opinion by Scott Shackelford
Shackelford is a former editorial page editor for a Northwest Arkansas newspaper. He lives in Fayetteville.
Editor's note: Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.
On a recent Thursday night in Charlotte, N.C., President Barack Obama told an adoring Democratic National Convention that the nation’s problems can be solved with “common effort, shared responsibility,” and “bold, persistent experimentation.”
The 44th president is one of the great communicators in recent memory, and compared to the dull affair in Tampa – which seemed to be mostly about Republicans trying to convince themselves, as much as anyone else, why Mitt Romney deserves the country’s confidence – it has become clear that the Democratic Party has totally surpassed their rivals in terms of stagecraft and presentation.
From Bill Clinton and Michele Obama’s knockout speeches to the late Ted Kennedy’s from-the-grave needling of a previous Romney incarnation, it is difficult to imagine a national nominating convention with better production values.
Viewers were treated to a hopeful future portrayed as being much more promising with Obama at the helm than the current alternative. And the implicit promise that such a tomorrow will lead to more jobs, less debt, a growth in funding for education, the creation of more renewable energies, an expansion of civil liberties for a variety of American citizens, and the protection of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as we still recognize those much-loved social programs.
The common sense at the heart of Obama’s well-crafted address, and the passion flowing forth from so many of speakers at the DNC, are wonderful things that could make an ordinary Joe want to become involved in the political process, or at least stick a campaign sign in their front yard. But you have to wonder: For all the words, all the ads, all the hundreds of millions being spent by both campaigns, and the millions of votes to be tallied in two months – what will it really achieve?
Republicans will most likely retain control of the U.S. House, and retain enough votes in the U.S. Senate to make progress there the usual difficult feat. Assuming President Obama is reelected, this scenario suggests at least two more years identical to the previous set: where bitterness and intransigence between parties ruled.
When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in Oct 2010 that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” he wasn’t joking. Ultra-conservative Republican members of Congress have bent over backwards to thwart the president’s agenda at every turn, regardless of the sensibilities many of his proposals seem to inhibit. And there is no reason to expect Republicans to change course – even if former Gov. Romney is handed a decisive defeat.
A second Obama term would be well served by focusing on four basic goals: bringing an end to the war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, if not sooner; injecting new life into the U.S. economy to whatever extent possible; securing real and lasting immigration reform that has been overdue for at least a generation; and dealing with the nation’s sprawling debt/deficit conundrum.
Big-picture thinkers like economist Paul Krugman insist the nation’s debt, as a percentage of GDP, isn’t nearly the headache the GOP makes it out to be, and he may be right. But I miss the days of balanced budgets that President Clinton delivered to us, and we ought to make returning to that mindset a mission. Perhaps implanting fair, common sense federal tax reform in the next four years that does away with a litany of loopholes for every special interest imaginable would be a good place to start.
A few more thoughts from our recent political conventions:
• First, Republicans, regardless of whether they prove victorious in two-month’s time, should be careful that they not marginalize themselves any further. It seems in Tampa that they were all about two things: Embracing Mitt Romney, and reminding Americans of everything they don’t believe in, from a long-list of social programs that help make America hum to an ongoing expansion of civil rights that, if history is an accurate predictor, will be difficult to halt.
Read the Republican Party platform, and right away the lack of inclusiveness is striking. Maybe not this fall, but someday, the nation’s conservatives will need more than middle-age white men to win national elections. They will need women of all ages, seniors, young people, Latinos, gay Americans, and the millions of Americans who stand to lose much with the long-term implantation of the Romney-Ryan ticket’s campaign proposals.
Particularly when it comes to immigration, the GOP would be wise to start humming a different tune.
• Second, this: Maybe it is always a concern where campaigns are concerned, but one wonders what to do about the nation’s disaffected. I mean the millions of U.S. citizens who took no interest in the last two weeks of political conventions, and have no intention of voting. They simply don’t care beyond those issues that affect them on a day-to-day basis.
President Obama mentioned the heavy importance of citizenship during his nominating speech, but one wonders what it will take for those words to really get through to the general public, beyond the party base and politicos alike. What will be required for Middle America to once again believe in “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.”?
I’m hopeful – maybe overly so – that more Americans love their country than readily let on. I’m hopeful that today’s community-minded young people remain socially active, and push us older folks to become more involved in the years to come.
But where a lack of engagement is concerned, maybe most of all I’m hopeful that our government and its leaders can continue to deliver on some of the great promises they’ve made during these last weeks.
Real results and real encouragement – which, incidentally, the current president has done a pretty good job of delivering during the past three and a half years – might be what voters are hoping for most of all.