Stage set for Obama to vaunt his achievements


The timing of their convention gives the Democrats an advantage

TENS OF thousands of Democrats will gather in the southern city of Charlotte today to nominate President Barack Obama and vice-president Joe Biden for a second term in office. In addition to their acceptance speeches on Thursday evening, the most awaited appearances are those by First Lady Michelle Obama tonight and former President Bill Clinton tomorrow night.

The Democrats have the advantage of convening five days after the Republicans ended their meeting in Tampa, giving them the last word. Although Obama and Mitt Romney are running neck and neck in voter intentions, a Rasmussen poll last week found that 55 per cent of Americans believe Obama will be re-elected, compared to only 33 per cent who believe Romney will win.

The sluggish economy remains a drag on Obama’s approval ratings, but he far surpasses Romney in likeability, and enjoys a substantial lead among single women voters, Hispanics, African Americans and gays. The calculus of electoral college votes favours him, though “super-pacs” financed by conservative billionaires give Romney a significant financial advantage.

Even the conservative Wall Street Journal complained that Romney failed to present a concrete plan for the economy in Tampa, calling his closing address a “policy-free zone”.

Obama told a rally in Colorado at the weekend that the Republican convention offered “an agenda that was better suited for the last century. It was a rerun. You might as well have watched it on a black-and-white TV, with some rabbit ears”.

Despite Republican talk of “hard truths” and “bold choices”, Obama continued, “nobody ever bothered to tell us what they were. And when Governor Romney finally had a chance to reveal the secret sauce, he did not offer a single new idea”.

But will Obama be able to deliver “the secret sauce” before 74,000 people in the open-air Bank of America Stadium on Thursday night?

Though the US housing market is stirring, unemployment has remained above 8 per cent for 42 consecutive months. No president since Franklin D Roosevelt has been re-elected with such a high jobless rate.

A majority of Americans still blame the former president George W Bush for the poor economy, and Obama aides have constantly argued that the recession would have become a depression were it not for this administration’s policies. But instead of dwelling on the past, as he is prone to do, Obama must describe a vision for the future more enticing than Romney’s promises of low tax and less regulation.

Obama will vaunt his achievements: the killing of Osama bin Laden, the end of the Iraq war, a way out of Afghanistan. He reminded a rally in Toledo yesterday that his $80 billion auto bailout – which Romney opposed – saved the industry, which supports about 12 per cent of the population in the key swing state of Ohio.

Democrats will denounce a dishonest campaign based on what Obama’s senior adviser David Plouffe calls “a tripod of lies”. The task is facilitated by demonstrably untrue statements made by the vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, including Ryan’s admission that he did not run a marathon in less than three hours, as he had claimed.

Republicans continue to falsely accuse Obama of “raiding Medicare” to the tune of $716 billion to finance the Affordable Care Act.

They also claim he gutted work requirements for welfare recipients; an appeal to Republicans’ distaste for “free-loaders”.

It will probably fall upon Bill Clinton to refute that false allegation. Clinton established the work requirement as part of his welfare reform in the 1990s.

The Democrats will also portray the Republicans’ constant repetition of an Obama quote, taken out of context, as deliberate distortion. On July 13th, Obama told a rally in Roanoke, Virginia: “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have, that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business; you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Republicans quote only the last two sentences, ignoring the president’s argument that business could not operate without government help.

Angry assertions that “Yes, we did build that” peppered speeches throughout the Republican convention. The “I built that” slogan figured on Republican placards and T-shirts.

Though Obama is unlikely to address his own gaffe, he will argue that government programmes such as student loans, the GI Bill and interstate highways create opportunities, not dependence.

A poll last month showed Bill Clinton enjoys a 57 per cent approval rating – higher than any of the four presidential or vice- presidential candidates. “The former president will overshadow everything and everyone – at least for the brief time he is on the stage in Charlotte,” predicts Dan Balz of the Washington Post.

Clinton is likely to argue that Obama’s policies are those he adopted in the 1990s, when the economy flourished. “The Republican plan is to cut more taxes on upper-income people and go back to deregulation,” Clinton says in an advertisement for the Obama campaign. “That’s what got us in trouble in the first place. President Obama has a plan to rebuild America from the ground up, investing in innovation, education and job training.”

The Romney campaign has mocked Obama’s use of Bill Clinton as a surrogate. “No amount of showmanship can paper over the differences between these two presidents,” Ryan Williams, a Romney campaign spokesman, said. “Americans deserve a president willing to run on his own record, not the record he wishes he had.”

Humorist Will Rogers once joked that he was “not a member of any organised political party; I’m a Democrat”.

Because the party virtuously declined contributions from corporations, it had to organise the convention on a shoe-string. Charlotte, population 750,000, is ill-equipped to handle the massive influx. Some have predicted a “traffic apocalypse” that will be especially trying for those who’ve been forced to seek lodging across the border in South Carolina.