Sunday, February 18, 2018
Opinion

With faithful fired up, Obama hard to beat

CHARLOTTE, N.C.

It is just about the right time for irresponsibly early predictions, so here is mine:

If the Democrats can maintain the enthusiasm for three days that we have seen thus far in their convention, Mitt Romney will have a serious problem in attaining the presidency. He will need at least three things:

1. A superlative performance in all three of his debates with Barack Obama in October.

2. An extraordinary get-out-the-vote effort on Election Day.

3. An effective voter suppression campaign to keep minorities and young people from casting their ballots.

Am I making too much of the spirit generated by the speeches at the Democratic convention? Have I been swept away?

I don't think so, but if I have been swept away, voters have been, too.

I am not talking about undecided voters. This election is about base voters: bringing them back to the party if they have drifted away, getting them fired up, getting them working to bring out the vote and getting them voting.

There have been many stories about how a lot of people who were enthusiastic about the inspirational, almost messianic, campaign of Obama in 2008 have grown disappointed and disaffected today.

I think those stories are true. We have not reached the Promised Land. It took Moses 40 years of wandering just to catch a glimpse of it, and Obama has not brought us there in three and a half.

His biggest problem is not bad economic numbers. I believe bad economic numbers — barring a calamity — have been "baked into the cake." Voters have already come to grips with the fact that unemployment will not be low by Nov. 6 and are looking for a candidate to trust, not one to produce a magic job-creating wand.

Obama's biggest problem has been a genuine falloff in enthusiasm for him, his rhetoric and his promises. You get one chance to make a first impression. Has Obama blown that chance?

The Democratic convention says — bellows — no. The level of enthusiasm here has been noticeably higher than the level of enthusiasm at the Republican convention in Tampa. Ann Romney gave a good speech, but the one moment that voters will remember from that convention is the Clint Eastwood "ramble" that was as empty as the chair he stood next to.

The speeches at the Democratic convention have been impassioned and stirring and filled with moments that linger.

"The presidency doesn't change who you are, it reveals who you are," Michelle Obama said.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick made himself into a national figure with his speech. "I, for one, will not stand by and let (Obama) be bullied out of office, and neither should you!" Patrick roared. "It's time for the Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe in!"

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro said in his keynote address: "In the end, the American dream is not a sprint, or even a marathon, but a relay. Our families don't always cross the finish line in the span of one generation. But each generation passes on to the next the fruits of their labor."

Does it matter? We live, after all, in a visual and electronic age in which political speeches appear to be mere relics.

I called one of the greatest speechwriters of modern times, Bob Shrum, who wrote the best speech I ever heard in person, Ted Kennedy's convention speech of 1980 that ended with the unforgettable: "… the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

"Words have power," Shrum told me. "These convention speakers want to reach people not just intellectually, but actually move them."

"Words can be visual," Shrum said. "When Michelle Obama said, 'When you walk through that door of opportunity, you don't slam it shut behind you,' you just didn't hear those words, you could see that image."

Shrum concluded: "Words are a useful and persuasive engine. Eloquence has power."

And if Obama ever needed eloquence, not just his own, but that of others, the time is now.

Roger Simon is POLITICO's chief political columnist. © 2012 Politico

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