Five Takeaways from the DNC

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA—Now that the Democratic National Convention is over, both parties will move to take positions in the final phase of the 2012 election. Republicans have already launched their opening salvo, with a massive advertising buy of 15 spots in 8 states. Indeed, now that Mitt Romney is the official nominee, his campaign is finally free to spend a large chunk of the money it raised over the last four months. With the help of a poor August jobs report, the Republicans will continue to hammer President Obama over the weak economy, and try to drive undecided voters to their side.

As for Democrats, they’re banking on a few things to carry them to November and a second term for President Obama—while avoiding one major issue they need to tackle. Here are five big takeaways from the convention: 

Context, context, context

When I asked one member of the New Mexico delegation how she would sell Obama’s first term to a skeptical voter, she paused and gave an answer I’ve heard from everyone I’ve spoken to: “It’s harder to build things up than take them apart.” Over the next two months, Democrats will focus on the context of the past four years. They’ll emphasize the extent to which George W. Bush's policiies bear responsibility for the economic situation, and highlight the degree to which Obama has moved the country forward. Expect to hear echoes of this line from Bill Clinton’s speech: “No president—no president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.”

The party of national security

In his surprisingly fiery speech, John Kerry had one particularly memorable line: “Ask Osama bin Laden if he’s better off than he was four years ago.” Joe Biden doubled-down the sentiment with a line from his stump speech, “Osama Bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive.” Both Biden and Kerry—as well as Jill Biden and President Obama—devoted lengthy sections of their speeches to praising veterans and promising support for those who have returned from combat. Democrats have decided to run hard on national security, and press the advantage they’ve built on the ruins of Bush-era foreign policy. It helps that the GOP is trying hard to avoid this conversation; Romney failed to mention Afghanistan in his acceptance speech, and the Republican National Convention did little to focus on veterans. Republicans squandered their reputation on national security during the Bush years, and it will be a long time before they recover from the damage.

The return of wedge issues

There are a lot of ways in which 2012 is a mirror image of the 2004 election. An embattled president fights for a second-term while a stronger-than-expected challenger capitalizes on the sluggish economy. President Bush eventually won reelection by energizing his evangelical base. The tools? Public anxiety over the growing push for same-sex marriage, and fear of more moderate abortion policies. Growing inclusion has support for made same-sex marriage a winning issue for Democrats. Marriage equality is now the official position of the party, and Team Obama is using it to capitalize on their advantage with younger voters. Abortion policy is arguably more conservative than it was in 2004, but extreme overreach by anti-abortion activists—including attacks on Planned Parenthood and the widespread push for “personhood” laws—have created a backlash among the key demographic of single women. Women speakers took center stage at this year’s DNC. The party gave wide attention to its women candidates, legislators and statewide officeholders, and took the time to highlight the large number of Democratic women who serve in both chambers of Congress. President Obama railed against “Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry, or control health care choices that women should make for themselves.” Democrats hold a double-digit advantage with women, and they’re hoping to expand that even further. Between Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape,” and the harshly anti-abortion platform of the GOP, that shouldn't be hard to do. 

The party of non-whites

This was a little more subtle, but Democrats didn’t shy away from highlighting the stark demographic differences between them and the Republicans. Walking around the convention hall and the arena, or watching the crowd on TV, it was hard not to be struck by the racial diversity of Democratic activists and party leaders. A large proportion of delegates were African American or Latino, and there were convention meetings devoted to LGBT Democrats, young Democrats, and disabled Democrats. On stage—and in addition to the First Family—there was Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, Mayor Anthony Foxx of Charlotte, actor Kal Penn, California Rep. Judy Chu, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, and Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards, among many others. The point is to highlight an important difference between the two parties—Republican diversity on the candidate level, especially among statewide office holders, is matched by Democratic diversity at every other level.

Where are the jobs?

There was one glaring ommission from the DNC: Few speakers said anything about the short-term economic situation. Indeed, the relentless focus on forward movement was an obvious attempt to avoid the obvious—the fact that Democrats lack a plan for passing the aid necessary to reduce unemployment and kick the economy into a stronger recovery. That’s not to say that they don’t have a plan—the American Jobs Act still exists, and if passed, would create as many as 1.9 million jobs over the next year. But Democrats—including President Obama—are loath to mention it, for the simple reason that it has no chance of passing. The truth is that neither party is genuinely committed to reducing mass unemployment. In making this election into a choice between two ideologies, both Republicans and Democrats have turned their attention to long-term strategies for growth. Long-term strategies are good. But what’s needed—right now—is an actionable plan to create oppotunity for millions of unemployed Americans. At the moment, neither Obama nor Romney is willing to step up to the plate.


Well, I'm left wondering what would be the point to hammer on the American Jobs Act, if, as you say in the article, there is no chance of getting it passed. What needs to be said, over and over, is that the Obstructionist Congress has flat out refused to pass this bill in an effort to hold back job creation on Obama's watch.

Carolyn, I couldn't have said it better - and that is one of the points that the Dems should have been hammering on all along in this election.

Carolyn is right and the commentators on TV and online need to get their acts together and remember that not only is the bill up to be voted on and passed but anything Obama puts up must be voted on and passed if there is anything called MONEY involved. That was a main point in the Constitution in 1780's. O is not Putin or Hu Jintau (sp) that can order what needs to be done and the Kremlin or Congress all bends over backwards to make sure it's done quickly. Why is the writer so surprised to see so many people of color at the convention for Dems?? And why so many women??? The Republicans set things up this past year starting with Ms Fluke and then the avalanche rolled down the mountain making women's issues one of the major issues. Sister Susan was also a good advert. re: the poor and downtrodden that most Republicans think are merely there because they are too lazy to get up and find a job--one that doesn't often exist whether they have the skills or not. How can Romney really believe that he will find 12.5 million jobs for the 14 million out looking when companies and factories are holding back and banks refuse to lend and most people's unemployment money is running out???? Other than those quite wealthy, most people of color cater to the Democratic Party so they find some of their own--even though a few from the Midwest are not used to seeing any but their own. It's a good awakening for them also.

The assertion that the American Jobs Act cannot be passed is unnecessarily defeatist. It can be passed by the next Congress, using reconciliation in the Senate, if the Democrats control both houses.
Yes, there are obstacles: the gerrymanders in many states after the GOP victory in 2010, voter suppression in some states, the large number of Dem Senate seats to defend and a huge GOP advantage in dark money.
But there are also opportunities: the popularity of Congress (especially the GOP/TP House) is at a historic low, Democrats come out of the convention with enthusiasm and strong arguments.
In 2010, the repugs won a landslide by nationalizing the House election and demonizing Pelosi; turnabout is fair play, but we don't need to demonize - in Truman's words, just tell the truth and they think it's Hell.
Obama needs to run against the do-nothing Congress, and highlight the abundant evidence of their obstructionism: unprecedented filibusters, bad faith negotiation, McConnell's assertion of his priority, Limbaugh's expressed wish for failure.
Obama started months ago to say "pass this jobs bill right now!" If he picks up that theme in the home stretch, the Congress is very much in play.

Since September 2000 the number of private sector employed workers in the U.S. has risen by 0.00004%, or just 5,000 additional jobs, raising the total to 111,400 today. Essentially, there has been no growth in private enterprise hiring over the past 12 years. The "working age population" has grown by 31 million or 14.6% more potential workers with no new net job openings. Private hiring is in stall mode.

The employment to population ratio dropped to 58.3% last month, August 2012, while in Jan. 2000 it was 64.6% its record high. The difference, 6.3% of the working age population, is 15.3 million workers who were employed back in 2000 who are not employed today, transferring the 6.3% to today's labor market. (One can google "data bls, employment to population" to see their data and chart) In November 2010 the rate was 58.2%, and then not since 1983, 29 years back, had it been that low. For 20 years, 1988 to 2008 it had been over 62%.

A look at the National Jobs for All Coalition,, shows 27.5 million under- and unemployed, or 17.0%. "In addition, millions more were working full-time, year-round, yet earned less than the official poverty level for a family of four. In 2010, the latest year available, that number was 16.8 million, 17.0 percent of full-time, full-year workers (estimated from Current Population Survey, Bur. of the Census, 9/2011)." And there are 7 under- or un-employed workers for every job opening.

17% under-and-unemployed
11% working full-time full-year for below poverty rate
28% total,
something like 10 million college graduates in jobs that require only a high school education
7 un-or-underemployed workers for every job opening in August, 2012

I agree with FDR that full employment should be a government goal and a personal right, part of a new Bill of Rights. If the jobs were created, the employees are there to fill them. This is very controversial, but we do have child labor laws, minimum wage, and the EITC which approaches $60 billion a year now. We have a demand problem in this economy, not a shortage of supply of labor, capital or industrial capacity. All of those we have in excess. Dan Alpert says this often at EconoMonitor. A demand problem is also a problem of grossly unequal distribution of income and wealth. There are not enough customers, just like the Great Depression, weakness and fragility reigns. This week Bill Clinton reminded people in his speech to the Democratic Convention that Obama's September 2011 jobs bill of $447 billion would have added another 1.6 million employed workers. But there are other plans out there to add 12 million and they are not more expensive than $500 billion. Half of the U.S. working labor force, 75 million workers, take in as wage income only 7% of the total personal income of the country. That's the inequality I mentioned. The economy grew by 68% per capita over 30 years and workers' annual private sector income at the median increased by 5.7% according to the Economic Policy Institute's president Lawrence Mishel. My blog is

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