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Guest Host Blogger Matthew Sawh on the First Night of the Convention

    Regular readers of this blog know that we welcome "guest hosts" to offer their thoughts. Please feel free to submit to the host (me!) at any time.

    Here are Matthew Sawh's thoughts on the first night of the convention:

The First Night: What Pundits Missed
 
Convention analysts all over the television and internet have been quick to criticize the relatively tame proceedings of the first night.  Such coverage misses a crucial distinction: Barack Obama generally wins 80% of self-identified Democrats, John McCain has recently brought his GOP numbers to about 86% of self-identified Republicans.  In other words, this is a convention targeted at Democrats, NOT Independents.  The media has (again) followed the 2000 and 2004 playbook wherein Gore and Kerry had to win over independent voters and structured their conventions accordingly with Gore's appeals to moral clarity and Kerry's invocation of his service.
 
Now, it is more than possible that the undecided voter of 2000 or, 2004 has, in 2008, accepted the nominal ‘Democrat’ label but has not yet accepted Obama as their own.  This is a valid possibility and meshes with the polling which shows a ten-point generic Democratic congressional lead. 
 
Here is where it gets interesting though: Are these new Democrats cut from the cloth of independents? OR, Are they (as Team Obama projects) new, first-time registered voters of key Democratic leaning-constituencies? Naturally, a little bit of both (with more than a dash of Clintonites).
 
In that context, the choice to have a tribute to Teddy and, to do some retooling of Michelle Obama's image makes very good sense.
 
Teddy:
 
No great public policy issue has been untouched by Teddy. If Obama's goal is to rev-up turnout and, it operates on the assumption that they are largely benefiting from first-time voters, who better than Teddy?  Rasmussen Reports has him listed as being seen as a liberal by 70% of the nation.  Meanwhile, a recent Annenberg Survey notes that 34% of 18-29 year olds called themselves 'liberal or very liberal' as compared to only 25% of those aged 45-64. 
 
Kennedy as the remaining brother of Camelot bridges the divide between those two gaps for several reasons. First, his ties to the first Catholic president. Second, he reminds the Hillary voters of their youth and, in so doing, softens them up and makes them more receptive to Obama's key message of change by undercutting the most salient criticism leveled about him by Clinton: his inexperience. Third, younger Americans who support Obama remember Teddy as the man who bucked the Clintons and, in so doing, garnered much respect.
 
The Problem:

Here's what Obama hasn't understood about the Clinton voters: Obama has worked hard and faced adversity, but, he never has shown any cracks in his armor. He's never shown any doubt or momentary lapse that things would be okay.  
 
The Change Argument is a two-sided coin: Heads is showing that we need to change and, he has done a spectacular job of winning that argument. The tougher, tails side is that these Clinton voters, many of them have known pain and disappointment in their lives.  The issue isn't believing in the change Obama offers; it is about affording the change.  
 
Obama has used a narrative of American exceptionalism as a weapon against charges of exoticness.  Ironically, in defusing his exotic-ness, he emphasizes his exclusivity to these elusive Clinton voters. In the destruction of one 'other' he persists in crafting another, much like a Russian Matryoshka. 
 
The more that we hear about the only in America exceptionalism of a Harvard Lawyer going to the South Side of Chicago, the more unknowable he becomes to these voters who want to vote for him and, often like him personally.  
Hillary was a trailblazer because she was a woman, but, also because she had shown us her cracks. Whitewater, Monica, Health Care you name it, she bore battles and when the chips were down she never gave in and never held her head too high.   Just like many of her wavering voters.

 Obama referred to Biden as the 'scrappy kid from Scranton'. We need to see the humble, grounded scrapper from Chicago. (THAT is why the Celebrity Ads worked; Celebrities lose the spotlight when faced with a crisis) This suggests that he really doesn't understand what these voters are looking for. Or, that he understands all too well and, he has calculated that such exposure would sound like whining (or is too high a price to pay).   
 
Into that breech stepped Michelle Obama, who understands a little better than he does, what these voters are looking for: Their Scars.   Although, after the response to her 'for the first time I'm proud' comments suggests it to be an extremely dicey proposition for them in part due to race.
 
Michelle Obama had a net +21 rating (compared to +27 for Barack) in a recent poll (51-30) with 19% having no opinion.  This compares to a +8 for Hillary Clinton and +27 for Cindy McCain.  Yet, by comparison, Hillary even after her 1992 'stayed home and baked cookies' and Tammy Wynette comments was found to have a net +31 rating in a Washington Post poll.   Yet, according to Rasmussen, Michelle Obama was seen as a liberal by 64% of the nation (to the left of Nancy Pelosi),  
 
Michelle did a wonderful job of humanizing Barack and the Obama family.  First ladies have occasionally been pivotal. Dick Morris claimed that Liddy Dole's 1996 Introduction for Bob recounting his WW2 service and overcoming his disability could have teed up the election for him. Had he responded with a moderate, uplifting message, Morris thinks the election could have turned.  This is probably not that kind of a moment.
 
STILL, Michelle probably gained a few points on the evening (and one or two for Barack). She may well be seen as a more moderate figure than she was in that poll which is important. Let us remember the Clinton health plan was defeated more than anything else by Whitewater.
 
Barack needs a Clinton. Not Hillary, but, Bubba.  Not his speech but, learning to speak his language.  Barack knows himself too well. His certainty has served as emotional rigidity. At the other extreme, Bill did not know himself well enough and, we were often shown a chameleon.
 
Can Barack and Bill share the faith of their wives? Or, will they invite the Faith of Our Fathers?

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