Saturday, September 8, 2012


Political conventions in the United States always have the vulgar in common. Tampa and Charlotte shared the same narrative, weather included. The crowds outdid themselves in some Halloween dress code, while speaker after speaker tried to combine allegiance with self-hype. The Republicans looked more fired-up, despite the fact that their story-line suffered more from oblivion than recognition. The Democrats had their nostalgic time of ignition when former president Clinton addressed the crowds with a manipulative brio, equal to none.

The Democratic platform had to be corrected at the last minute after someone noticed that the word God got lost underway (Christopher Hitchens had the last post-mortem laugh.)  Obama's speech was eloquent, as always, but the President looked distant, aloof almost, as if he didn't believe anymore that a second term was still a viable possibility.  The tone was right, the ideas often convincing, but the broader and bitter crowd did not find much to rejoice in.  The President, rightly so, loves to elaborate on  grand themes of technology, education, global warming and globalization. He can argue that the United States under his leadership stands now with the world, rather than against it, as was too often the case under President George W. Bush.  On the Republican side things are different.  Romney tends to go back to the old Cold War rhetoric, and a certain macho posture. Together with his teammate, the smart Paul Ryan, he has nevertheless found a way to appeal to the Americans who are, correctly, more interested in jobs, than in lofty ideas which always crowd Obama's conceptual world.  The President is basically a narcissistic personality who hides distance behind congeniality.

Obama seemed almost lonely.  While he could brag about having ended (almost) useless wars and reconnected the United States with the outside world, unfortunately this is not the right time for philosopher presidents and he will have to fight hard to get his second term.  Romney has found in these difficult times for the United States a language and a narrative which appeal to the Independent voter. The "numbers" play against Obama while he is the one who saved Detroit, pushed the health-care agenda through and, together with his Secretary of State, changed the geo-political course of America westwards.  Those are great achievements but they fall victim to the wrong times.  The unemployed, understandably, look the other way and are not mesmerized by grand ambitions.

I am sure that other presidents encountering similar socio-economic problems might have decided that ambitious goals, in the current times, are distractions. After all, there is a time for everything and the current days are not made for personalities who put creativity and innovation ahead of legitimate kitchen table agendas.  President Obama who is halting the arrival of the body-bags, might fall victim to his own interiorisation and a strange form of stillness, which are disconcerting for a country used to noise and pride.  It reminds me of this line in Henry IV: "The better part of valour is discretion".

Unfortunately for the President his rival appears to be better connected with what preoccupies the average American.  He does not offer dreams, he talks management and jobs.  With the help of his formidable running mate, who masters both economy and social issues (pro life, anti-gay), they suggest solutions which are sometimes one-sided but which have the added value of the "concrete".  The voters cannot be seduced as they were four years ago, they need a workable plan.  Numbers speak louder than words and the numbers are abysmal.  It is not a new arms deal with Putin, or a presence in the South China theater which will turn public opinion towards the Democratic ticket.  The convention was, ironically, more about the good days of Clinton than about the dour days of the globalized world Obama inherited.  The financial cliff which awaits him at the end of the year might as well be a Tarpeian rock.

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