Charlotte shows it is ready to throw a party for Obama.

The crowd outside the MSNBC stage, Charlotte (Blackburn)

Ralph Blackburn at the Democratic National Convention, Charlotte, NC – “You’re from England? Wow, for the DNC?” The checkout assistant, in a suburban supermarket was almost speechless in surprise, “everybody’s going crazy about it.” With that statement, he was just about spot on. When walking around uptown Charlotte, for some reason they call downtown uptown, you are a confronted by a multitude of different credentials, swaying like pendulums from thousands of delegates’, volunteers’ and journalists’ necks. Police, from Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham and even as far as Charleston, South Carolina, and Georgia, patrol the streets, often arranged rather bizarrely in divisions on push bikes due to multiple roads being blocked off. Groups of ten to fifteen armed police will slowly circulate blocks, cycling slightly off balance, looking decidedly placid. Although past all the merriment and excitement, there’s a lot of pressure on Charlotte and the Democrat National Convention to be a success, to give Obama a second term.

The choice of Charlotte for the convention is no coincidence, Barack Obama won North Carolina by a mere 14,000 votes in 2008 and is currently thought to be 4 points behind Mitt Romney in the state. The importance of the 16 electoral college votes was highlighted today with Paul Ryan holding a ‘counter convention’ in Greenville, North Carolina, about 200 miles away. He immediately referenced the Democrat Convention saying, “as some of you may have heard there’s something going on in Charlotte,” suggesting the GOP are slightly worried about a probable post convention bump for the Democrats. The Republican National Convention did not get any bump, with Romney’s speech being the worst received since pollsters began assessing convention speeches. Gallup found that 40% of people said they were more likely to vote for Romney, 38% saying they were less likely and 28% saying they didn’t care either way. This will concern the GOP, given Obama gained record approval ratings for his speech in 2008, with 58% saying they more likely to vote him, and this year, by staging it in the 75,000 seater Bank of America Stadium, in Charlotte, Obama is again going for maximum impact. There have been questions about whether Obama still has the pull to attract such a crowd, and that is where Charlotte comes into play. It must invigorate and enthuse the convention to give Obama the bump he needs to take him clear of Romney in the polls.

It appears as if the natives are already getting well and truly behind the convention. The streets are flooded with locals enjoying the atmosphere and vibrancy. When asked what he thought of the convention, one local replied, “it’s great, it’s really putting us on the map.”   In the middle of the Epicentre complex at the heart of uptown Charlotte, MSNBC had positioned their reporting stage, drawing huge crowds to cheer behind the reporters. It was a marked contrast to the Republican Convention, when at times people seemed to care more about what condiments to apply to their hot dogs, than getting involved. Another clever move by the Democrats, was to time their convention with Carolinafest, the annual labour day celebration, held in the heart of Charlotte. This brought more crowds to the relatively small uptown area, and gave the convention a carnivalesque atmosphere. Janelle Monae and Jeff Bridges wowed the crowds, with Monae saying, “I’m here today because I’m supporting a man who’s looking out for women.” There is a crackle in the air, of people ready to put up a fight, and it would appear if this atmosphere continues Barack Obama will find himself with some breathing space between himself and Mitt Romney after the convention.

Mitt Romney, the human being?

Mitt Romney speaking. By Austen Hufford [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Ralph Blackburn at the Democratic National Convention, Charlotte, NC – When you study Mitt Romney, ascetically, he comes across as factory made President, sleeves pre-rolled, chin chiseled especially for the memorial made centuries in the future. For the electorate it is still hard to look past this, to find out how human he is? Where is the warm, kind hearted man that his family and friends talk about? Romney, coming from his incredibly wealthy childhood, has always found being relatable to the public his hardest task. The Republican National Convention was set up entirely to parade Romney as a human being, a man of the people who could also be President. Ann Romney’s speech was very effective, Marco Rubio, easily the best speaker at the Convention, immediately vaulted into a story about Romney’s parents, however it was derailed slightly by Chris Christie, who appeared to be making a case to be the Republican Nominee in 2016 and Clint Eastwood’s, now iconic, bizarre skit involving a chair. However the most important point of the convention was Romney’s speech, and never a particularly charismatic orator, he had a tough act to follow in Rubio.

Romney went down the route, as taken by many of the Republicans at the Convention, to talk about his background, family life and the ‘American Dream’. The main issue here, on top of the fact the Romney family have a car lift in their house and lived a very wealthy childhood, was that Romney came on after Marco Rubio, who spoke passionately and emotionally about his upbringing in Cuba and then America. He offered the brilliant line, “my father stood behind a bar at the back of a room, so I could stand behind this podium,” which raised the roof in Tampa. Romney who had a far more privileged and far less extraordinary upbringing, sounded very forced. He would randomly slip in personal anecdotes, about how he grew up in Detroit and loves cars, and the scrapes his five boys got into, and it sounded as if the speech had been written by a unsuccessful screenwriter of poorly made Hollywood rom-coms.

Prior to the speech Romney’s campaign managers stated that he was going to tackle his faith, Mormonism, which is thought to be an issue with many evangelical voters. This naturally provoked excitement. The true Mitt Romney was about to appear, even if it was one that believed in golden plates found in the ground. Romney, very cleverly, sidestepped the issue really, saying, “my friends cared much more about what sports team we supported than what church we went to.” The only other mentions were that, Romney made a large amount of friends through church and pointedly, that America’s greatest freedom was the freedom of religion. Romney also rather liberally described Bain Capital as “a business in the business of helping other businesses.” It will not help him that today Bain has been subpoenaed by the New York police following possible tax evasion.

Before Clint Eastwood’s horrific gaffe and Rubio’s moving speech there was possibly the most powerful story which humanised Mitt Romney, at the Convention. It was a video clip of himself and his wife discussing their reactions to Ann Romney being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It really gripped the viewer and pulled them into the situation, and for that moment you forgot about the car lift and the golden plates and empathised and understood the Romneys. Rather sadly that was shown prior to the prime time television coverage. The Republicans could have really done with that replacing Clint Eastwood attacking Barack Obama for not asking the Russians what happened to them in Afghanistan. However despite Romney’s poor oratory skills, and detail free speech, I could feel the pressure Romney was under, and how much he wanted to be liked and understood. As opposed to Chris Christie, who just appeared to be an angry, sweaty orange, Romney genuinely wanted people to know him. Despite the plastic and contrived way that he was constructed, the pressure pulled real emotions out of him, and in the opposite way intended I began to see him not as a shiny, corporate robot, but a rather strange yet well meaning human. Even if his policies are completely ludicrous and borderline non existent, he came across as a fairly nice guy.

Paul Ryan as Vice President? A fairly scary thought.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan at the announcement of Paul Ryan as VP, By James Currie from Norfolk, USA (Mitt Romney & Paul Ryan) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Ralph Blackburn at the Democratic National Convention, Charlotte, NC – Picture this, Mitt Romney, 45th President of the United States, has tragically died in a plane crash, and his Vice President, Paul Ryan, has stepped into the breach. Ryan, the Randian, ultra conservative, budget cutting crusader would get to work, with the help of what will probably be a Republican Senate, cutting almost every public service. Not a particular appealing vision, only marginally better than the idea, four years ago, of the possibility of Sarah Palin becoming President, which may have cost John McCain the Presidency. Austerity, as we in Britain have found, doesn’t necessarily work, and Paul Ryan, as I have found all over the USA, is not necessarily popular. So then the reasons for Mitt Romney, the man who almost never takes a risk, choosing him, are becoming even hazier.

The most likely reason is the need to firm up Republican Party support. As discussed previously on this blog, Romney is seen by the GOP as fairly moderate, and across large swathes of the party, as echoed by delegates on the floor of the convention, they do not like him however they would back him over Obama. Ryan to a certain extent appeases the more radical side of the party, he is particularly well liked by the Tea Party. The problem for Romney is that the Tea Party and the conservative side of the Republican party is almost unelectable in a Presidential Election. Kevin, a black male, in his forties from Charlotte, North Carolina, a very important swing state come November, described himself as an independent, “I’m waiting to here what Barack Obama has to say before I make up my mind.” He is the exact voter that Romney is trying to swing from Obama, however it appears that Ryan has put him off Romney, “I don’t like him (Ryan), I think he’ll spend most of his time in Vegas.” In particular Ryan’s very radical policies on immigration, he believes in no amnesty for illegal immigrants, have put him off, “I have a lot of Hispanic friends, and Romney’s shift to Ryan’s policies on immigration are not good.”

This highlights another issue, does Mitt Romney have any policies of his own, or are they all Paul Ryan’s? When watching Romney’s speech to the Republican National Convention he was coming across as far more human than ever before, however actual policies, his incredibly vague five point plan does not count, were hard to find. The policies I now associate with him are, Ryan’s slash and burn budget and his culling of Medicare, something which has proved to be unpopular, particularly with seniors. Janet, an elderly lady from Pennsylvania, said, “I like Romney, but he (Ryan) was the worst person he could have chosen, I don’t like him at all.” This could be a problem for Romney in Florida, possibly the most important swing state, with 17.3% seniors, the highest percentage in the country. Jimmy Gedeon, a volunteer for the Obama campaign and a Florida native said, “it was a stupid move from Romney, because he changed Florida from a solidly Republican state to a light red state.”

Ryan is beginning to feel the heat and attention of being the Nominee for Vice President. He has moved to deny he is a disciple of Ayn Rand, who believes in staunch individualism, as well as being an ardent Atheist. Despite being one of the most vocal supporters of small government, he has been found to have taken home and awful lot of pork barrel to Janesville, WI, his hometown. This includes as $400,000 water treatment centre and a $375,000 improvement to the city bus system. Similar to Michele Bachmann, he has also be found to be quite liberal with details. Immediately after his speech on Wednesday at the Republican National Convention, the New York Times immediately published a list of the inaccuracies. These included an attack on Obamacare for taking $716 billion away from Medicare at the expense of the elderly. Obama’s plan calls for these cuts to take place over the next ten years, in reimbursements to the insurers and hospitals, crucially not to the beneficiaries of Medicare. Ironically Ryan wrote the same cuts into his budget, which he conveniently forgot to mention. Ryan also claimed that, “the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak.” This coming from a man who’s budget, judged by The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which says two-thirds of Ryan’s cuts will end up falling on programs for the poor.

It is all feeling a bit deja vu with 2008, when Sarah Palin slowly got picked apart and judged unelectable. Crucially Ryan was not able to generate nearly the same amount of excitement at the Convention, where the first two days felt incredibly flat. Post 2008, many journalists and experts stated McCain should have chosen Joe Liebermann to capture the middle ground. Many in 2012 feel Romney should have chosen Florida Senator Marco Rubio, whose speech prior to Romney’s was the speech of the Convention. However Rubio, who backed Romney not to release his tax returns, allegedly has paid even less tax than Romney and the Romney camp did not want this weakness highlighted. This is not to say this election is  over, with the economy in such a state Barack Obama will find it hard to get a second term, however Romney is making it far easier than it should be, and again the problem is the radical modern Republican Party that is almost unelectable.

Romney’s Small Government Appeals to the Countryside

Ralph Blackburn in Schroon, NY – You enter a corner shop, and spying onions and carrots on display, you ask the shopkeeper, working behind the counter, “where are the apples?” She stares back confused, “apples? I’m sorry, you’ll have to go to Wal-Mart to get those.” This is in the small town of Ticonderoga, about five hours drive north of New York, deep in the heart of the Adirondack mountain range, in upper New York state. New York is solidly Democrat, however in other swing states, such as New Hampshire, Iowa, and Ohio, voters from outside the cities, in towns a similar size to Ticonderoga, can make the difference come November.

Talking to an elderly woman from Pennsylvania, a swing state leaning towards Obama, whilst unhappy with the choice of Paul Ryan as running mate given his policies on Medicare, she was still firmly in Romney’s camp. She stated tentatively she didn’t want America to “become more like Europe”, blaming the collapse of the Eurozone on “Europe’s social policies”. Whilst this may be true to a certain extent regarding Spain, it was a misunderstanding of the event which is not uncommon across rural America. There is a block against social policies, outlined by the watering down of Obamacare, and a desire not to be apparently “dependent on the government”.

It is an unsurprising opinion given the country was born out of a aspiration for the people of a nation not to be shackled by government, however views purported that social policies, and state intervention blocks freedom is simply absurd. Despite the fact that policies such as Obamacare would undoubtably help this demographic, particularly with Paul Ryan’s views on Medicare, the Pennsylvanian women still was likely to vote Romney complaining that Obama “has a actual communist working for him”. It is however, for Obama to try and find a way to win over such voters, and it appears that negative campaigning, mainly against Romney and Ryan’s Medicare policies, may be the most effective tactic.

There does however appear to be a disconnect between small town America and politicians. A clear reason for the remarkable rise of the Tea Party over the past couple of years, was making a big song and dance that the members, like Sarah Palin, were normal moms and dads, however frequently they displayed their abnormal beliefs. It does come across as a cliche, however the residents of small towns are largely suspicious of outsiders. One elderly resident of Schroon, also in New York state, explained how, despite living there for 30 years, she felt the locals never fully trusted her, because she wasn’t born there. “People just never leave”, she explained. It is in such towns where politics in Washington DC,  and social policies such as Obamacare have an alien feel to them. They don’t get affected by them, and as a majority of the residents of the towns never leave, they have an affinity towards self sustenance.

“I have always owned small businesses”, the resident of Schroon said, “I do not like being reliant on the state.” Mitt Romney’s speech last night very much plays to this audience. He made numerous mentions of small businesses, describing them as the main method of job creation in America. Investing in small businesses was point five, of his rather vague unspecific five point plan which would apparently create 12 million jobs. This however, is the kind of rhetoric people from outside the city like to hear. Romney’s speech offered personal vignettes of bringing up his five sons and his and Ann’s early romance, conveniently leaving out the staggering wealth in which he grew up in. But such references are effective, “Oh I do like Mitt Romney, I like him a lot”, the elderly Pennsylvanian women stated strongly, and this was prior to the convention and the huge humanising effort was underway. Despite the effectiveness of Ann Romney’s speech in particular, there are still many holes in Romney’s armour where the Democrats can attack him for being an aloof wealthy CEO, out of touch with normal families, and this is where the out of town voters may begin to listen.

New York, New York

Empire State Building from the Rockefeller Centre (Blackburn)

Ralph Blackburn in New York – Brick and mortar puncture the sky, grasping towards heaven. Manhattan’s jagged skyline, ever extending itself, is taking humans ever closer to God. Each extra exertion, each couple of feet higher than the previous monolith, shows the glory of Western civilisation. The island itself is an orgy of capitalism, defying what is possible for humans, and defying the limits of human excess. It exists to display the glory of money and wealth. It is as many say, ‘where the world trades’, and those who work there well know it.

Capitalism, private ownership, and personal glory has been ingrained in the history of New York. In 1664, when England captured, what was then New Amsterdam, from the Dutch, they were granted an easy victory on the condition that very favourable land inheritance laws were permitted. The city of New York was created on the basis of a small number of people being incredibly wealthy and prosperous. When the city got sick of the coal, soot and smog injected into the atmosphere by the steam trains plowing into Grand Central, instead of giving up his contract, Cornelius Vanderbilt blew up the whole of Park Avenue with Chinese gunpowder, to create an underground area to replace the steam trains with electric trains. Now the area of Grand Central Terminal is so valuable, apartment blocks and businesses purchase air space, possibly the most extreme sign of capitalism in the world.

It is a staggering sight to walk around, feeling dwarfed not only by architectural epochs such as the Chrysler building and the Rockefeller center, but the people swarming around you, all urgent and important in equal measure. Every venture undertaken on the island of Manhattan has at it’s centre grandeur, and it’s eyes on greatness. Midtown can feel daunting, it is too easy for one to rapidly develop a neck ache for staring up into the clouds, and thus as well a shoulder ache, due to constantly getting in New Yorkers’ paths. Many people are too busy staring at the sky, to notice the fairly dilapidated state of the roads. Most of the executives don’t even make it below ground to find a subway system spattered with dirt. Such is the price of greatness. Midtown, however, is not the sole point of interest in Manhattan. Despite the skyline, with it’s neck aches and grandeur, being the most memorable part of the island, other neighbourhoods, in a far more laissez faire manner, attract visitors aplenty. Greenwich village, with thinner roads, trees dangling, lazily over the roads, and fewer steps to climb to get to apartments, shows a more human side to New York.

With the prosperity of Manhattan, and the focus it generates, the other boroughs of New York tend to suffer. This can be easily observed on a subway ride out to Queens. Firstly, as opposed to Manhattan, the subway does not need to travel underground, as in the outer boroughs, there are not billionaires and corporations bidding recklessly for air space. As one peels out of the ground, like a caterpillar meandering along, the height of buildings swiftly reduces. Each is manufactured like the last, with identical tan-red bricks. The shapes differ, as if each were designed by a drunk playing Tetris, struggling in vain to make a horizontal line. The bricks at the top wriggle out at bizarre angles, in stark contrast to the ordered skyline from Manhattan. Each building is then adorned with it’s own artwork, however this is not the art deco stylings of the Rockefeller center, more a poor man’s Banksy, as multi coloured, illegible slugs of graffiti are splayed across every building in sight. Across New York architecture defines status, and in Queens it is no different. However acting as if there is no life outside Manhattan, is short sighted. If Brooklyn was an independent city, it would be the third largest in the country. Manhattan merely has the most glitter and panache, with questions over whether it has the most heart and soul.

Romney runs the risk of falling off the tightrope as he tries to appease Republican radicals and moderates

So, a few days ago, the Republican Presidential Nomination was found, and despite a surprising burst from Rick Santorum, he announced he was stepping out of the race, moderate Mitt Romney has ended up as the GOP’s candidate. Whilst the race has been a fairly insipid affair, with few candidates if any generating the kind of buzz that the Democratic Nomination gained in 2008, Romney is actually going to be the most effective challenger, out of the pack, to Obama getting re-elected. This, in a time when the ultra right wing Tea Party has gained a large amount of support, may come across as quite surprising. However, PR friendly candidates like Michelle Bachmann were always going to struggle once the media and other candidates really started baring their teeth. Santorum appeared confident when the Nomination moved to ethical issues, however when the issue of the economy sprang up, which it inevitably will in November, Romney always looked more assured. So despite Santorum still having a higher Republican approval rating than his rival, he has wisely dropped out, leaving Romney a tightrope to tread towards the election. He has to both be moderate to sway swing states, and appease the Republican base, something he has not been effective at up until now. However, regardless of how Romney campaigns, it appears that he will have neither the panache or the charisma to take down Obama.

Romney, as Governor of Massachusetts, is undoubtably a moderate, particularly by this current crop of candidates’ standards. Whilst many, like Santorum, “If we’re going to win this race we can’t have little differences between our nominee and President Obama. We have to have clear contrasting colours,” see this as a negative thing, in the current climate it is likely to play to Romney’s advantage. Despite the original buzz about Sarah Palin after she was announced as John McCain’s running mate in 2008, as the interviews increased, and the campaign went on, she increasingly came across as too extreme to be elected into office. After the election, many pointed this as the time where John McCain lost the election, suggesting moderate Joe Liebermann would have been a more electable Vice President. Despite a lack of faith in Romney by the Republican base, it is still clear that their hatred of Obama far outweighs their apparent dislike of Romney, negating the fear that they may not vote for him at all, their will be no Ross Perot at this election. Romney has gained the important endorsements of Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush both of which are popular among the Tea Party. They both also represent Florida, with Bush having a fairly effective time as Governor, and Rubio as a Cuban-American could help attract the Latino vote in a swing state, one where Romney could challenge Obama.

Whilst the paragraph above inspires hope for Romney, the reality is that his campaign has run stale. In the picture above, his attempt at stadium rally in Detroit ended up embarrassing as opposed to inspiring. After Romney’s success in the Illinois primary, the stark statistic was that 30% of the voters wanted the campaign to end, regardless of who got the nomination. Romney has managed few convincing wins, winning Ohio an incredibly important state, by 1%, and only getting 60% in Virginia, despite the only challenger being Ron Paul. He has failed consistently in states across the South, and whilst it is essential to battle Obama in the swing states on a moderate level, it is equally as important for Romney to get the Republican base behind him, to gain momentum and grass roots support behind his campaign.

Many Republicans and analysts have described this as the worst Republican Nomination campaign ever, more focused on the candidates beating each other up, than inspiring support across the country. Romney appears to have completely lost the confidence of social conservatives, the Santorum camp, highlighting an increasing divide between the different strands of the Republican party. He desperately needs something to inject some momentum into his campaign, with which he already appears tired by. Despite the criticisms of appointing Sarah Palin, at the time it helped give the McCain campaign a huge boost, inspiring the sceptical conservatives of the Republican base to come out and give their support to McCain. The population of the United States look for a candidate to appear, and sound Presidential, and at the moment Romney just is not that. Whilst he may be generating huge amounts of money from the Super PACs, Obama will pick up small donations from the grass roots, showing he still has the ability to inspire people. Something which, to be honest, Romney is unable to do.