Category Archives: 2012 Presidential

Last night’s debate news (or part of it) this morning — another problem for what’s left of newspapers

OK, so I’m behind the curve today. I got home from final dress rehearsal last night at about 11:30, heated up some dinner, watched a few minutes of both the beginning and the end of the debate (having heard a BBC assessment of it on the radio on the drive home) then watched some of the PBS commentary after the debate, then hit the sack.

But I’m not as far behind the curve as most daily newspapers were in today’s print editions.

Slate calls our attention to today’s front pages (all taken from the Newseum, where you can see plenty of others), which have a sameness about them: They pretty much all say the same thing in their headlines, and most run photos of the same moment, with the candidates’ fingers pointed at each other. Sure, you might find some “analysis” in there somewhere, and the more enterprising (and better-staffed) opinion pages will have some sketchy opinions expressed. As Slate’s Josh Voorhees writes:

As we explained late last night, the insta-polls and the pundits saw a tight contest on the Long Island stage on Tuesday, but one that was won narrowly by President Obama. Given the lack of a clear-cut win, however, it should come as little surprise that a quick scan of the morning’s front pages show the nation’s headline writers and art teams focused on the on-stage clash and largely left the who-won question to the domain of the cable news talking heads (as most papers had likewise done following the previous two debates).

Once, this sameness, this lack of personality or individualized expression was the glory of newspapers. If 10 different journalists from 10 different papers covered the same event, they would all write pretty much the same thing. It was a measure of their professionalism, and the self-effacement that news writing demanded of them. It was about giving it to you straight, unadorned, plain, and God forbid there should be any hint of opinion in it. Who, what, where, when, maybe how, and, if you put an “Analysis” sig on it, why.

The monotony of it didn’t strike the reading public because unless they lived near an urban newsstand, most people only saw one daily newspaper.

But here’s the problem with that today: What newspapers put in those lede headlines today, and what they conveyed in those pictures, was all old news by the time I was driving home from rehearsal last night.

I hadn’t driven more than a few blocks when I knew the conventional wisdom on what had happened. It went something like this: Obama did all the things he failed to do in the first debate, particularly having a strong finish. Romney did fine, although was maybe not quite as sharp as in the first debate. If you’re declaring a winner, it’s Obama, although I didn’t get the sense that he dominated in this debate the way Romney did in the first one, so if you’re going on cumulative totals, Romney’s probably still ahead in this debate series. How this affects the polls remains to be seen.

I had even heard about “binders full of women,” but I was mostly confused by that.

In the post-debate analysis I watched after I got home, I heard David Brooks and Mark Shields give their assessments. Brooks said Obama won because he was able to exploit Romney’s biggest weakness better than Romney was able to press Obama on his biggest weakness. He said Romney’s biggest weakness is that his numbers don’t add up, and Obama’s problem is that he never provides a vision of what the next four years will be like if he is re-elected. Shields said it might surprise everyone, but he agreed with Brooks on all those points.

Since then, on the radio this morning, I’ve heard that “Obama hasn’t sketched a vision going forward” meme several more times.

I was also interested in what a young woman (didn’t catch her name) who analyses Twitter during debates for PBS had to say. I didn’t get as much of an overview of the Twitter take as I wanted because she decided to zero in on the reactions of women. But I’ve found her assessments interesting in the past: What was trending? What were the memes people were obsessing over? What caught on? I’ve become more and more interested in the instant reactions of Tweeters in the aggregate during events like this. It has something to do with the wisdom of crowds. It’s like having sensors attached to the brains of millions of highly engaged, clever voters — which is what the most-followed people on Twitter tend to be.

And I felt left out because I wasn’t on Twitter myself during the debate. Increasingly, that’s where I like to be during these kinds of real-time shared events, sifting through the flood of reaction as it washes over me.

And in a Twitter world, seeing these front pages feels like reading ancient history. No, it’s worse than that. Historians look at the whole of a thing after it’s over and draw conclusions. There’s a wholeness to historical accounts. These reports — and I’m just reacting to the headlines, mind you — don’t do that. They give only the most noncommital account, essentially just telling you that the candidates came together and vied against one another, and there the account ends. The Des Moines Register headline (“Stakes higher in 2nd face-off”) could have been, and possibly was, written before the debate started. (And pre-Gannett, that was one of the best papers in the country for political coverage.)

And I was already so far beyond that, without even trying hard to be, last night — without even having seen the debate.

I’m not saying these papers aren’t doing their jobs well. What I’m saying is that the job they’re doing, within two kinds of constraints — the convention of not drawing conclusions in a news account, and the severe time problem of the debate ending as they have to get those pages to the press room (depending on the edition we’re talking about, a lot of editions went to bed BEFORE that) — fails to satisfy in a Twitter world.

Again, there might be all kinds of good stuff in the stories, but the presentation — the quick impression that a glance at the front page provides — is deeply lacking. It makes you not want to read more deeply. It causes me to want to go read those papers’ websites today, and see what good stuff didn’t make it into the paper. (And the better papers will have something for me when I go there.) Because the conversation has moved, by the time the paper hits your stoop, so very far beyond what’s in those headlines.

Reuters finds Obama leading in early voting

Or rather, he’s leading in what early voter are telling pollsters, so take that big grain of salt:

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are neck and neck in opinion polls, but there is one area in which the incumbent appears to have a big advantage: those who have already cast their ballots.

Obama leads Romney by 59 percent to 31 percent among early voters, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling data compiled in recent weeks.

The sample size of early voters is relatively small, but the Democrat’s margin is still well above the poll’s credibility interval – a measurement of polls’ accuracy – of 10 percentage points. (full graphic:

With the November 6 election just more than three weeks away, 7 percent of those surveyed said they had already voted either in person or by mail (full graphic:

The online poll is another sign that early voting is likely to play a bigger role this year than in 2008, when roughly one in three voters cast a ballot before Election Day. Voting is already under way in some form in at least 40 states…

On a side note, I don’t care how popular it is, I still don’t hold with this early voting nonsense.

‘The full Joe Biden treatment,’ God love him

Over the weekend, Mike Fitts posted on Facebook a link to an excellent, fun piece in The New Yorker, along with the blurb, “For anyone like Brad Warthen who has ever gotten the full Joe Biden treatment:”

Hey, chief. There’s the guy. How you doin’? Got your friends here, party of six. Lady in the hat. Great to see you. My name is Joe Biden and I’ll be your server tonight. Lemme tell you a story. (He pulls up a chair and sits.)

Folks, when I was six years old my dad came to me one night. My dad was a car guy. Hard worker, decent guy. Hadn’t had an easy life. He climbed the stairs to my room one night and he sat on the edge of my bed and he said to me, he said, “Champ, your mom worked hard on that dinner tonight. She worked hard on it. She literally worked on it for hours. And when you and your brothers told her you didn’t like it, you know what, Joey? That hurt her. It hurt.” And I felt (lowers voice to a husky whisper) ashamed. Because lemme tell you something. He was right. My dad was right. My mom worked hard on that dinner, and it was delicious. Almost as delicious as our Chicken Fontina Quesadilla with Garlicky Guacamole. That’s our special appetizer tonight. It’s the special. It’s the special. (His voice rising) And the chef worked hard on it, just like my mom, God love her, and if you believe in the chef’s values of hard work and creative spicing you should order it, although if you don’t like chicken we can substitute shrimp for a small upcharge….

Yep, that’s the Joe Biden I know, God love him.

Thanks, Mike!

Follow the bouncing polls

Slatest reports contradictory poll results following Mitt Romney’s big debate win last week:

A TALE OF TWO POLLS: In the wake of Mitt Romney’s historic debate performance last week, the GOP challenger has leapfrogged President Obama and now leads the incumbent among likely voters with less than a month to go until the election. Unless, of course, he hasn’t, and his post-debate bounce has since evaporated. Those were the two very different narratives suggested by a pair of polls out Monday.

GOOD NEWS, MITT: The Pew Research Poll released the results of its latest polling this afternoon—the first major survey taken entirely after last Wednesday’s debate—that showed Romney and Obama knotted at 46 apiece among registered voters, and the Republican out in front 49 percent to 45 among likely voters. That’s quite a change from last month’s survey, when Obama led 51-42 among registered voters and 51-43 among likely voters.

GOOD NEWS, BARACK: Gallup, meanwhile, offered a different snapshot of the state of the race for the White House. The polling outfit’s latest seven-day rolling average—which included polling conducted through Sunday—shows the president out in front by 5 points, 50-45, among registered voters. That figure was particularly noteworthy because Obama had seen a pre-debate lead of 4 points shrink to 3 points by Saturday, before jumping back up to 5 points once Sunday’s results were factored in…

Hey, tell me about it…

This parlous news comes over the transom from The Washington Post:

Google and a handful of other tech firms are acting as advertising middlemen for the presidential campaigns, taking a huge cut of the revenue from online ads.

These firms have given the campaigns greater precision in targeting voters, but the process is starving politically oriented media sites in what once was their most lucrative season.

If this were a just world, that revenue would be going to, you know, political blogs and other worthy venues.

Instant polls give the debate to Romney

Poll results compiled by Nate Silver show the viewing public pretty much agreeing with the commentators who gave last night’s debate decision to Romney:

Instant-reaction polls conducted by CNN and CBS News suggest that Mitt Romney was the winner of the first presidential debate.

A CNN poll of debate-watchers found Mr. Romney very clearly ahead, with 67 percent of registered voters saying he won the debate, against just 25 percent for President Obama.

A CBS News poll of undecided voters who watched the debate found 46 percent siding with Mr. Romney, 22 percent for Mr. Obama and 32 percent saying it was a tie.

Google, which is experimenting with online surveys, found 38.9 percent of respondents saying they thought Mr. Obama performed better in a poll it conducted during the debate, against 35.5 percent for Mr. Romney and 25.6 percent who said it was a draw. But a second poll they conducted after the debate found 47.8 percent of respondents giving Mr. Romney the advantage, against 25.4 percent for Mr. Obama…

I still haven’t seen enough of the debate itself to know what I think. But from what I’m hearing, I’d have to actually watch it, which would be unusual for me. A lot of the advantage given to Romney sounds like it was based on visual impressions. Usually, I listening while Tweeting and blogging. Last night, rehearsal prevented me from doing anything with it at all…

Ann Romney to critics: ‘Stop it. This is hard.’

And she’s saying that to the Republicans who are getting on her husband’s case, according to Slatest:

During an interview with Radio Iowa last night, Ann Romney had a message for the growing ranks of Republicans who have criticized her husband in recent days.

“Stop it. This is hard. You want to try it? Get in the ring,” she said. “This is hard and, you know, it’s an important thing that we’re doing right now and it’s an important election and it is time for all Americans to realize how significant this election is and how lucky we are to have someone with Mitt’s qualifications and experience and know-how to be able to have the opportunity to run this country.”

I find myself wondering whether that was spontaneous on her part — which it could well be — or whether someone in the campaign decided, Let’s have Ann say this. Being a woman and being the spouse and not the candidate, she can get away with it — whereas Mitt would be labeled a whiner.

I could see someone in the campaign thinking that, but I prefer to think it was spontaneous.

Beyond that, I have two reactions:

  1. Yes, indeed. One reason we don’t have more (and better) candidates for public office is that the audience is so cruel and unforgiving, and obsesses over the tiniest slip-up. It isn’t fair, and if you’re in the middle of it all, you do sort of wish the facile critics would have the guts to see what it’s like sometime to be in there trying your heart out.
  2. On the other hand, I’m cognizant of exactly why these GOP critics are getting on her husband’s case, and that makes me think, Yeah, you’re right: It IS hard. Especially for certain people, apparently…

Mitt Romney, peering deep into the abyss

How bad has the past week been for Romney, between the Libya remarks and the “47 percent” video? Bad enough that this bit from The Onion is just barely funny:

DALLAS—With his campaign still reeling from a series of miscues, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney asked a group of top advisers Wednesday whether it would be worth going after Obama by questioning the nation of his birth. “What about that whole deal with his birth certificate, or him being born in Kenya or wherever—you think that might stick?” said Romney, adding he was “just spitballing here.” “Also, wasn’t he connected to that terrorist guy, what’s-his-name? Ayers? Bill Ayers? That might have legs, right? Let’s look into that.” After agreeing that the situations should be investigated, Romney and his aides then reportedly sat in silence for 10 whole minutes.

And somewhere out there, some second-guessing Republicans are thinking, “The Donald is tanned, rested and ready…”

Meanwhile, over in a quarter where none of this is funny, one WSJ columnist is lecturing the nominee that his loyalty should be to the country, not his hapless campaign staff, and Karl Rove is saying yes, the situation is bad, but it’s not over — after all, Jimmy Carter was leading Ronald Reagan at this point in 1980.

Speaking of Reagan, Peggy Noonan is writing that it’s “Time for an Intervention:”

What should Mitt Romney do now? He should peer deep into the abyss. He should look straight into the heart of darkness where lies a Republican defeat in a year the Republican presidential candidate almost couldn’t lose. He should imagine what it will mean for the country, for a great political philosophy, conservatism, for his party and, last, for himself. He must look down unblinkingly.

And then he needs to snap out of it, and move…

The central problem revealed by the tape is Romney’s theory of the 2012 election. It is that a high percentage of the electorate receives government checks and therefore won’t vote for him, another high percentage is supplying the tax revenues and will vote for him, and almost half the people don’t pay taxes and presumably won’t vote for him.

My goodness, that’s a lot of people who won’t vote for you. You wonder how he gets up in the morning.

This is not how big leaders talk, it’s how shallow campaign operatives talk: They slice and dice the electorate like that, they see everything as determined by this interest or that. They’re usually young enough and dumb enough that nobody holds it against them, but they don’t know anything. They don’t know much about America.

We are a big, complicated nation. And we are human beings. We are people. We have souls. We are complex. We are not data points. Many things go into our decisions and our political affiliations.

You have to be sophisticated to know that. And if you’re operating at the top of national politics, you’re supposed to be sophisticated…

And this is what Mitt Romney is hearing from what should be his cheering section.

Randy Newman swings, misses with latest song

When I saw that Randy Newman had written a song titled “I’m Dreaming (of a White President),” I thought, this is going to be good.

When I read on Twitter that it was “Not a radio hit,” I expected the kind of dead-on, slashing, too-sharp-for-prime-time brilliance that he displayed in “Rednecks,” which we’ll never hear on the radio if we live a thousand years (OK, it’s theoretically possible that we’d hear it — after an hour’s worth of explanation, apology and disclaimer). Oh, and a warning, in case you don’t know that song and innocently follow the link — it uses “N” word eight times. Among other things.

But no. This effort also tries to mine America’s race complexes for profundity, but fails utterly. The lyrics are entirely predictable and trite, the music utterly unappealing.

Either Randy Newman’s lost it — which would mean the loss of a national treasure — or he was just trying too hard on this one.

But since I spent the time listening to it, I pass it on.

Is Mitt Romney a bad CEO? No, says this writer

Over at Bloomberg Businessweek, Joshua Green insists that the chaos in Mitt Romney’s campaign does NOT mean that he’s a bad CEO:

Romney’s problem is not that he’s brought too little executive rigor to the job of running for president. It’s that he’s brought too much. He’s behaved too much like a businessman (or a consultant) and not enough like a politician. His campaign has all the hallmarks of being run by someone looking only at the numbers, someone who lacks a true politician’s appreciation for the other dimensions of a race—a feel for the electorate, a convincing long-term plan for the country. Were he forced to defend himself before a board of directors, Romney would actually have a pretty solid case for doing what he has done….

… Romney has scrupulously avoided committing to anything that is remotely unpopular, such as naming which tax loopholes he’d close to pay for his agenda. That is to say, he is doing just about everything a close reading of the polls says you should do, and he’s trying hard not to do anything the polls say you shouldn’t do. If a team of Bain consultants were hustled in to pore over the data and devise a strategy, I doubt they would have devised a meaningfully different campaign.

The problem is that politics is about much more than a tactical, short-term reading of the numbers. Candidate skills matter, and the audience in a presidential election is much more variegated than a board of directors. There isn’t much, frankly, that a stiff guy can do to make himself warm and approachable. (Earth tones, anyone?) The glaring weaknesses in Romney’s campaign—the fuzzy details, the inability to convincingly articulate plan for growth, and above all the weird tics and gaffes—are not ones that a businessman’s skills can rectify.

In other words, he’s more a bad politician than a bad CEO. We are left to conclude what we like about what sort of president he would be.

Something to consider, for all those who still think the silly phrase “run government like a business” makes sense.

What Mitt Romney thinks of Obama supporters

The WashPost brings my attention to the above video, which was put out by Mother Jones (and of course, if it were just Mother Jones, I wouldn’t be paying as much attention — but the Post seems to regard it as legit, so…) From the Post report:

Bits and pieces of a private fundraiser held by Mitt Romney have been leaked to Mother Jones magazine, exposing some blunt talk from the Republican candidate on voters, his campaign and American society.

In one video, Romney argues that it’s not “my job” to win over the 47 percent of voters committed to President Obama, because they are “dependent on government” and he will “never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

What Romney says in the video will perhaps endear him to some of the base that have thus far been cold to him, because that’s exactly what they think of Obama voters.

But personally, I would have thought Mr. Romney had a somewhat more respectful, and open-minded, attitude toward this nearly half of the American electorate. It’s a bit disturbing to think that, if elected, he’d come into office holding 47 percent of Americans in contempt to this degree.

Chicago teacher union seems to be doing all that it can to undermine Obama’s re-election effort

As we were discussing yesterday, the advantage in this election belongs to the president. But things can happen to change that. The teacher’s union in Chicago, his old stomping grounds, is doing what it can in that regard.

Not that I think it will hurt him that much, but they’re doing their best.

Why would the rest of us care about a labor dispute in Chicago, of course, except for its potential impact on a national conversation.

This is one of those moments in which Democrats and their constituencies do their best to live down to the very worst portraits that Republicans paint of them.

The Republican (or Viable Libertarian) Party dislikes public education, because it costs money, for which taxes must be paid. So it paints public education as a vast patronage machine, run by people who care little about actually educating our society, but only about their own prerogatives and self-interest. The legitimate interest of the public in an educated populace, this argument goes, is held hostage to public employee unions.

This, of course, is a grossly unfair characterization (and grossly inaccurate in SC, where we do not have collective bargaining for public employees, and therefore have no teachers’ union), except for when it is dead on.

Argue all you like about any supposedly legitimate grievances these union members have. It really doesn’t matter. When I Google “chica” — that’s all I have to type — I get a Chicago Tribune story that is encapsulated on the search page with these words: “More than 350,000 children will be locked out of Chicago public schools for a second day as striking teachers and the school board remain at…”

News stories out of Chicago are replete with the disruption to the lives of children who ought to be in school learning something. Here’s how it plays, from the Tribune story. This is in reference to the city’s effort to provide the parks as safe places for working parents to drop off their kids during the strike:

But Rachelle Cirrintano, who works at the University of Illinois at Chicago, still worried about her 8-year-old son Rocco. The boy has a hard time adjusting to change, she explained. When she dropped him off this morning, he sat on a bench alone because he didn’t know anyone.

She focused her frustration at the teachers.

“There was no reason to do this when they just got situated,” Cirrintano said. “All the teachers should be let go for their irresponsibility to the children and their families.”

And who is the wicked boss the union is striking against, as far as the world can see? Why, Rahm Emanuel, the president’s former chief of staff. The mayor’s sin was to try to implement some basic education reforms. The union claims the mayor “disrespected” it.

Republican critics of public education couldn’t have written a better script for illustrating their argument that the greatest barrier to education reform is the very people who work in public education.

Looks like Nikki will stay away from SC even more

This is bound to create mixed feelings in people who care about South Carolina:

Gov. Nikki Haley will balance her time between governing South Carolina and stumping for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney over the next two months.

Haley’s target audience? Women voters, a critical voting bloc for Romney because of polls that show women favor incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama by a double-digit margin.

“Governor Haley has a very full schedule of job creation and economic development meetings and events in the next two months,” said Rob Godfrey, Haley’s spokesman. “But as much as her schedule permits, she does plan on helping the Romney-Ryan ticket. …

“Mixed feelings” in that our state could use some leadership in trying to pull out of, not only a recession, but our historic near-last ranking in by so many measures. On the other hand, if the only governor we’ve got is Nikki Haley, well… maybe she might as well run off and have her picture made some more, and leave us alone.

I find myself torn between the two ways of looking at it.

‘Sugar high?’ Sounds like someone’s a bit envious of someone else’s post-convention bounce

It appears that the Democrats got a modest bounce from last week’s convention, but the opposition refuses to be impressed, according to the WashPost:

BOSTON — Acknowledging Monday that President Obama has seen a surge in voter support since last week’s Democratic National Convention, the Romney campaign’s pollster likened the bounce to a “sugar high” and argued that the Republican challenger has a long-term advantage over the president.

Neil Newhouse, Mitt Romney’s pollster and senior strategist, wrote a memorandum released to reporters to rebut the conventional wisdom that Romney has fallen behind in the presidential race and to calm any panic among supporters. In the memo, Newhouse wrote that Obama “has seen a bounce from his convention” but contended that the president’s approval ratings are likely to recede in the weeks ahead.

“Don’t get too worked up about the latest polling,” Newhouse wrote. “While some voters will feel a bit of a sugar-high from the conventions, the basic structure of the race has not changed significantly. The reality of the Obama economy will reassert itself as the ultimate downfall of the Obama Presidency, and Mitt Romney will win this race.”

According to several new national polls, after months of deadlock, Obama opened a lead over Romney after last week’s Democratic convention in Charlotte. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Sunday, 47 percent of likely voters supported Obama and 43 percent Romney. In a Gallup tracking poll, Obama leads Romney 49 percent to 44 percent, while an automated Rasmussen poll released Monday put Obama at 50 percent and Romney at 45 percent….

“Ultimate downfall?” Really. It looks like maybe Jim DeMint is acting as scriptwriter for Mr. Newhouse. Here I thought we were just facing an election. The Romney team seems to be planning something more on the order of Götterdämmerung. I can see Mitt in his helicopter now, cranking up the Wagner and explaining, “It scares the hell out of the libs… but our boys love it!

‘She’s a drag, a well-known drag…’

GEORGE: Oh! You mean that posh bird who gets everything wrong?
SIMON: Excuse me?
GEORGE: Oh, yeah. The lads frequently sit around the telly and watch her for a giggle. One time, we actually sat down and wrote these letters saying how gear she was and all that rubbish.
SIMON: She’s a trendsetter. It’s her profession.
GEORGE: She’s a drag. A well known drag. We turn the sound down on her and say rude things.

Many of the speakers at the two political conventions brought out the George Harrison in me. When they came on, I’d only be able to listen for a moment. Then I’d turn the sound down on them and say rude things.

Peggy Noonan apparently kept listening, and then when it was done, wrote down the rude things she was thinking. For my part, sometimes I only went so far as to turn the sound down. That was the case, near as I can recall, with Sandra Fluke. She came on, I listened a bit, then turned the sound down and went back to reading Wolf Hall. So next time I see her, I might confuse her with Anne or Mary Boleyn.

I learned later about what she had to say from reading Ms. Noonan, who characterized it thusly in her column this weekend:

The sheer strangeness of all the talk about abortion, abortion, contraception, contraception. I am old enough to know a wedge issue when I see one, but I’ve never seen a great party build its entire public persona around one. Big speeches from the heads of Planned Parenthood and NARAL, HHS Secretary and abortion enthusiast Kathleen Sebelius and, of course, Sandra Fluke.

“Republicans shut me out of a hearing on contraception,” Ms. Fluke said. But why would anyone have included a Georgetown law student who never worked her way onto the national stage until she was plucked, by the left, as a personable victim?

What a fabulously confident and ingenuous-seeming political narcissist Ms. Fluke is. She really does think—and her party apparently thinks—that in a spending crisis with trillions in debt and many in need, in a nation in existential doubt as to its standing and purpose, in a time when parents struggle to buy the good sneakers for the kids so they’re not embarrassed at school . . . that in that nation the great issue of the day, and the appropriate focus of our concern, is making other people pay for her birth-control pills. That’s not a stand, it’s a non sequitur. She is not, as Rush Limbaugh oafishly, bullyingly said, a slut. She is a ninny, a narcissist and a fool.

And she was one of the great faces of the party in Charlotte. That is extreme. Childish, too.

Unusually harsh language, coming from Peggy “Thousand Points of Light” Noonan.

I didn’t watch Ms. Fluke long enough to form the same impression Ms. Noonan did. But her description of why she found the young woman so off-putting is very familiar to me — it’s very like what I thought listening to non-headliner speakers at both conventions (sorry I’m not remembering any names; I wouldn’t have remembered this one had Ms. Noonan not made such a thing of her). So much of what they talked about just seemed… off-topic. Something they were going on about just to divide their partisans from the other partisans.

What’s interesting about this is that the parties apparently know this. They know the difference between these wedge issues and the central ones that should decide elections. The central issues, the ones that are not non sequiturs, are the ones the nominees themselves, and to some extent their running mates and other top surrogates talk about. There seemed to be a fairly strict line between the pre-10 p.m. speakers and topics, and the ones we heard from and about post-10 — the hour at which the parties got serious about trying to reach beyond their bases to try to win an election.

Are we actually being offered a clear choice between libertarianism and communitarianism?

Back when he was elected governor in 2002, Mark Sanford was an outlier in the Republican Party. He called himself a “conservative,” but his words and actions in his first months in office made it increasingly clear that he was not that at all, but was a rather extreme libertarian — which is to say, a classical liberal.

For years, this put him at odds with most elected Republicans, who were more conventionally conservative. Among people who knew and understood him, his fan base was generally limited to the Club for Growth, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, and such anti-public education activists as Howard Rich.

Then came the Republican defeats of 2008. After that, the party went through paroxysms of self-accusation, and the loudest voices were those that said the party’s problem was that it was not extreme enough (especially in nominating iconoclast John McCain), in particular that didn’t hate government enough. And those voices, belonging to Jim DeMint and others, started to gain traction quite rapidly. While they were still calling themselves “conservative” and still do, they were defining the term away from the more traditional meaning that I have long embraced.

Then came the election of 2010, which brought together the elite theorists of the Club for Growth and the lowest-common-denominator populists of the Tea Party, united only by the fact that they deeply despised the idea that citizens can ban together to address their common challenges as a community — that is to say, despised the very idea of government in a free society.

In spite of all that, the Republicans in 2012 chose as their standard-bearer a relative nonideologue. But he only got the nod by the skin of his teeth, after the extremists failed to unite, for more than a few days or weeks at a time, behind a candidate they liked better. And in order to make sure the muscular, energized libertarian elements of the party turn out in November, he chose the most vocal and articulate exponent of their worldview as his running mate.

And so the picture was complete: The GOP ticket was fully onboard with the libertarian agenda. (Economic libertarianism, anyway. Cultural libertarianism has generally been left to the Democrats.)

But who, if anyone, was out there to champion what I see as the viable alternative to that view — communitarianism?

Well, to my great interest, key Democrats started saying some very communitarian things this week. Bill Clinton put it as strongly as anyone:

We Democrats think the country works better with a strong middle class, real opportunities for poor people to work their way into it and a relentless focus on the future, with business and government working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity.  We think “we’re all in this together” is a better philosophy than “you’re on your own.”

The former president accomplished two things there: He shoved aside so much of the divisive class-warfare rhetoric we had heard from other DNC speakers (such as the one just before him), and said the one thing that is the simplest possible assertion of the communitarian worldview — that “we’re all in this together.”

At  least — and here’s a huge disclaimer — I think of that as being a purely communitarian statement. Truth be told, there is so little discussion of communitarianism out there that I’m not always entirely sure I understand it, which is why I say I think I have communitarian tendencies, rather than “I am a communitarian.”

But to me at least, “we’re all in this together” isn’t just a description of how the world should be. It is a simple description of the way the world is, and you can’t engage the world realistically and effectively if you don’t recognize it.

But if I liked that, I really liked the things the president had to say the next night. First, there was his use of the word “citizenship.” That probably doesn’t sound like much to you, just another Civics 101 kind of term that you would expect to hear in a political speech. But actually, we haven’t heard it all that much since JFK’s “ask what you can do for your country” speech. You won’t find it, for instance, in the speeches of Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney at the RNC the week before.

“Citizenship” jumps out at me because of something I noticed several years ago — that the radical libertarian wing of the GOP, which now so dominates the party, doesn’t really believe in it. Or at least, doesn’t believe in it in any way I would recognize it.

I wrote about this several years back, in the context of the “school choice” debate. I had noticed something fundamental about the thinking of the people who advocated for tax credits and vouchers: They saw themselves as consumers, rather than as citizens. A citizen understands that he pays taxes to support public schools because they are a public good that benefits the whole society, not just the children who attend the schools or their families. Because he wants to live in a society in which everyone has some education and some ability to support themselves and contribute to the community, rather than having vast swaths of the society being incapable of constructive engagement. By contrast, the “school choice” advocates saw themselves as consumers. They saw themselves as paying for a service with those taxes — and if they, personally, had no one in their families attending those schools (ifthey were childless, or if their children attended private school or were homeschooled), then they shouldn’t be paying for the service. To them, this was irresistible logic — because they related to the world as consumers rather than as citizens.

So the word got my attention. Here’s how the president used it:

But we also believe in something called citizenship — citizenship, a word at the very heart of our founding, a word at the very essence of our democracy, the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations.

Exactly. But Mr. Obama went beyond that. He went on to use language that seemed directly lifted from a communitarian website or something:

We don’t think the government can solve all of our problems, but we don’t think the government is the source of all of our problems — any more than our welfare recipients or corporations or unions or immigrants or gays or any other group we’re told to blame for our troubles — because — because America, we understand that this democracy is ours.
We, the people — recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only, what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.
As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together — through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That’s what we believe.

“Rights and Responsibilities” is essentially the tagline of The Communitarian Network.

But use whatever words you want to describe it — communitarianism, citizenship, civic-mindedness, or Donne’s “no man is an island” — the fact is that the president, and Bill Clinton before him, were offering a powerful alternative to the radical individualism that the GOP ticket is offering.

There is still much I find terribly off-putting about the Democrats, all of which was on display this week — the Identity Politics, the unquestioning embrace of abortion on demand, the unrealistic way so many of them still speak of national security (for that matter, their general lack of concern about it, as so many of them prefer to dwell on domestic issues).

But this notion of citizenship, set against a very different view of reality being set forth by the GOP ticket, to me rather powerfully recommends President Obama going forward. Now that he has framed the choice in this manner, I will listen with great interest for the GOP response. At this point, I fear that it is sadly predictable.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Dolan spanked the Democrats on their home field

My favorite moment in either convention came late last night, when one of the commentators on PBS used the word “exegesis” in describing what he’d just heard.

He was referring to Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s benediction right after President Obama’s speech. I had not heard it, whether because PBS didn’t show it or I was out of the room, I can’t recall. But C-SPAN had it, as you see above.

The commenter — I think it was Ray Suarez — was saying that the Cardinal had delivered “a riff” on something. Then he corrected himself, saying perhaps the word “exegesis” was more appropriate. His colleagues were impressed.

I very much appreciate that the Democrats gave the cardinal this forum, only about an hour after ostensible Catholic Joe Biden had roared out his approval of the party’s embrace of abortion. The cardinal said, among other things:

Thus do we praise you for the gift of life. Grant us to defend it. Life, without which no other rights are secure. We ask your benediction on those waiting to be born, that they may be welcomed and protected…

At the end of his prayer, the assembled Democrats responded with a strong “amen,” which was a settler for all those Republicans who think they’re just a bunch of heathens. To what extent all had been listening carefully, I don’t know. But the fact is that as with most public prayers, most of the words were ones they would most likely have agreed with.

The coverage came later, after the assembled media caught their breath.

The cardinal was the one person who spoke at both conventions, by the way.

Oh, what did I mean by my headline above? Well, this morning I saw a Tweet from the Charleston paper that said, “Bishop England beats Porter-Gaud. Story: .” So I couldn’t resist responding, “… And Cardinal Dolan thrashes the Democrats. Big night for the Catholics…”

Mackerel-snappers had a big one the night before, too. Among the non-headliners, I thought the speech by Sister Simone of “Nuns on the Bus” probably the most uplifting, least off-putting of the two weeks. Her delivery was beatific, but pulled no punches: After taking apart the budget of another dubious Catholic, Paul Ryan, she said to fervent cheers, “This is part of my pro-life stance, and the right thing to do.”

Both of them expressed what I believe. Which is a big reason why I’m so uncomfortable with both parties.

Obama provides strong finish to successful convention

OK, the quick, overall assessment: However this election turns out, in the short term the Democrats will likely get the bigger convention bounce. They earned it these last two nights.

Yes, there was just as much irritating nonsense at this convention as at the one last week — I turned down the sound and picked up a book to spare myself the aggravation just as many times. But the headliners were stronger. They showed greater conviction, presented more compelling ideas (and, alas, emotions), and I believe did a better job of engaging not only the true believers in the room, but the more important audience at home.

Doubt me? Honestly, now, whatever your political persuasion — do you really think Mitt Romney truly believes all the things he said as much as Barack Obama does, whether you agree with the president or not? And sincerity sells; it connects.

Of course, it didn’t hurt the president a bit that veteran Bill Clinton left him a five-run lead going into the last inning. He just had to hold on to it, and he actually did better than that.

But I’m just repeating what I already said on Twitter. So here are my Tweets as they came to me, starting at 9:02 p.m.:

  • David Brooks just made the good point that if you talk to both sides’ advisors, there’s not that much polarization over national security…
  • Biden says Romney & Obama bring vastly different values to the contest. I wish they didn’t. This nation so badly needs sensible consensus.
  • Tim Kelly ‏@tdkelly Drinking a Red Hoptober by @newbelgium —
  • One ping. One ping only, Vasily…
  • The Daily Beast ‏@thedailybeast Biden: Conviction, Resolve, Barack Obama. That’s what saved the automobile industry.
  • “The finest soldiers in the history of the world.” Hooah, Joe, Hooah.
  • This may be the first time in my life that talk of whacking a guy was applause line at a national convention. Not criticizing, just noting.
  • Benjy Sarlin ‏@BenjySarlin Clinton was about policy. Biden speech entirely about character, through policy lens. Different but very effective approaches.
  • Yeah, but only under a yellow sun… “@scott_english: Biden on Obama: “A spine of steel.” And adamantium claws? #wolverine
  • Coo-coo-ca-choo… “@TheFix: Biden’s call outs of people in the audience — “Mrs. Robinson” — is hilarious. #dnc2012
  • Even tho admiral advised against. “@alexcast: Per joe biden, Barack Obama is a man of courage. must be. He gave Biden a live mic.#cnn2012
  • God love him… “@JKuenzie: Biden says “look” at least as often as “literally.” #DNC2012
  • Sometimes I get tired of hearing about all the people who lost their jobs in the Great Recession. And I’m one of them…
  • I was gonna say “what are VMAs?” but I looked it up. Oh. “@BlondeScientist: Why in the hell are the VMAs on tonight?!?!”
  • Forrest L. Alton ‏@YoungGunCEO come on Brad, you know you’re a VMA kinda’ guy.
  • I’m not an ANY kind of pop culture awards guy. And I quit watching MTV when they quit showing videos 24/7.
  • I love movies, but hate the Oscars…
  • Commenter on PBS said it looks like Biden WILL stay on the ticket now. Funny thing was, she didn’t sound entirely, 100% certain…
  • I kid about Joe Biden, but I’ve always really liked the guy. And tonight, his performance was full of Joeness…
  • Was that George Clooney just then? The voice?
  • Dan Cook ‏@DanCookSC yes
  • So was that what we got tonight instead of Eastwood?
  • Let the man talk! [during prolonged applause when Obama came out]
  • That critique was dead-on. A philosophy that responds to every situation with a tax cut is surreal, and moronic.. .
  • “Our problems can be solved.” The candidate who more confidently asserts that is the one who wins. Or should win, anyway…
  • Cars going twice as far on a gallon of gas is at least less grandiose than lowering the oceans. Magical, but more achievable-sounding.
  • This is not, and probably won’t be, as exciting as Clinton’s speech. But then, I don’t think it really has to be. POTUS should be cooler…
  • “… and Osama bin Laden is dead.” Matter-of-fact, not cheerleading. As befits the office. More Michael than Santino
  • “My opponent and his running mate are.. . new… to foreign policy.” Excellent timing.
  • As one who sees POTUS in terms of international relations, I didn’t like that “nation-building at home” bit of pandering.
  • Nothing against nation-building at home, but don’t suggest we’ll do it by turning our backs on the world…
  • “This is what this election comes down to”… Have a feeling we’ll hear that as voiceover on an ad…
  • “Citizenship.” That’s the most welcome word I’ve heard these two weeks.
  • Roll Call ‏@rollcall Obama: We don’t think government can solve all our problems. But we don’t think that government is the source of all our problems.
  • “Responsibilities as well as rights.” Wow. Pure communitarianism in a presidential acceptance speech! Who wrote this, Amitai Etzioni?
  • This isn’t Bill Clinton, but it’s solid, even masterful. More to the point, it’s more powerful, easily, than Romney’s speech.
  • There was much irritating nonsense in this convention, just as in GOP’s. But the Democrats’ headliners have been stronger, more engaging…
  • I don’t know how this ends up, but the Democrats seem sure to get the bigger convention bounce. The headliners were more inspiring, engaging
  • … of course, it helped that Bill Clinton left the closer a five-run lead going into the last inning…
  • One big difference between Obama and Romney, for good or ill, is that you know Obama really believes the things he’s telling us…
  • Yeah. Sorta glad I didn’t end up going up there tonight… “@JKuenzie: And now, the traffic. #DNC2012