The same old Democrat Party on display
For weeks, John McCain has been pounding Barack Obama in TV ads that depict him as an inexperienced, in-over-his-head celebrity candidate who is not up to the job of commander in chief.
And for most of that time, the freshman Democratic senator, who said he offered the voters “a new kind of politics,” has not responded with an effective counteroffensive of his own.
It reminded frustrated Democrats of John Kerry’s failure to answer the Swift Boat attacks on his exaggerated service in Vietnam. The result has been a rapid erosion of Mr. Obama’s support among Democrats, women, Catholics and even younger voters, according to John Zogby’s latest poll, showing Mr. McCain edging ahead by a 46 percent to 41 percent margin. A slew of other polls, including the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, came out two weeks ago that reinforced Mr. Zogby’s findings and stunned Mr. Obama’s high command.
“The survey highlights Obama’s vulnerability on the question of his readiness to lead the nation. Less than half of the registered voters polled think the first-term Illinois senator has the ‘right’ experience to be president, while 80 percent believe McCain, a four-term senator, does,” the Times reported last Wednesday.
Mr. Obama has been getting pounded on two additional issues during this time: his opposition to drilling for more oil in the face of high gas prices on one hand, and his meek, Jimmy Carter-like response to Russia’s Soviet-style invasion and subsequent occupation of neighboring Georgia on the other.
Both were major factors in Mr. Obama’s shrinking support, but the foreign-policy crisis in Georgia has hurt him more because it plays into the notready-to-lead charge that Mr. McCain has made a paramount issue of his campaign.
Thus, there was much riding on last week’s convention and the political image Barack Obama and the Democrats presented to the nation over four successive nights, culminating with his mega-rally extravaganza Aug. 28 in Denver.
One potential trouble spot: Bill and Hillary Clinton are dominating much of the convention. Mr. Obama bent over backward to kowtow to their look-atme demands for more prominent consecutive nights prime-time speaking roles.
Then there will be a nominating roll-call vote that Hillary also demanded to give her still-angry supporters a cathartic experience to vent and show her proper respect. Presumably, this will require Mrs. Clinton to make another trip to the podium to release her delegates to vote for Mr. Obama and move to declare him the nominee by acclamation.
But will Mrs. Clinton’s speech be all about her and her campaign and the 18 million votes she received in the primaries? Hordes of her supporters will fill the convention hall, lustily cheering every utterance about her historic bid for the presidency. And many are unwilling to bury the hatchet and let bygones by bygones.
The name of one of the three major groups working on her behalf in Denver is PUMA, which stands for “Party Unity My. . . .” They insist Mrs. Clinton was robbed of the nomination and are in no mood to embrace Mr. Obama’s candidacy, at least not yet. Former Democratic National Committee chairman Steve Grossman, who backed Mrs. Clinton, told me any possibility of party unity right now remains “a work in progress.”
But the larger subtext of the Democratic Convention is shaping up to be far more problematic for Democrats in the fall election.
While Mr. Obama has been preaching change, a new kind of politics and a new chapter in Democratic policies, the same old liberal, nanny state, anti-trade, anti-tax cuts, anti-drilling, antibusiness politics was on full display in Denver — reminding voters that nothing has changed in the party of George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry.
There were be the Clintons, hogging the limelight and wishing for a return to the old days when they were at the center of power. Then in rapid succession, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and a conga line of other Democratic leaders, reminding the country why Congress’ public-approval rating has sunk to 14 percent.
The keynote speech was delivered by former Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia — hardly a household name — whose dull, technocratic speaking style was one reason why his own presidential bid fell with a thud.
Other speeches were designed to appeal to a raft of Democratic special pleaders and blameAmerica-first complainers calling for a laundry list of new government programs to solve every problem under the sun. Haven’t we heard this stuff before?
The closing act on Aug. 28 was Barack Obama delivering his acceptance speech before a monster, outdoor rock-concert-style rally that favors his kind of promisethem-anything oratory. It was like that gigantic outdoor rally in Berlin, where hundreds of thousands of frenzied Germans turned him into a global celebrity that has backfired on his candidacy.
Mr. Obama returned home to discover the voters were looking for an experienced leader, not an international political rock star.
Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.