Why the GOP Isn't Old, Dull, and Cranky

It became evident from talking points over Labor Day weekend that Barack Obama’s campaign will rally its base on at least two key fronts at the Democratic National Convention.

First, Obama and his surrogates, in an effort to drive home the vague new campaign slogan, “Forward,” framed the messages from the Republican National Convention as being stuck in time. Though it’s a repetitive strategy of Democratic candidates past, Obama’s team will continue to use it because it polls well with his constituent base.

This time around, it’s designed to draw a contrast between those dull, old values of reducing the national debt and American exceptionalism espoused in Tampa with Obama’s flashy celebrity in Charlotte. And, to conjure up Paul Ryan’s tongue-in-cheek, it makes for a fine new campaign poster to cover the yellowing “Hope” and “Change” ones on the proverbial 20-something’s bedroom wall.

Obama kicked off this theme at a campaign rally in Iowa on Saturday, characterizing the RNC as “better suited for the last century … You might as well have watched it on black-and-white TV.” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, chairman of this year’s DNC, worked the talking points on the Sunday talk shows with his odd interpretation, stating that the RNC platform “looks like the platform of 1812.” Obama’s chief campaign strategist, David Axelrod, who wrote those talking points, was more coherent with his spin. He criticized the “gauzy reminiscences of the past” that he claimed were sprinkled throughout Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech.

For those who actually attended the RNC, the reality was, not surprisingly, 180 degrees different from the portrayal.

It’s as if the party hired a new general manager who completely revamped the team. The presence of the Bush 43 years was virtually non-existent, aside from Condoleezza Rice, who established herself as a major future player in the GOP. The John McCain-Sarah Palin ticket was but a blip as McCain gave a perfunctory speech, and Palin didn’t even attend. The RNC revealed the party’s deep bench of diverse rising stars, many of whom are now acquiring all-important executive experience across the nation. And few of these players are empty suits. They have been successfully implementing market-based policies and making tough decisions while winning fierce elections.

Although characterizing the RNC as a relic is an easy and cheap way to rally Democrats’ true believers around the ‘Forward’ mantra, it begs the question on election day: Forward toward what?

The second rallying cry of Obama and his surrogates at the DNC is to continue bashing Romney in order to define him to the American public. Obama will be advised to avoid this route himself—it’s too un-Presidential at this stage—and leave it to the political lackeys.

A confident Axelrod now takes pride in having beaten the Romney camp out of the shoot in portraying their candidate. Obama spent millions throughout the summer to define Romney as out-of-touch and incapable of relating to middle-class problems. As recently as Labor Day, Obama ally and AFL-CIO boss Rich Trumka towed this line. Though this was a default strategy of the campaign—because the incumbent President frankly doesn’t have much of a record to brag about—it has worked surprisingly well.

Except that, like characterizing the GOP as passé and devoid of ideas, the RNC revealed the Romney character claims as based on blatant falsehoods.

At the RNC, a litany of individuals provided personal testimonials on behalf of the man, Romney. These were not professional politicians. They were former neighbors, fellow church parishioners, and entrepreneurs. They stood up to varying degrees of stage fright to tell their stories. People like Pam Finlayson, and Ted and Pat Oparowsky—who offered touching stories about Romney’s role in their children’s lives—Grant Bennett, Tom Stemberg from Staples, and former Massachusetts Secretary of Workforce Development (and self-described “liberal Democrat”) Jane Edmonds. Their stories are worth a click-through.

Besides revealing a bit of the man, their testimonials also served to draw a stark contrast between the candidates. Romney came across as a modest person of compassion and ability. Ironically, a political flaw that has been pointed out time and again is that candidate Romney hasn’t spoken enough about his faith and private acts of volunteer heroism and charity. His opponent’s seasoned and ruthless campaign, predictably, seized on this void to attack and define Romney during the summer.

Modesty and humility, though, are virtues that comprise the Romney persona and arguably are compelled by his faith. Yet, they are not always political virtues. American politics currently values feel-good sound bites and the cult of personal celebrity. Rest assured, there will be plenty of that on display this week at the DNC.