1. No one can out-perform Bill Clinton, not the NFL or even a sitting president with incomparable rhetorical skills. Clinton soaked up the spotlight and enjoyed every moment of it. His speech reminded me of the 2000 SNL skit in which Clinton, following a presidential debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush, assures Americans he is doing everything he can to find a way to be president again. Obama's appearance on stage at the conclusion of Clinton’s speech was almost necessary to remind the public that he's the one running for president.
2. If your expectations for a speaker are high, you may be disappointed by actual performance. In the case of President Obama, for example, many expected to hear specifics about his second term policy agenda. Instead, we basically heard an amalgamation of speeches from the previous nights, featuring a laundry list of party positions and Democratic themes. As Larry Sabato aptly put it, it was nothing more than a glorified stump speech.
3. If your expectations for a speaker are low, you may be pleasantly surprised. John Kerry was on fire last night. I might have even paid to see his performance as a stand-up comedian, with his delivery of lines such as, “Ask Osama bin Laden if he’s better off now than he was four years ago.” Poking fun at Romney’s shifting positions on Iraq and Libya, Kerry said, “Talk about being for it before you were against it.” Another highlight: “For Mitt Romney, an overseas trip is what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas. It wasn't a goodwill mission – it was a blooper reel.” He could have topped his speech off with a line like, “For Mitt Romney, an overseas trip is visit to the ATM” or by asking “Will you elect a flip-flopper from Massachusetts?”
4. As a California delegate complained to me, the Convention was too focused on the president, his policy positions and policy accomplishments. Welcome to the presidency-centered programmatic party system that has been developing since FDR, with roots in TR’s presidency. As the California delegate pointed out though, Congressional races matter if the president wants to implement his second-term policy agenda.
5. For probably the first time in nearly half a century, the Democratic Party had an edge on national security and foreign affairs. And believe me, they milked it for all it was worth. However, it really was one important difference between the Republican and Democratic conventions. The Democrats emphasized Veterans and of course touted Bin Laden’s death, as well as action in Libya. Furthermore, the Democrats linked foreign policy with domestic policy, arguing that war and peace, and rich and poor drive social issues domestically. Meanwhile, we barely heard any mention of foreign policy at the Republican convention, Condi Rice aside. Nor have the Republicans explained why they are calling for 100,000 new troops in their party platform or what they plan to do with them.
6. Modern conventions and surrounding events are based on a patronage system spearheaded by political consultants. It’s all about who you know and if you know someone, you can get into anything from open bar receptions with swag sponsored by corporations to performances by John Legend and Flo Rida. Be prepared to go with the flow and stay out all night to keep up with these Party animals. (Full disclosure: I chose sleep.)
7. Democrats are just as willing to engage in partisan warfare as Republicans. Exhibit A: convention speeches. Exhibit B: campaign ads. At least the convention speeches were slightly more truthful than the super PAC sponsored ads. Fact checkers are overworked as it is. Gabrielle Giffords leading of the pledge of allegiance should remind us that it’s time for a return to civility and inclusive political discourse.
8. The Democratic Convention was surprisingly better organized and had a much more focused message than the Republican Convention. I predict a bigger post-convention bounce for Obama (Romney didn’t get much of a bounce, if any). Furthermore, Charlotte offered a more centralized location than Tampa, making it easy for delegates to get from event to event (not to mention Charlotte’s first rate public transportation system).
9. The official line was that location change forced Democrats to forego the balloon drop. The truth is the Dems decided there was enough hot air at the convention.
10. Speeches only selectively highlighted unions at this convention, for example the United Auto Workers and Service Employees International Union. Other tensions between labor and the Democratic Party were simply swept under the rug.
11. Some people are better at teleprompter reading than others. Next time around the party should add a line item to the budget to give convention speakers teleprompter training.
Actually, I learned one more very important development in the history of conventions, but I’m saving my scoop for a separate post. Stay tuned.