There is no name for people whose job it is dissect the choreography of US conventions. It involves the kinds of skill Kremlinologists used to deploy.
Take the Democratic show in Charlotte this week. Any hardcore politico watching before prime time (between 10pm and 11pm eastern standard time), would see an unabashed celebration of liberal values.
Speaker after speaker defended gay marriage and abortion among other themes guaranteed to get an ovation. They even boasted about Barack Obama’s signature healthcare bill – a reform rarely highlighted in campaign events. Every time Mitt Romney’s name was cited, it seemed to be followed by “Swiss bank account”. According to Ted Strickland, the former governor of Ohio: “If Mitt was Santa Claus he’d fire the reindeer and outsource the elves.” Read more
In the interests of fairness, having looked at how the Republican platform addresses trade and globalisation (fizzy rhetoric but not many hostages to fortune), here’s how the Democratic platform measures up.
In summary: it doesn’t say much, and it doesn’t say much new. The overall tone is boilerplate mercantilist with a soupcon of social concern:
We have taken steps to open new markets to American products, while ensuring that other countries play by the same rules. President Obama signed into law new trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama … but not before he strengthened these agreements on behalf of American workers and businesses. We remain committed to finding more markets for American-made goods—including using the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the United States and eight countries in the Asia-Pacific, one of the most dynamic regions in the world—while ensuring that workers’ rights and environmental standards are upheld, and fighting against unfair trade practices.
A man sells Barack Obama car air fresheners in Charlotte, North Carolina (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Every four years, Americans ask themselves: “Are you better off than you were before the presidential conventions?” To judge by the falling television ratings, the answer is not good.
This week in Charlotte, Barack Obama and his surrogates will be trying to fend off the Republican line that voters are worse off economically than when he took office. For most Americans, the answer is unfortunately “no” (median incomes have dropped almost five per cent since the recovery began in mid-2009).
The fault may lie more in the stars than with Mr Obama, who can plausibly argue that without his 2009 stimulus people would be far worse off. But his team will continue to respond with an unequivocal “yes” because in the game of politics if you admit any vulnerabilities then nobody – least of all the media – will let you change the subject. The formula is prebaked. Most voters feel worse off than they were four years ago. Yet Democrats are responding with a version of Groucho Marx’s: “Who do you believe? Me or your own lying eyes?” Little wonder the electorate is tuning out. Read more
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan (R-WI) with their families on the final day of the Republican National Convention (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
After three hours of the Republican convention on Thursday night in Tampa, I was all but convinced that the party is on course for victory in the presidential election. And then Mitt Romney gave his speech. The Republicans have some powerful themes to hammer away at. But the fact is, they are stuck with a wooden, dull and charmless candidate. In fact, it seems almost incredible that the anti-charismatic Romney is the best they could come up with – until you remember the motley crew that he ended up running against: Gingrich, Cain, Bachmann, Santorum. Read more
Condoleezza Rice at the Republican National Convention (Stan Honda/AFP/GettyImages)
Every few years someone takes a convention by storm. At Bill Clinton’s convention in 1992 it was Mario Cuomo, the Hamlet-like governor of New York, who gave delegates a taste of what could have been. In 2004 it was the unknown Barack Obama, who comfortably outclassed John Kerry.
In Tampa in 2012, that moment was expected from Chris Christie, the generously-girthed New Jersey governor. Alas, Mr Christie belly-flopped. Instead, it was Condoleezza Rice, the only prominent former Bush official to be given a speaking slot, who delivered the best speech of the convention – and probably of her career. It was all the more impressive because it was unexpected.
Most people assumed that Ms Rice was invited for two reasons – she isn’t white (a big plus for a Republican nominee who recently got zero – yes zero – per cent rating among African Americans), and because her presence would “validate” Mr Romney. The content of her speech would be neither here nor there. In her short address, Ms Rice pretty much inverted expectations. Read more
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
If there was a word observers most repeated about Barack Obama’s convention in Denver four years ago, it was “soaring”. For Mitt Romney in 2012 it would be “humanising” – making him seem like he is flesh and blood is the key deliverable from the Tampa convention.
By that yardstick there is still some way to go.
On Tuesday night, Ann Romney cleared the low bar the media sets for political spouses by bringing to life a husband who, after 43 years of marriage, “still makes me laugh”. She gave a plausible description of a man who would outwork any other applicant for the job. “He will not fail,” she said to the biggest applause line of the night.
Most tellingly, she described a generous philanthropist who did not like people to know about how generous he is: “This is important. I want you to hear what I am going to say,” she said, lowering her voice. “Mitt doesn’t like to talk about how he helps others, because he sees it as a privilege, not as a political talking point.”
Leaving aside the fact that Mr Romney has authorised others to talk about his charitable record (from whom we will hear during the rest of the convention), his wife’s words are not as straightforward as they seem. They contain two messages that Mr Romney will be hoping avoid further scrutiny. Read more
The FT’s Anna Fifield took this photo in Tampa yesterday, of delegate Todd Tiahrt, a former congressman who attended the Republican convention dressed as Wyatt Earp. Apparently, fancy dress is not all that unusual at US political conventions. Check out our FT.com slideshow which includes a few other snaps of costumed delegates, as well as some general scenes from this week’s Florida shindig, as photographed by Anna and Stephanie Kirchgaessner.
Ann Romney on stage during the Republican National Convention on August 28 (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
The convention speech by the candidate’s wife is a strange – and not altogether savoury – American political tradition. I come from Britain, where all that is expected of a leader’s wife at the party conference is to not look too bored and to clap in the right places. But here in the US, the candidate’s wife has to take to the rostrum at the party convention.
She has two jobs. First, she is auditioning for the role of first lady. Second, she has to persuade voters that her husband is not just a suitable president – but a marvellous human-being.
Ann Romney’s task last night was particularly onerous. She is not in perfect health: she has multiple sclerosis and has had breast cancer. And Mitt Romney is a tough sell: remote, robotic, chilly. Read more
Back in the golden age of the convention, Walter Cronkite may have been the American public’s principal source of news about their candidates. Today, everyone is Walter Cronkite. Read more
This is the time on the political calendar when pundits, strategists and soothsayers pore over charts and crunch numbers to discern how the smallest demographic slivers of the US electorate are feeling as the presidential election approaches.
White working-class men on the Ohio/Pennsylvania border? Check. African-Americans in midwestern urban centres? Check. Hispanic Republican lesbians? Well, not quite.
But amid the plethora of graphs and tables that tell us what the electorate is thinking, Amazon has come up with a new measure – the Amazon Election Heat Map 2012, which measures what Americans are reading. Read more
Mitt Romney (R) and his wife Ann Romney on August 12. (Photo Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
Mitt Romney has a woman problem. Not with his wife, the telegenic Ann, who has a gift for making the man accused of being an automaton seem real, but with the millions of women voters who will comprise the majority of the electorate this November.
In a tight contest like this one, every vote counts and Republicans can’t afford to give President Barack Obama any more of an advantage with women than he already enjoys.
While Romney, who will be crowned as the Republican nominee for president next week, has adopted some hardline positions on women’s health issues such as access to contraception and abortion during his latest political incarnation, they pale next to the policies being espoused by his new running mate, Paul Ryan, and his latest headache, Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin.
Amid the controversy surrounding Akin, who has apologised for claiming that “legitimate rape” does not lead to pregnancy but is thus far refusing to pull out of the must-win Missouri race, new light is being shone on Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin best known for his hawkishness on the deficit. Read more
Mitt Romney in Ohio on August 14 (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Earlier this week, the Romney camp released a warm letter of endorsement signed by scores of prominent economists, which began:
We enthusiastically endorse Governor Mitt Romney’s economic plan to create jobs and restore economic growth while returning America to its tradition of economic freedom. The plan is based on proven principles: a more contained and less intrusive federal government, a greater reliance on the private sector, a broad expansion of opportunity without government favors for special interests, and respect for the rule of law including the decision-making authority of states and localities.
Aside from the predictably conservative content, several things struck me about the economists’ letter. Read more
A farmer irrigates his Indiana cornfield in July 2012, amid one of the worst droughts in five decades (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
The farm bill, which sets US agricultural subsidies for five years at a time and is up for renewal this year, isn’t normally a party-line issue. Lawmakers from rural areas and particularly senators from agrarian states unite across party lines to fleece the taxpayer. Urban congressmen are bought off with food stamps for their poorer voters – now given the ironically unsnappy name of Snap, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – which actually makes up more than three-quarters of total spending under the bill.
It might be a sordid trade-off, but it generally produces consensus. Not so this year: while a bipartisan bill easily passed the House of Representatives agriculture committee (dominated by rural types), Republican leader John Boehner dared not put it to a vote of the full House, or even pass a one-year extension of the current programmes. Read more
Let the games begin. Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as running mate kicks off a new stage in the US election campaign. It also gives politicians and columnists of all colours something big to chew on, namely, Ryan’s radical plan to shrink the postwar US welfare state – a budget Romney had endorsed even before the appointment. Will swing voters buy into the ideology of small government, or take fright at the spectre of ‘social Darwinism’? And what would America look like if the Ryan plan was put into place? Read more
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a fairly critical piece about Mitt Romney’s foreign policy stance. In my column I suggested that Romney’s rhetoric was reminiscent of George W. Bush. But now Romney has made a move that is more reminiscent of George H.W. Bush, which is much more encouraging.
That move is the appointment of Robert Zoellick as the head of Romney’s national-security transition team. This is taken as a strong hint that Zoellick might be Secretary of State in a Romney administration – and he will certainly have a major influence on the senior appointments. Read more
Mitt Romney in Israel (Getty)
Mitt Romney has caused something of a stir over recent days with comments that he and his campaign team have made about Iran. On a visit to Israel he and his aides said two things on the Iranian nuclear weapons programme that have left politicians and commentators wondering how he would act on this issue if elected.
First there was a comment made in Jerusalem by Dan Senor, Mr Romney’s senior foreign policy aide, who suggested that his boss supports a unilateral military strike on Iran by Israel. “If Israel has to take action on its own,” Mr Senor said in a briefing, “the governor would respect that decision.” Read more
We’ll be keeping an eye out for the US Supreme Court decision on Obamacare today, but these are the reads that caught our eye on the world news desk this morning:
In our Off the Chart series, we’ll be taking a look at a chart or graphic that accompanies one of our articles in the FT’s newspaper editions. Read more
When Barack Obama entered office four years ago, many of the inmates of the Brookings Institution – Washington’s most venerable think-tank – moved across town to work for the new administration.
On the foreign policy side, the ex-Brookings people who joined Obama included Ivo Daalder (ambassador to Nato), Philip Gordon (assistant secretary of state for Europe), Jim Steinberg (deputy secretary of state, via the University of Texas) Jeff Bader (head of Asia at the NSC) and Jeremy Shapiro (policy planning at the State Department).
So a Brookings study of the Obama administration’s foreign policy is – to some extent – an inside job. The three Brookings-based authors of “Bending History: Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy” know their subject intimately. This has both merits and problems. On the plus side, Bending History is easily the most comprehensive and balanced study to date of Obama’s record as a foreign-policy president. On the minus side, the authors (Martin Indyk, Kenneth Lieberthal and Michael O’Hanlon) have a slight tendency to pull their punches. Still, given that so much political debate in Washington is now partisan shrieking, an excess of civility is a pardonable sin. Read more
CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images
If the latest polls are to be believed, Nicolas Sarkozy will be a one-term wonder. A president who has broken with convention throughout his career will likely do so once again: only one other president of the fifth republic - Valéry Giscard d’Estaing – has tried and failed to be re-elected for a second term.
The man likely to topple Sarkozy is an affable creature of the French elite. He’s had a long career traversing the backrooms of politics, yet never held ministerial office. So who is François Hollande? Read more