Day’s End and Night Watch

Well, tonight’s concluding convention session was accompanied by a (predictable) fire marshal lockdown of the arena which left many dignataries and even delegates outside, and ended with a provocative benediction from Cardinal Dolan that included antichoice and “war on religion” dog whistles. Plus there was no balloon drop, since there wasn’t time to inflate the suckers when the event was moved indoors.

In between, though, was a very focused effort to identify the Obama administration’s struggles with those of the country since he took office, which had the added benefit of making it easy to depict Republicans as unpatriotic and self-serving pikers whose carping about the incumbent reflected a desire to take America right back to the Bush Era.

Obama’s speech won’t be remembered as historic, but in the context of the convention it made sense. He continued the entire day’s heavy emphasis on patriotism, respect for the military and for veterans, economic nationalism, and the constant suggestion that “firing” Obama would make the sacrifices of the last few years meaningless. Despite predictions that Democrats (or at least Obama) would lighten up about Romney and Ryan, or maybe even ignore them, the president continued the day’s pounding of the GOP for lacking an agenda or any sort of empathy for middle-class Americans. (He also made an argument that I love but hadn’t heard earlier: that Republicans are opportunists who offer exactly the same prescriptions decade after decade regardless of the actual condition of the country).

Whether you buy the theme or not, it’s one that has the advantage of lending itself both to persuasion and mobilization. If you’re a swing voter, you saw a different Obama than conservatives have so often described: humble, emotional, tough, very patriotic, and offering the kind of undramatic but forward-looking agenda we used to regularly get from Bill Clinton. If you’re a “base” voter, the message was that it was matter of moral obligation and fundamental patriotism to actually get out there and pull the lever, lest the SOBs of the GOPs get the chance to immiserate Americans even more. And despite some fears by progressives that he might so lust for MSM praise that he would endorse Simpson-Bowles or specific “entitlement reform” proposals, he carefully walked through that minefield, repeating his willingness to negotiate towards a deficit-reduction “grand bargain” even as he accurately described the unwillingness of Republicans to compromise.

All in all, it was an address that was tightly integrated into the overall Convention message, and took advantage of his opportunity to play it a little safe given Romney’s poor performance and the boffo reception to Clinton’s and the First Lady’s speeches earlier. Some of the attack lines on Romney were quite clever, and will show up again in ads. If he made any mistakes (other than characterizations of the GOP agenda that some fact-checkers may complain about), I didn’t hear it.

So we’re off to the general election, and we’ll soon know if Obama will get a bounce from the convention, from tomorrow’s economic news, or from renewed Democratic enthusiasm.

Selah.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.