Political rhetoric has commonalities.a brilliant mind may have a quick fix solution to the ills around,
– Bill Clinton made the nation a big promise Wednesday night, pledging to those still struggling that their economic fortunes will turn around if they reelect President Barack Obama.
“A lot of Americans are still angry and frustrated about this economy,” Clinton told a spellbound audience of delegates at Time Warner Cable Arena. “If you look at the numbers, you know that employment is growing, banks are beginning to lend again, and a lot of housing prices are even beginning to pick up.
“But too many people do not feel it yet,” he said, and then vowed: “If you will renew the president’s contract, you will feel it. You will feel it.”
He paused, and then added, “Folks, whether the American people believe what I just told you or not may be the whole election. I just want you to know I believe it. With all my heart I believe it.”
The rest of Clinton’s nearly hour-long speech was a detailed litigation of the main charges that Republicans have made against Obama.
But those few sentences — an acknowledgment that the nation is still stuck in an economic slump, a promise that a second Obama term will bring better times, and a quick, sly slip into analyst mode — were the key moments of the speech.
It was an honest, forthright appeal to the voters who will, by all accounts, decide the election — those who voted for Obama in 2008, but who have found themselves disappointed, wanting to believe in the president they supported four years ago, but not sure they will. Strikingly, Clinton’s line about the possibility that Americans may not put their faith in the president was not in his prepared remarks.
Clinton only mentioned Republican Mitt Romney a handful times, but laid out a framework that he said defines this election. “If you want a winner-take-all, you’re-on-your-own society, you should support the Republican ticket,” Clinton said. “But if you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibility -– a we’re-all-in-this-together society — you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”
Clinton, whose mastery of the stage left him several possible ways to attack Romney, notably did not skewer the Republican’s record at Bain Capital, or his other weaknesses, instead focusing his argument in general against the GOP philosophy. (Clinton worked a stint for the consulting and private equity firm Teneo Capital. Co-founder Doug Band is a close Clinton adviser. Clinton listed his income from Teneo on a recent disclosure form as greater than $1,000, though it gives no upper limit.)
Holding fire on Bain left the speech absent a zinger to sum up Romney. Instead, Clinton saved the zinger for tax cuts for the rich, warning that Romney will “double down on trickle-down.”
He paraphrased Ronald Reagan: “As another president once said, ‘There they go again.”
In reframing last week’s GOP message, he employed equal parts mockery, wonkery and plainspeak.
In short, he said, the Republicans came to Tampa to deliver a simple message about Obama: “We left him a total mess, but he hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.”
Clinton hit Paul Ryan in the same style. The GOP vice presidential candidate had attacked Obama for cutting $716 billion from Medicare, when his own budget proposal included those same cuts.
“You gotta give him one thing. It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did,” Clinton said.
He also slashed at Romney’s charge that the president had undermined the work requirement in welfare reform. “Their campaign pollster said, ‘We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,'” Clinton said. “Now, finally I can say that is true. I couldn’t have said it better myself –- I just hope you remember that every time you see those ads.”
Beyond making the broad case for Obama’s reelection, Clinton’s job Wednesday night was to make Democrats forget the terrible afternoon they had just endured. After party leaders, and eventually the president himself, decided it had been a bad idea to omit from their party platform any mention of God as well as an assertion of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, they attempted to change it quickly in a late afternoon voice vote on the convention floor.
Embarrassingly, convention chairman Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, had to ask for three voice votes, and each time the nays got louder. He eventually ruled that there was two-thirds support for the changes, despite the clear lack of such a majority.
The snafu led to a series of embarrassing TV interviews for Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who told CNN there was “no discord” during the vote, only to have Anderson Cooper mock her comments as belonging to “an alternate universe.”
Organizers also decided to move the final day of the three-day convention indoors, rather than having Obama accept his party’s nomination at the 65,000-seat Bank of America outdoor football stadium. The threat of rain forced the decision, but it was another disappointment for a convention that at one point was envisioned as four-day event in four different cities, and has been beleaguered by fundraising woes and now downsized to a three-day event in the same arena.
For Clinton and for the assembled Democrats, it was a chance to relive his glory days. Clinton showed little interest in letting the moment end. And with the balloon drop canceled, there was some question whether Clinton could ever be urged off the stage.
Obama joined him onstage for a brief moment after Clinton finished speaking, causing the crowd to erupt. Clinton bowed to the current president as Obama walked out, the two men embraced, waved to the crowd, and then walked toward backstage.
I really wish I wasn’t writing this. Especially in the wake of Bill Clinton’s formidable speech last night. But it needs to be said.
Back in 2000, I worked with Arianna at the Shadow Conventions. She and I had met the previous year because of our shared passion for ending the corrupting influence of money in politics.
We thought the problem was bad then; it’s rotten now. And neither party seems any more genuine about addressing the problem now than they were then. The Republican Party platform that was unveiled last week in Tampa was flagrantly hostile to reform (despite the fact that millions of Republicans are pro reform). And the Democrats’ platform is, as one centrist reform group recently said, “disappointingly tepid.”
Which is why I wish I wasn’t writing this. Back then, we were all hopeful things would get better. Who knew they’d actually get this much worse?
Not only is there so much more cash being pumped into the system, but Washington has become so much more transactional. As Norm Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute has observed: “The connections between policy actions or inactions and fundraising are no longer indirect or subtle.” And, as former congressman Dan Glickman says in these pages today: “The volume of money raised is so high that the job has changed from public service to begging for dollars.”
The business of governing has been slowly replaced by the businesses that govern. And those businesses, for the most part, either seek to rig laws to their own advantage or to maintain the status quo. As an influential lobbyist once told me, “It’s a lot easier to make sure things don’t happen in DC than to make them happen.”
Indeed, that nothing-happening feeling is pervasive. That feeling that Washington has been shut down. That we’re no longer capable of solving our most vexing problems — problems that loom larger every day. That the people we elect to represent our best interests have become more interested in their own careers and the desires of their donors than in our collective future. That, somehow, slowly, tragically, the magnificent experiment of American democracy — of a republic that derives its power from all of the people — has somehow come to a grinding halt.
Of course neither Arianna nor I nor anyone at the 2000 Shadow Conventions could have predicted that a partisan Supreme Court would, ten years later, issue a ruling as brazen asCitizens United. The whole idea of limitless super PACs and direct corporate interventions in elections would have seemed improbable, archaic… something from the days of the robber barons.
But some of us did predict that, unless the money-in-politics problem was solved, the other Big Problems wouldn’t be. And, indeed, they’ve mushroomed: The massive wealth divide; a short-sighted energy policy; the rocketing cost of health care; crony capitalism (and the financial meltdown that resulted from it); a misguided and expensive war on drugs; wasteful spending, both on the left and right. These were many of the themes then, and they still are at today’s Shadow Conventions in large part because well-financed special interests have been able to make sure that reform doesn’t happen in Washington.
Money-in-politics reform is the reform that enables other reforms. People get it. In arecent Gallup poll, an eye-popping 87 percent of Americans said that ending government corruption was an “extremely important” or “very important” priority for the next president — it ranked as the #2 cause, just below job creation (at 92 percent).
87 percent is about as much support as any cause could hope to garner. And I’ve had countless conversations that reinforce the polls — with Tea Party leaders and life-long Republicans who are just as vehement about the need for reform as progressive leaders. Which is why it’s even more eery that it’s not at least being mentioned at the conventions — there’s votes in those hills. As Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg posited a few months ago: “Voters believe that Washington is so corrupted by big banks, big donors, and corporate lobbyists that it no longer works for the middle class… All voters, and swing voters in particular, strongly support candidates who are willing to take on money in politics as a serious campaign issue.”
Amidst the soaring speeches in both Tampa and Charlotte, HuffPost is using its megaphone to make this point loud and clear. We all should use whatever megaphones we have — our email lists, talk radio stations, blogs, newspapers, calls to members of Congress to make it, too. We have to make it not just a recurring theme but a dominant theme as this year’s election really heats up.
You could also — just to make a purely practical suggestion — give money to one of the great groups working on reform. They are chronically starved for resources, totally outspent and outgunned by K Street lobbyists. (Perhaps ironically, it will take big money to fight Big Money, and the fight for reform is one of the most underfunded of American causes.) There are some good links to them here. Support them, join them. Because what it comes down to is this: Unless we generate a massive, history-making surge in the fight for reform in the coming year we are likely, in another 12 years, doomed to having an even more dire conversation about the state of our country.
Let us all work as hard as we can to make sure money in politics isn’t a major topic at the next Shadow Conventions.