There's something risky about drawing conclusions from political conventions. The platforms may be approved and the delegates may vote. But the real purpose is for the party to put on a glitzy, heart-wrenching show, with speakers who praise the nominee in tones usually reserved for monarchical coronations and attendees who nod at every word like bobble-heads. When the cameras are on, everyone swims in a unified current. The most shocking part of the Democrats' Villaraigosa fracas wasn't that the delegates booed God's name and land, but that the drumbeat was briefly interrupted.
Commentators always talk about convention speakers throwing out red meat. But it's always more sizzle than anything else. Even this year's Bill Clinton address, lauded as effective by liberals and conservatives, was more notable for its style than its substance. The Democratic National Convention is an opportunity for Democrats to pretend that 40% of the country agrees with each other about everything.
If you're the sort of person who gets inspired by incantations of "Yes we can!" or mildly unsettling UAW signs with red-silhouetted workers punching the air, then the Democrats' grand show probably had deep meaning for you. But for everyone else, it was the usual stage-managed affair; a mawkish romance for an America where individuals work hard to get ahead, and occasionally come together to seize an entire car company and hand it over to a labor union.
So why try to learn anything from the DNC? Well first, despite the stagecraft, many intelligent people watch political conventions. The Democrats had to serve up some thin gruel of substance. And more importantly, trying to shepherd thousands of delegates and activists into the same pen without some bumping and bleating is impossible. The jeering of Jerusalem wasn't the only revealing moment in Charlotte.
Maybe the convention was intended mostly for suckers who, as P.T. Barnum said, and in spite of Democrats' reproductive policies, are born every minute. But despite my strict DNC regimen of Ibuprofen and Jameson, I still managed to learn a thing or two. Here's one writer's takeaway.
The cult of the presidency is alive and well.
You'd think, after forty-three straight months of unemployment above 8%, Democrats would be downplaying the president's role in job creation. But then Bill Clinton barreled up to the podium for a little political history lesson. "Since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24," he said. "In those 52 years, our private economy has produced 66 million private-sector jobs. So what's the jobs score? Republicans 24 million, Democrats 42."
According to arithmetic, of which Mr. Clinton is a huge proponent, Barack Obama has been in office for one-sixth of the Democratic presidential span and created (at best) one-eleventh of the total jobs. And more than half the Democrat total was created during Clinton's two terms, when congressional Republicans were spearheading policy and Clinton was busy reforming welfare and implementing free-trade deals.
But set all that aside. Clinton's line got huge applause at the convention and was waved around the next day by taunting Democrats. Too many (and not just on the left) seem to think that the president is a wizard who can point at sectors of the economy, mumble a spell, and create demand for a job. It's a childish belief in benevolent central planning by a king-technocrat, and even Obama's failures haven't shaken its adherents.
Hillary Clinton is running for president in 2016.
While we're on Bill Clinton, let's remember that the man can't scratch his back without making a political calculation. Yet the commentariat is giddy about his speech's supposed hatchet-burying and embrace of his new favorite politician: Barack Obama. Actually Bill Clinton's speech was about his old favorite politician: Bill Clinton. He aimed to outshine the president and accomplished just that. People are once again talking about his charm, his talent, his wife…who just so happens to be one of the most popular political figures in America right now. Clear the decks, Democrats.
Mayors are the future of America.
At one point, Bill Clinton implored the delegates, "Just ask the mayors who are here!" Judging by the speaker lineup, that was nearly everyone. Over the course of the convention, we heard from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Mayor Cory Booker, Mayor R.T. Rybak, Mayor Michael Nutter, Mayor Anthony Foxx, and of course, the Democrats' new leading man, Mayor Julian Castro.
Castro's inclusion was a curiosity. In the wake of Marco Rubio's stirring speech at the Republican Convention, the famously color-blind Democrats dipped into their talent pool and pulled out the Latino mayor of San Antonio to give their keynote. Castro is certainly a soaring orator (frankly I think we've all had enough of those), but his political ascension will likely be blocked in deep-red Texas.
To be sure, banking on mayors has its advantages. It's a lot easier to, say, outlaw Big Gulps or discriminate against Christian fast-food chains on behalf of a city rather than the entire country. But still, Republicans should take heart. The Democrats' mayoral lineup shows how badly they've been devastated at the congressional level. One more election with an energized Tea Party and the Democrats' keynote speaker in 2016 will be the first selectman from Simsbury, Connecticut.
Check Chris Van Hollen's copy before he speaks in public.
Most observers are applying this lesson to former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm ("THE CARS GET THE ELEVATOR AND THE WORKERS GET THE SHAFT!!") but I think Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen warrants a mention as well. After blaming the entire national debt on Paul Ryan, Van Hollen took out something he called the president's plan to reduce the debt and started waving it around. For goodness sake, Chris, that's presumably Obama's 2013 budget which didn't receive a single vote in the House or Senate. The left spent months pretending that thing doesn't exist. Put it away! And go talk to Debbie Wasserman Schultz. At least she keeps her faxes straight.
Well-paid Democrat operatives make for poor sob stories.
This year's convention featured that staple of the Democratic playbook: good, old-fashioned sob stories; the poor single mother with no health insurance who was evicted from her building by Paul Ryan. In addition to their army of mayors, the Democrats peppered their speaking schedule with average Joes who had either fallen on tough times because of Republican heartlessness or been given a second chance by Democrat magnanimity.
The problem is the stories kept leaving things out. David Foster, a steelworker supposedly laid off from GST Steel when Bain Capital took it over, never worked for GST Steel and is currently executive director of the left-wing BlueGreen Alliance. Randy Johnson, another victim of Bain, makes a six-figure salary at the United Steelworkers Union and has been on the DNC's payroll for months now. Maria and Delia Ciano were both featured as former Republicans who had emotional changes of heart. But Maria has been registered as a Democrat since at least 2006 and has "Liked" just about every liberal cause under the sun on Facebook, and Delia, having met with Michelle Obama, certainly has some tie-in with the Obama campaign.
Democrats take note: someone buying their groceries on the party dime isn't going to tug on anyone's heartstrings. And in the age of the Internet, these frauds will be discovered, and quickly.
Democrats do think outside the box.
Yes, the convention speeches were typical fare. But offstage the Democratic grass-roots were ablaze with new ideas. For example, Peter Schiff got at least a dozen delegates to endorse a total ban on corporate profits. One thinker goes even farther: "Maybe we should just have corporate losses." Here, at last, is an economic doctrine to replace the yellowing books of John Maynard Keynes. If you've ever walked into a Walgreens and thought, "This place would be great if it were more like Solyndra," the Democrats have a party for you.
Some Democrats are trying to prolong the recession.
That might seem like an explosive charge. But I'm only going on the words of Massachusetts Governor and drapery aficionado Deval Patrick. From his convention speech: "All that today's Republicans are saying is that if we just shrink government, cut taxes, crush unions and wait, all will be well. Never mind that those are the very policies that got us into recession to begin with!"
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley cut at least 5,500 state jobs since taking office and his 2013 budget cuts Medicaid spending and shifts pension costs to the counties. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer wrote an op-ed last year bragging about his state's spending cuts and "penny pinching." Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper's 2011-2012 budget lopped off $570 million, including cuts to education and state parks. And of course, Deval Patrick himself supported a bill that stripped public-employee unions of most of their collective bargaining power over health care, a move that led some unions to compare him to Dark Lord Scott Walker.
Now some people would argue that these Democrats were dealing with the reality of out-of-control state budgets and intractable unions. But those people are racists. All the aforementioned governors were speakers at the convention, and yet they're all "shrink[ing] government" and "crush[ing] unions" back home. The only logical conclusion is that they're intentionally prolonging the recession because they hate the president.
Martin O'Malley is overrated.
Maryland's chipper governor is often touted as the Democrats' next presidential candidate. Unlike many of the other up-and-comers, O'Malley is young, charismatic, visible, and holds an elected office higher than mayor. But his speech at the convention was joyless and underwhelming, especially compared to the barnburners given by Deval Patrick or even John Kerry. O'Malley's political persona is boyish but also a bit slimy; the Keebler elf who descends from the tree to sell you a car with a rolled-back odometer. And he has a thin record; his greatest economic achievement is increasing exports of his own people to Virginia. Democrats have a shallow bench, but they'd be wise to pass on the Maryland governor.
Democrats have lost the plot on higher education.
"[T]he president's student loan is more important than ever. ... You need to tell every voter where you live about this. It lowers the cost of federal student loans," declared Bill Clinton. And then it was off to the races on education. Some speakers, instead of delivering speeches, just shouted "Pell Grants!" over and over.
The government created Sallie Mae, Fannie Mae's tweed-clad evil cousin, in 1972 to loosen up banks on college loans. As Antony Davies and James R. Harrigan point out, between 1976 and 2010, commodity prices rose 280%. Private education prices skyrocketed 1,000%. Obama shoveled even deeper by federalizing most of the student loan industry. So now we have a $1 trillion higher education bubble owned wholly by the United States government. It's the housing crash all over again, and the convention speakers had no clue.
There is no debt crisis.
Of all the gaping holes in Charlotte, this was the widest and the darkest. Speaker after speaker gave us starry-eyed, Americana visions of safety nets, well-funded schools, bailed-out manufacturing companies, and green jobs. No one ever asked how we're supposed to pay the bill. Bill Clinton did mention the president's pathetic budget -- "Now I think this plan is way better than Governor Romney's plan!" -- which cuts spending by $2.5 trillion over ten years during a time when cumulative spending will rise $47 trillion.
No one thought the Democrats would hang a massive debt clock from the ceiling like the Republicans did in Tampa. But even with expectations low, the convention's debt denial was astonishing. America faces the largest fiscal challenge in its history and a major political party's response is to bury their heads in the sand and murmur about infrastructure and Pell Grants.
And thus (with the Jameson having worn off) we have to end on a serious note. A lot of breath was expended at the DNC appealing to young people, my generation, the Millennials -- the same lamentable group about to inherit more than $200 trillion in total unpaid debts. No self-respecting young person can vote for a party that stubbornly, categorically refuses to acknowledge the coming tidal wave.
But, of course, many of them will. They always do.