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Nagging Questions After The Conventions — Are We Better Off Than Four Weeks Ago?

Vice President Joe Biden addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 6. (AP)

Vice President Joe Biden addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 6. (AP)

If you Google “the greatest show on Earth” you will not find articles about the two party conventions. But both conventions had an impact on the presidential race.

Both parties did the usual pandering. If you’re a diehard partisan you likely only noticed pandering and posturing by the opposition party; your party was just being inspirational.

But here are some nagging questions about how the conventions affected our politics:

Who was better — Clint Eastwood or the empty chair? The fact that the Eastwood performance was the most memorable, and probably the most enduring, moment of either convention tells us something. I’m just not sure what, exactly. As a practical matter, will his controversial improvisation mean that celebrity speakers at future conventions will have to stick to a script? Was it the last nail in the coffin of convention ad-libbing?

Joe Biden — old warhorse or old nag? Even some Democrats privately complained about Biden’s windbaggery. With his adding verbiage, repeating lines, and waiting nine seconds for pregnant pauses to give birth, it seemed like he was intentionally trying to go beyond his allotted time so the end of his speech would be in prime-time — and it worked. Some Democratic pundits appreciated the old oratorical style, but I couldn’t tell if they were just bemused or actually inspired by it. Anyway, it’s hard to imagine four years from now that we’ll see one of the four national candidates sounding so Old Politics.

Sensational spouses — vouching for the lesser half. As I noted last week in “Poignant Stories Of Wealthy Politicians,” Ann Romney and Michelle Obama set an intimidating example for future spouses of candidates. It’s no longer enough to have a beatific smile while listening to one’s beloved give the same speech dozens of times. No, now we expect moving testimony about how the candidate who has been away from home far more than any traveling salesman was “always there” for the family. And if there’s no anecdote about suffering how can we be expected to suffer through the speech?

Hillary Clinton — wasn’t she great, not being at the convention? Former President Bill Clinton gave the most persuasive speech of either convention. I’ll resist the temptation of pointing out where he treated facts like Silly Putty, according to fact-checkers. He was so effective that some Democrats are already wondering when Hillary will announce her run for president. Will it be the day after the election, or right after Inauguration Day? For a double-dose of nostalgia, consider this: N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also thinking about running for president. Remember when his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, almost ran for president in 1992… but instead the Democrats nominated William Jefferson Clinton?

Deval Patrick — when is an insult inspiring? Sometimes it’s the passion in delivery that rouses an audience, even when the rhetoric sounds like a roasting. Our governor ad-libbed a change in his prepared text. Instead of saying “it’s time for Democrats to stiffen our backbone,” he said “it’s time for Democrats to grow a backbone.” That’s more insulting, of course. Cheering members of the audience must have thought, “He’s talking about these other dweebs, not me.”

Elizabeth Warren — blowing an opportunity. What was so interesting about Warren’s prime-time speech at the Democratic convention was that it was so uninteresting. There was nothing new, just recycled rhetoric from her speeches as a Senate candidate. She had an opportunity, which her campaign knew about for weeks, to give a speech that wowed undecided voters and prospective donors around the country. Instead we heard the same old story about how she “grew up on the ragged edge of the middle class.” What does that even mean? Is it the ragged edge between middle class and wealthy? Does she appeal for the sympathy vote — apparently a huge bloc this time — by saying “ragged”?

Chris Christie — also blowing an opportunity. The New Jersey governor gave a speech he must have thought was inspirational because it was mostly about him — his struggle on the ragged edge of Republicanism in a Democratic state. By failing to adequately make the case for Romney, or against Obama, he seemed to corroborate a New York Post article reporting that he turned down the opportunity of being Romney’s running mate because he thought Romney was going to lose — which he denied. Regardless, Christie’s speech was widely panned as a dud, but it wasn’t a big enough dud (or small enough?) to give him the chance to do what Bill Clinton did after his fiasco of a speech at the 1988 Democratic convention. His was so bad that he went on “The Tonight Show” and joked about it — which was the beginning of a comeback for the “Comeback Kid.”

Romney and Obama — there is no substitute for vagueness. Both presidential candidates decided not to try to do what Bill Clinton did in his speech: get into details and substance. Neither laid out a strategy — although they both claim to have a plan — to reinvigorate the economy. Instead, both candidates delivered speeches that, as Stephen Colbert said about Romney, seemed like they were reading from Hallmark cue cards. The question that nags: Will they speak in generalities like this at the upcoming debates? Or will they be unconventional?

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