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Democratic Convention Day #3

Sean Evans, Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science
Aug 28, 2008

Last night was the Democrats best night because they finally integrated the disprate themes into one coherent whole setting the stage for Obama's speech tonight.

First though, we would be remiss if we did not note the historic nature of the nomination. In a country where African-Americans could not really vote 40 years ago, it says quite a bit about the Democratic Party and the country to nominate an African-American for the highest office in the land. The fact that the nomination was by acclimation is also significant because it is only the third in Democratic Convention history that has happened (FDR in 1936 and LBJ in 1964 were the others).

Second, I also have to comment on the Hillary move for acclimation. The entire media story on the convention coming in and for the first few days was about the tension and fights between the Obama and Clinton camps. Then both Hillary and Bill Clinton give good speeches endorsing Obama while Hillary swings all of NY votes for Obama and then moves to make the nomination by acclimation should end speculation about divisions in the party. To be perfectly honest, the while thing was so scripted it makes me think it was planned so they could tear down the straw man argument of division.

Oh well, onto the message. Tonight, the Democrats pulled it together. Yesterday's post discussed how qualification, identification, and empathy are necessary for voters to listen to you. Up to last night, the speakers focused on identity and empathy. Last night, they added qualification and integrated it with the other two.

First, both former President Clinton and Senator Biden added the qualifaction part to the narrative. President Clinton was especially effective. He is one of 4 individuals living who knows what it takes to be president. The fact that he can stand up there and say that Obama has the wisdom, intelligence, judgment, and skill to be president is a compelling endorsement. Even more compelling was comparing Obama to himself when Republicans ran against him in 1992 by saying he as too young and inexperienced. He finished that argument off saying it was wrong then and is wrong now.

Biden tried to do the same thing with his speech. The weakest part of his qualification argument was listing his accomplishments in the Illinois Senate and the US Senate because frankly there are not many and they were not very big. The more effective portion was his comments about the judgment it takes to be president. In looking at foreign policy judgments of Obama and McCain, he tried to show that Obama was right and McCain was wrong. The way he framed it was very effective. Of course, we also need to know what he ignored like the surge and the decision to go to war which Biden himself missed.

Second, Biden hit on the empathy and idenitification points with his life story. The speech by his son, Beau Biden, I think was very effective painting Biden as a family man first and foremost while Biden's stories about his mother and father were just as compelling. Biden then moved into his personal story which has its own Horatio Alger feel to identify with the American Dream.

This leads to their comments on politics and policy. Tonight, they tied their American Dream stories to politics with the emphasis on restoring the American Dream and renewing America's leadership/promise in the world. Whether they were effective in saying McCain is more of the same and Obama is the change we need, time will tell.

So Obama has been set up as someone who has the qualifications, identification with common people, and the ability to empahtize with those trying to get by. Now that people are in a position to listen, can he deliver? If you are on Obama supporter, I'm guessing you're saying "Yes He Can."