Dispatches From the Democratic National Convention
Entry 20: What Obama will say tonight.
Illustration by Robert Neubecker.
If the president gets a real theme or meme or catch phrase tonight, it'll be a nice break from today's wasted news cycle. There's no scientifically valid way of figuring out, in real time, whether people pay much attention to the Twitter Track news cycle. If they did, the stories today were 1) the controlled disaster of the Bank of America stadium cancelation, 2) the timing of Joe Biden's speech (after 9 o'clock, which means two of the networks will skip it), and 3) whether or not it would rain. The weather issues have cut down mightily on the advantage of being here. Instead of gossiping about the speeches and parties, first, strangers talk about the weather.
I have spilled forth before, on this very table, about the pointlessness of the "optics" discussion. Four years after the 2008 DNC, Republicans are still joking about Obama's "greek columns." They tried to flip that conversation this time by speculating that Democrats were never going to fill BOA stadium. It's great for partisans, but who really cares? We're not going to remember staging, and we may only remember a couple of zingers. What matters is whether Obama makes the sustained "Romney's horrible, and we've dug out of the crisis while killing a bunch of terrorists" case.
Go back to that 2008 Obama speech. Reading it now, I still like the poetry of the close—“in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess." But the rest of the memorable lines were all campaign shells and missiles. "The same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third." He evoked Phil Gramm's Washington Times roundtable—the "nation of whiners" comment.
This was all bound up in a biographical story that seemed like the only thing possibly keeping Obama from victory. His grandfather in "Patton's army," his intermittently single mom, the unfairness of the "celebrity" ad.
I'd guess that we'll hear the first material and little of the second. Bill Clinton's success proved that you can sell the Obama record if you present it as a secret kept from voters by a bunch of pomaded liars. Make the fact-checkers explain whether the job creation numbers are true. (They will be, mostly.) Remind people that you couldn't do anything to stop the recession until January 2009—or maybe start the clock even later, after the stimulus passed. Any economic proposal will be received as new, because Romney's been making fun of the guy for having no ideas whatsoever.
OK, fine, one more thing about optics. Democrats won't have to worry about bored delegates or empty seats. The floor was shut down to reporters at 6 p.m., more than four hours before Obama was set to speak. On the way into the arena, I passed by half a dozen people (all African-American) asking for tickets. One of them used a white board to tell us she was appealing to God to rescue those left outside. And once I let five security guards finger my press pass (the image is raised, like the cover of a special edition mid-’90s Image comic), a colleague told me that, if I looked harder, I'd see a ridiculous number of people swapping passes for better access.
Anyway, don't get rid of the hash and incense. Save it for a few hours. Slip it to some governors at an after-party. Let Americans Come Together, for the sake of hilarity.
Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Democratic National Convention.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.