Presidential politics: party platforms, conventions, candidates and veeps

Who are they, and where do they stand?

In the course of the past week, we saw the entire Republican convention play out with the formal nomination of Donald Trump and his acceptance speech laying out his vision and plans if elected. And we’re about to see the Democratic convention unfold, as Hilary Clinton is officially nominated candidate and formally accepts on the final night. These are historic events, we’ve often been reminded in this election cycle. But while there’s a certain ‘first ever’ historic nature in the two candidates, the reality of their party platforms and their individual visions for America—what, at the end of the day, they actually stand for and they would actually do in the Oval Office—is what America must (or should) consider now that we’ve heard Trump and prepare to hear Clinton.

In the course of the last week, we also learned the running-mates of the two candidates. While neither Trump nor Clinton are, or ever were Catholic, the two running-mates have significant connections to the Catholic Church. Trump V.P. pick Mike Pence, Governor of Indiana, was raised as a Catholic, but is  now a devout Evangelical Christian. Clinton choice Tim Kaine, U.S. Senator from Virginia, is a Catholic who worked as a missionary with the Jesuits in Latin America and, according to his Pastor, still actively practices the faith.

However, it’s only on the actual position of a person—what they espouse and what they promise to do—that American citizens can make a choice. And while the Democratic ticket has the only Catholic in the race, and the Republic ticket has been called the most “anti-Catholic” in recent history (especially given Trump’s verbal spat with Pope Francis over his trademark promise to build a Wall, a promise the candidate repeated in his recent keynote speech at the Republic Convention), when it comes to life issues across the spectrum—from the womb to natural death—the platforms could not be more different.

The Democrats’ has never been more pro-abortion, (USA Today claims ‘anti-abortion’ Democrats are outraged over it) and the Republicans’ has never been more pro-life.

Divisions are clear in this particular election year. None, perhaps, more clearly so than here.

GOP convention wrap

These things used to be a bigger deal, a much bigger deal, and carried more weight and drama than they do now. But they still make for some high drama, some inspiring moments, some revelations, and lots of goofy hats. They are, after all, parties.

This time around, the political parties thrown by the two US political parties wrapped around either side of Labor Day, were shortened to three days from the historical week long events, and attracted less media investment in coverage because people have so many ways to access the information live time and in summary anyway. I don’t know how pollsters estimate viewership, how much of America may have watched, but I tuned in to most of it at the expense of first week action at the US Open Tennis and I’m glad I did. We should hear at least some of the addresses by party leaders and especially the candidates themselves, for vice-president and president. We should see the so-called ‘optics’ each party presents as representing their ideals, and hear the themes and points emphasized.

By many accounts, though I saw it for myself, the Republicans emphasized family, faith, and frankly love. Ann Romney’s speech, which was more like a conversation with a big group of friends, was all about these themes.

Even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie focused on love at one point.

And the greatest lesson that mom ever taught me though was this one.  She told me there would be times in your life when you have to choose between being loved and being respected. Now she said to always pick being respected.  She told me that love without respect was always fleeting, but that respect could grow into real and lasting love.  Now, of course, she was talking about women…

But I have learned over time that it applies just as much to leadership.  In fact, I think that advice applies to America more than ever today.

Family and faith were strong points throughout the keynotes, several from young governors and senators who were the children of hard working immigrants.

Prominent members of the Republican Party highlighted faith and family values as being intrinsic to America’s identity as a nation at the party’s 2012 national convention.

America is unique as a country because it “was founded on the principle that every person has God-given rights” and that people should be free, said Florida Senator Marco Rubio…

He explained that America stands out because it is united as a country “not by a common race or ethnicity,” but “by common values.”

These values include the conviction that “family is the most important institution in society” and that “almighty God is the source of all we have,” he said…

Americans are “a blessed people,” enjoying opportunities beyond those experienced by most nations throughout human history, Rubio said. He contrasted the American experience of freedom with that of Cuba, which his parents left in order to seek a better life in the U.S.

Rubio described the 2012 election as “a choice about what kind of country we want America to be” and whether the nation will apply “the principles of our founding to solve the challenges of our time.”

The biggest one – principle and challenge – is the idea of what should be the proper size and role of government. The two competing visions of that idea are central to this election and everything else being debated. Like the economy.

Which gets to the two props present in the GOP convention arena, one all week and the other briefly passing through on the final night before the much-anticipated speech by Mitt Romney. The passing one got far more media coverage than the enduring one.

It was Clint Eastwood’s empty chair. However one saw that encounter, it’s surprisingly not a first.

As part of yesterday’s showings at the Republican National Convention, famed actor and director Clint Eastwood startled and amused viewers by mock-debating an empty chair, meant to represent President Obama.

Many who saw the scene thought it to be strange and bizarre, let alone unconventional, for a forum that is usually meticulously directed. Delegates on the convention floor, however, loved it.

But it turns out that the history of debating empty chairs is a rich one, stretching back to at least 1924 when Progressive* vice-presidential nominee Burton K. Wheeler took a stab at an invisible President Calvin Coolidge.

Interesting piece. But speaking of a ‘meticulously directed’ forum, media strategist Mark McKinnon called the GOP convention a masterpiece, and the Eastwood stunt a smokescreen.

Liberals and the mainstream media are having a field day over Clint Eastwood’s appearance at the Republican National Convention, mocking it ceaselessly on cable. They’re using it just like the storm beforehand—doing whatever it takes to distract from Mitt Romney and the message he wants to convey. But no matter how crazy it drives critics, Clint pumped up the hall, showed people it was OK to poke fun at President Obama—and left ’em laughing in the aisles. No amount of post-game complaint can change the fact that the GOP—and convention organizer Russ Schriefer in particular—put on a hell of a show.

Heart, brains, and courage. It was all there for America to see on stage. And Schriefer was the man behind the curtain. Given the challenges faced by the party and its nominee, he proved to be a true wizard.

Fighting hurricanes of nature and man (Isaac and Todd Akin), not to mention the very difficult and divided factions within the GOP these days, Schriefer managed one of the most successful conventions in memory.

And the nominee did okay, after all. This NBC report sums up well.

Accepting the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney vowed to move America past what he called the “disappointments” of President Barack Obama’s four years in office if elected to the White House in November.

In a speech that hearkened back to an America typified by Romney’s upbringing “in the middle of the century in the middle of the country,” the nominee argued he was the candidate best suited to rejuvenate a flagging economy.

“Today, the time has come for us to put the disappointments of the last four years behind us,” Romney said.

Using a traditional attack line against an incumbent president, Romney said, “This president can tell us that the next four years he’ll get it right.  But this president cannot tell us that you are better off today than when he took office.”

“The time has come to turn the page.”

The nationally televised address, the biggest of Romney’s political career, sought to better introduce him to Americans and erase the low favorable rating from which he suffered before the convention…

“President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet,” Romney said. “My promise – is to help you and your family.”

That simple statement brought the crowd to their feet in a standing ovation.

And as if to preempt Democratic criticism that he was rooting for failure, Romney said he had hoped for just the opposite.

“I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed. But his promises gave way to disappointment and division,” Romney said. “This isn’t something we have to accept. Now is the moment when we can do something. With your help we will do something.”

It wasn’t soaring oratory. But it was gracious. Romney is not a politician by nature. He’s a businessman, a successful one, who is strongly rooted in faith and family and ideals of America’s founding principles.

The convention wrapped without much attention given to the presence of the enduring symbol that hung over it all week.

The debt clock. Just as well, it’s nerve-wracking to watch.

The Democrats won’t hang that over their gathering, at least not visibly, and their convention is about to begin.

At least I got some weekend tennis matches in there, in between.

GOP’s breathless pace

Maybe it was because they’ve waited for years. Maybe it was because it was delayed by the gravity of a treacherous hurricane. But once it kicked off, the Republicans’ convention has been racing through its key messages. Sometimes faster than they can be processed or appreciated.

First night biggies Anne Romney and Chris Christie were literally back to back. Their message about women and family and sacrifical love was very different from Democrats’ emphasis on womens’ issues.  

Second and middle night was different. And kind of breathtaking in its pace, leaving no time between prime time speakers for pundits to opine or commercial advertisers to advertise or viewers to take even a quick break.

Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice gave one of the best speeches of the convention.

After all, when the world looks to America, they look to us because we are the most successful economic and political experiment in human history.  That is the true basis of American exceptionalism. You see, the essence of America, what really unites us, is not nationality or ethnicity or religion.  It is an idea. And what an idea it is.  That you can come from humble circumstances and you can do great things, that it does not matter where you came from, it matters where you are going.

My fellow Americans, ours has never been a narrative of grievance and entitlement.  We have never believed that I am doing poorly because you are doing well. We have never been jealous of one another and never envious of each others’
successes.

No, no, ours has been a belief in opportunity.  And it has been a constant struggle, long and hard, up and down, to try to extend the benefits of the American dream to all.  But that American ideal is indeed in danger today.  There is no country, no, not even a rising China that can do more harm to us than we can do to ourselves if we do not do the hard work before us here at home.

More than at any other time in history, greatness is built on mobilizing human potential and ambition.  We have always done that better than any country in the world.  People have come here from all over because they have believed our creed of opportunity and limitless horizons.

She knows this deeply and well.

And on a personal note, a little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham.  The segregated city of the south where her parents cannot take her to a movie theater or to restaurants, but they have convinced that even if she cannot have it hamburger at Woolworths, she can be the president of the United States if she wanted to be, and she becomes the secretary of state.

Before she finished that line the convention hall was on their feet with a rousing standing ovation. It was a soaring moment. I loved it, because I remember those segregated lunch counters of my childhood on a visit to the South that made me indignantly cry out to my father ‘Dad, they can’t treat people this way!’ (My father vividly recalls his activist little daughter’s loud voice in an Alabama drugstore all those years ago.)

But without a moment’s pause for reflection on the fine points of Rice’s outstanding, intellectually engaging speech, the convention moved briskly into Susana Martinez delivering her stirring address about her immigrant background and opportunities America offered for her to seize upon to become a leader and the governor of New Mexico. 

Her story was also inspring.

My parents also taught me about having the courage to stand for something.  So, I went to law school and became a prosecutor. 

I took on a specialty that very few choose to pursue – I prosecuted child abuse and child homicide cases.  Cases that were truly gut-wrenching.

But standing up for those kids, being their voice for justice, was the honor of a lifetime…

When I was a young prosecutor, I got called to testify against my boss. I could have backed down, but I didn’t. I stood up to him.  And he fired me for it.

So I took him on, ran against him for district attorney and beat him by a landslide!

I fear some of our leaders today have lost the courage to stand up.

What we have now are politicians.  They won’t offer real plans, and only stand up when they want to blame someone else.

And I don’t say that just because a Democrat is in the White House.  I was a Democrat for many years.  So were my parents.

This is interesting.

Before I ran for District Attorney, two Republicans invited my husband and me to lunch.  And I knew a party-switch was exactly what they wanted.

So, I told Chuck, we’ll be polite, enjoy a free lunch and then say goodbye.

But we talked about issues-they never used the words Republican, or Democrat, conservative or liberal.

We talked about many issues, like welfare – is it a way of life, or a hand-up? 

Talked about the size of government — how much should it tax families and small businesses?

And when we left that lunch, we got in the car and I looked over at Chuck and said, “I’ll be damned, we’re Republicans.”

This election should not be about political parties.  Too many Americans are out of work, and our debt is out of control.  This election needs to be about those issues.

And the floor was quickly turned over to the much anticipated address by vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who delivered a stemwinder.

Formally accepting his party’s nomination for vice president Wednesday night in Tampa, Ryan portrayed the Obama administration as one whose sun had already set. The acerbic speech accused the president of leaving his legions of voters with little more than a record of squandered opportunities and broken promises as they stare at “fading Obama posters” and look for work.

“It all started off with stirring speeches, Greek columns, the thrill of something new,” Ryan said. “Now all that’s left is a presidency adrift, surviving on slogans that already seem tired, grasping at a moment that has already passed, like a ship trying to sail on yesterday’s wind.”

…By the end, he drew thunderous cheers and applause from the convention crowd. And as he has in the past, Ryan tried to draw a sharp contrast throughout.

Obama’s term, he said, has been “a dull, adventureless journey from one entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us.”

Over and over, he was interrupted with rousing applause.

Ryan’s speech sets the stage for Mitt Romney’s nomination acceptance speech Thursday, which will close out the party’s convention and be the GOP’s last word before Democrats convene in Charlotte, N.C., for their nomination gala.

Which will be completely different, reportedly staging a celebration of abortion and contraception and women’s ‘reproductive rights’.

What a stark contrast this election poses. More on that to come…

Who Mitt Romney is

Or, who is Mitt Romney? That’s the question of the week, and this is the week it’s due to get answered.

The Republican convention opened Monday, sort of.

The truncated 2012 Republican convention gets underway in earnest Tuesday, delayed by a storm threat and distracted by fears of a hurricane aiming at the northern Gulf Coast…

There is a risk of seeming tone deaf “if the rest of the county is riveted on any kind of horrific weather event,” Republican strategist Rick Davis [said].

It was a cautious start to an uncertain week. But the fact that it was scheduled to be four days in the first place, with the Democrats by necessity already shortening their convention next week to three days, calls this historical event into question, and rightfully so.

“These are very expensive propositions to put on,” [House Speaker John] Boehner said at a lunch hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “I think, given as much news as people get today and the way they get their news, I’m not sure having a four-day convention in the future makes a lot of sense.”

It doesn’t even make a little sense. Political campaigns have become mind-bogglingly expensive with gargantuan spending on saturation campaigns and way too much time spent by candidates on fundraising instead of more important matters, like governing (the incumbant) or policy formation and coalition building (the challenger). And all in the age when we do have near total and constant access to information on the candidates. As well as an inter-generational crushing debt requiring austerity measures all around.

Anyway, thus began the GOP convention week, and it will be interesting to see how coverage goes when the Democrats open theirs next week.

For example, and here’s just one, if media ask for more revelation on a candidate’s worldview and its evolution – very fair question – they should ask the same for both party’s candidates.

So, Mitt, what do you really believe?
Too much about the Republican candidate for the presidency is far too mysterious

That’s just the headline and sub-head of the Economist Leader piece this week. Which makes one wonder…did they ask those very questions of candidate Barack Obama in 2008? Would they dare ask it now?

We want to know all about both men who seek to lead this nation and influence the world over the next four, consequential years.

WSJ picks up the question.

The leader Republicans will nominate for president this week is a man of many paradoxes, a figure well known yet not entirely understood, someone who has been examined for two full presidential campaigns but whose personal beliefs remain the subject of intense debate.

The only part of that sentence that differs from the other candidate is the party designation. No wait…the other part is the “someone who has been examined” description. Because the president never was, though the rest applies.

My Monday radio show, on the sort-of opening day of the GOP convention, anticipating the Democratic convention next week, reflected on the meaning of it all in this day of instant and near-global information access, and whether folks are tuned in after all.

But this AP piece captures it well, I think. At least right now, at this point in time.

The conventions are made for TV. But that means made for all to see, across America and even the world. And the audience now gets to talk back, drafting its own instant platform via Twitter and Facebook and all our other electronic impulses.

The conventions are taxpayer-subsidized political commercials. But if they were only that, few would watch. We’ve seen too many mean ads already. By now most voters have made up their minds about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, anyway.

At their best, every four years, these mud-slinging, self-serving, partisan-by-definition displays rise to offer something more: moments that transcend politics.

Together, the two conventions make up a national stock-taking, a pause to remember our roots, figure out who we are and decide what’s truly important, without feeling too hokey about it. Like a virtual family reunion, Americans gather around their televisions, computers or smartphones to argue or agree, celebrate the good stuff, mourn our losses and regret our mistakes, to regroup, to look ahead.

The conventions are Barbara Jordan, Jesse Jackson and Obama, their very presence on the podium insisting that the American dream no longer be deferred. And Ferraro and Sarah Palin and Hillary Rodham Clinton, bursting through doors once locked to them.

They are the thousands of Vietnam War protesters chanting outside the 1968 Democratic meeting, who couldn’t be silenced by the tear gas and billy clubs of the Chicago police.

They are Robert Kennedy eulogizing the slain president who was also his big brother Jack. Nancy Reagan telling America that its Great Communicator is being hushed by Alzheimer’s. Mary Fisher pleading with the nation to come to its senses and find its compassion so her children wouldn’t feel ashamed someday to say out loud their mother died of AIDS.

Every four years, the political conventions come along to remind us how wrong we were about some things in the past. And that we know nothing, really, about what’s to come.

It’s no coincidence that Ronald Reagan, a genius at wielding metaphor, chose to speak at the 1976 GOP convention about what he would write in a time capsule letter to the future.

The conventions are time capsules, lovingly created and then buried in the rush to Election Day.

Dig through past conventions, their speeches and platforms, and you’ll find a record not just of Americans’ politics but also of their worries and fears, longings and dreams. Not just how the parties gave us Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. But also how passion to do something about slavery and civil rights and women’s rights and poverty percolated up from the people and into the convention halls and the White House.

This year’s speakers will talk about gay marriage, religious freedom, women’s health, the national debt, joblessness. And someone may say something in a way that sticks in the national consciousness and helps build a consensus that one day, in hindsight, will seem blazingly obvious.

Conventions are far from perfect. Too much of their time is wasted on things parochial and elitist and just silly. Not much has changed since Bob Dole summed up the GOP event of 1980: “The introducers spoke longer than the speakers. And the speakers spoke too long.”

But what else have we got? Self-consciously triumphant inaugurals, ponderous State of the Union speeches. Debates promise some spontaneity, but they’re too narrow, focused only on four candidates.

The conventions are a political Olympics, democracy as spectator sport: Score the best efforts of mayors and governors and senators who might be president someday. Catch those candidates and insiders who claim to hate Washington and loathe politics openly reveling in the raucous, strapping national debate, whatever they prefer to call it. Watch regular folks still willing to turn out, in silly hats and buttons, to cheer for something they believe in.

Well said. True, and well said.

I hope and pray the tropical storm somehow deflects or dissolves and spares lives and property, first and foremost. And then the raucous and rousing experiences of the party conventions get fully underway. Let the competition of two very different visions for America proceed.