Obama needs to project more than hope
By George Curry
The primary goal of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. this week is to highlight the sharp contrast between the policies of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, his Republican opponent.
In the past, political conventions were used to count delegates to determine each party’s respective presidential nominee. That has changed in recent years, with the ballot outcome already determined by the time thousands of delegates roll into a city for the convention. Today, the speeches are directed at millions watching on television, the Internet or a mobile device, not the people sitting in the convention hall.
Republicans concluded their national convention in Tampa and for the first time in 60 years, the GOP nominee didn’t make the argument that his party will do a better job in foreign affairs. President Obama took that issue away from Republicans by ending U.S. involvement in the war in Iran, bringing troops back from Afghanistan and approving a mission that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.
With shifting U.S. demographics, the Tampa gathering may be the last national political convention at which Republicans or any other party can make a race-based appeal to White voters. Despite token appearances by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Artur Davis, a former Democratic congressman from Alabama who couldn’t carry his own precinct in his bid for governor, Team Romney made a major appeal to its base. And the selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate served to underscore that point.
The problem for Republicans is that the election will largely be decided by undecided independent voters. And Romney, a Massachusetts moderate-turned-conservative, can’t afford to appeal directly to that group without alienating ardent conservatives already suspicious of him.
Except for a speech to the NAACP annual convention in Houston, Romney has done little to appeal to African-American voters. Not that it would do him much good. A recent NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll showed Romney getting zero percent of the Black vote. Of course, that does not mean no Black person in America will vote for him. Instead, the zero was in a poll with a margin of error of 3.1 percent. That means that Romney probably will not match John McCain’s unimpressive 4 percent in 2008. By comparison, George W. Bush captured 11 percent of the Black vote in 2004.
Both Obama and Bill Clinton were elected president without receiving a majority of the White vote. And Obama can do it again this year.
Look at how this plays out in the battleground state of North Carolina, which Obama carried by only 4,177 votes – or 0.3 percent – in 2008.
Blacks make up 22 percent of North Carolina’s population. Over the past decade, 1.5 million people migrated to North Carolina – 61.9 percent of them non-White. According to demographers quoted by the Charlotte Observer, Obama can carry the state by winning just 36 percent to 37 percent of the White vote.
Obama’s larger problem is that after campaigning four years ago on a theme of hope and change, there is not much of either today. His severest critics note that after promising change–that’s about all they have left in their pockets after nearly four years of his leadership.
Of course, it’s impossible to bring about change by yourself. And Obama was naïve to believe that he could single-handedly change the political bickering in Washington. The party out of power is always plotting to regain control. However, Republicans reached a new low when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced before Obama was sworn in that his top priority was to make sure Obama was a one-term president. And Republicans have sought to block Obama’s major initiatives, including his signature Affordable Care Act.
They outmaneuvered him on extending the Bush tax cuts. On the campaign trail, Obama promised to extend the Bush tax cuts only for individuals earning less than $200,000 and couples making less than $250,000, a position favored by most Americans. However, Obama consented to a GOP plan extending all tax cuts supposedly in exchange for extending unemployment benefits. Obama should have stood his ground and forced Republicans to vote on whether to extend unemployment benefits to people who had lost their jobs.
House Republicans learned early that they could simply pretend to be interested in adopting bipartisan legislation. In an effort to court them, Obama would propose legislation that he hoped would appeal to conservatives. They would play along right up to the end and withdraw from the process, leaving Obama with proposals that even his base couldn’t support.
The test this week for Obama is to demonstrate that he isn’t the same naïve former U.S. Senator he was four years ago in Denver. With Republicans hell-bent on not seeing Obama return to the White House, he needs to show that he has more than just the audacity of hope.