Battle scars and stripes
During the US political party conventions, much rhetoric has focused on the presidential candidates’ contrasting attitudes to enterprise
A GROUP CALLING itself Concerned Citizens of the Carolinas purchased a giant billboard on the freeway off-ramp into downtown Charlotte, against the skyline of the convention centre and sports arena where US President Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination on Thursday night.
“Obama Must Go! If you build it, he will come and take credit for it,” the billboard says; an example of the in-your-face antagonism of the US presidential election campaign.
In an interview with a local Virginia television station on the eve of his acceptance speech, Obama said he regretted the remark he made at the end of a long, hot day on the campaign trail in July: “If you have a business, you didn’t build that.” What the president meant, he said, was that all businesses rely on taxpayer-funded infrastructure and education. “Obviously I have regrets for my syntax,” Obama said. “But not for the point, because everyone who was there watching knows exactly what I was saying.”
Republicans, from the presidential candidate Mitt Romney on down, have construed Obama’s remark as proof of his disdain for free enterprise. They’ve beaten the quote like a dead horse, structuring their convention in Florida, the week before last, around it.
Americans “deserve better” than the sluggish recovery under Obama, Romney said in Tampa. A week later, in Charlotte, Obama said the path he was offering “may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And I’m asking you to choose that future.” Obama asked the country “to rally around a set of goals for your country . . . in manufacturing, energy, education, national security and the deficit; a real, achievable plan that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation.”
Tampa was steeped in talk of “taking back America”. That may explain why Romney did not get the traditional postconvention opinion-poll “bounce” his advisers expected.
The mood in Charlotte was more lighthearted. Sandra Wise, a cheery 60-year-old delegate from northern Ohio, wore a straw hat festooned with campaign buttons. Asked why she is a Democrat, Wise replied, “This is the only way to live life compassionately and take care of your children and neighbours and make your town and community better.”
Over three days, Democratic speakers put Obama’s policies in context. Michelle Obama and former president Bill Clinton were Obama’s most effective advocates. Not only were delegates willing to cut Obama some slack for the sluggish recovery; they were unaffected by the “enthusiasm gap” of the world outside the conventions.
“Barack Obama’s election nomination [in 2008] was the realisation of a dream for me,” said Henry Marsh III, a 78-year-old delegate from Virginia who served three terms as Richmond’s first black mayor and is now a state senator. “I wept on the convention floor. This year is very frightening, as there’s a danger we could lose all the progress we’ve made. We have these economic difficulties because the Republicans blocked so much legislation . . . We need another four years of Obama.”