‘A rhino’s eyesight is not particularly acute, and if it wants to get a good look at something it will tend to look at it first with one eye and then with the other — its eyes are on either side of its skull and it can’t see straight ahead.’ That’s from Last Chance To See, by the late British author Douglas Adams.
That pretty much describes a divided American electorate two months before the Presidential election: There’s one vision on the right, another on the left, and those in the middle looking for a balanced perspective are on the horns of a dilemma.
The Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, did little for the Mitt Romney campaign, despite its choreographed attempt to make voters believe the pretender to the presidency isn’t an android. Worse, as his running mate Paul Ryan pointed out, an android that listens to elevator muzak.
Romney, though, underwhelmed without overpromising. But as incumbent President Barack Obama’s renomination show chugged into Charlotte, it looked as though it might actually provide Romney the bounce he didn’t get from his own event.
Obama was quick to criticise the Tampa tamasha, describing the Romney manifesto as an agenda that was better suited for black and white televisions and the last century. He probably missed the memo that the 20th century was called the American century, and it closed with high employment and prosperity. Or forgot about Bill Clinton, a 20th century President and a convention colossus, who could handily best either of 2012’s Presidential candidates, if he were allowed a third term.
As for televisions, some Democrats are certainly hoping undecided voters had theirs turned off, or tuned to, say, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, a reality show about a six-year-old beauty pageant contestant that tied Clinton’s speech for ratings.
Even before the Democratic convention started, rain damaged a sand sculpture of the President. That, though, wasn’t the only washout. Obama, who could fill a stadium in 2008 with the prospect of delivering a single sneeze, had to move his speech from one to the venue of the convention itself, which meant 50,000 fewer spectators. Obama’s speech was downgraded. Like America’s credit rating.
Conservative writer Jim Geraghty tweeted: “Just to clarify, Obama’s speech venue changed because of fears of…empty chairs.” That riffed on Clint Eastwood’s RNC shtick.
But the venue wasn’t the only platform the Democrats had to change. Amid boos from delegates, the party manifesto was clumsily changed to include God
and Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, pointedly omitted from the original adopted just the previous night.
Four years can make a difference. The Republican convention was a prolonged sermon on the blessings of pro-business policies, then the focus shifted from preachiness at the RNC to screechiness at the DNC, where the war cry sounded like “Four More Jeers”.
There were exceptions, like the elegant First Lady Michelle Obama, who received rave reviews while viewers witnessed the ravings of the rest. Vice-President Joe Biden shored up his gaffe average even while reading a prepared speech, getting the day of the First Lady’s speech wrong despite two tries.
For a campaign that goes by the motto Forward, President Obama’s oration accepting his nomination once again time-travelled back to the twin themes of hope and change. He said, “If you turn away now, if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn’t possible... well, change will not happen.”
Or, just maybe, the Obama campaign was in such a better place in 2008 rather than occupying this bitter space now, that Democrats preferred a call to nostalgia, not a refresh button. Making that even more biting was the news that Shepard Fairey, creator of that iconic Hope poster from 2008, may face prison time over charges of copyright violation related to that image.
Perhaps it’s time for camp Obama to refer to Douglas Adams’ splendid Hitchhiker’s Guide, grab a towel and press the Don’t Panic button.
Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years
(The views expressed by the author are personal)