • The party that bemoans gas-guzzlers, dirty air and global-warming has parked its convention half-a-mile from the NASCAR Hall of Fame and a 20-minute drive from the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
  • The same party that’s so critical of the Religious Right is spending a week in the home base of Billy & Franklin Graham’s evangelical effort.
  • The party’s matriarch, First Lady and First Foodie Michelle Obama, thinks Charlotte is the home to great Carolina barbecue (it’s not).

If you’re watching the Democratic convention this week, see if any of this gets the same mention (and over-mentioning) as, oh say, family-value conservatives gathering last week in a town know for its abundance of strip clubs. If not, there’s your argument in favor of media bias.

As for what President Obama has to accomplish in his speech, let’s leave that for later in the week. Meanwhile, you might want to check out this Politico piece about potential Democratic landmines in Charlotte (Bill Clinton might go off the reservation; Elizabeth Warren, trying to play to liberal voters in Massachusetts, might turn off moderate swing-state electorates; too much class warfare, etc.)

I’d add one more to the list – and it’s what started this column: the idea of snark.

The Democratic default position on so much Republican in this race – Mitt Romney’s lack of hipness, Clinton Eastwood’s quirkiness, even Chris Christie’s physical fitness – smacks of condescension. You can see the party overplaying this in Charlotte – maybe a snide aside about the Mormon faith; maybe a larger gesture like trotting out Morgan Freeman to rebut Eastwood (don’t laugh, he qualifies on at least three fronts: he’s 75 to Eastwood’s 82; co-starred with Clint in Million Dollar Baby; and has said some really dumb things about the GOP in recent months).

The point is: every political convention faces a balancing act between talking up the party and talking trash about the opposition. Given the President’s weak economic record and his campaign’s scorched-earth approach (about three-fourths of Team Obama’s advertising dollars have gone to spots criticizing Romney – everything from abortion to the Republican candidate’s singing ability), the temptation may be more of the same negativity in Charlotte.

And, strategically, that could be a big mistake given (a) the convention provides an opening for Obama to lift the curtain on a second-term agenda that’s missing in action in this campaign; and (b) presidential re-elects rarely succeed via a predominately negative strategy (just ask Jimmy Carter and the elder George Bush).

We’ll see if the Democrats’ Charlotte show follows the script – and if the First Lady finds that elusive barbecue.