Bill Clinton did what he set out to do, and did it well. He brought the attention and focus of the Democrats, if only briefly, squarely back to his favorite person: “Don’t you wish I was the man at the top of the ticket?” Nobody honks, wonks and bonks quite like the ravisher in chief. The delegates felt happily ravished, just like old times.
Barack Obama did what he had to do, too. The pared-down setting, an arena with 20,000 cheering Democrats instead of a stadium surrounded by empty seats and the remnants of the plaster of Paris Parthenon shipped in from Denver and 2008, seemed just right for his acceptance speech. He has to revise himself and lower expectations for a second term. If he can’t be the messiah, he can hold Bubba’s horse.
And for one brief, shining moment, the Charlotte convention came alive, almost as if a Democratic convention of old, with angry delegates standing on their chairs shouting insults at the podium. Disputed ballots (or at least disputed voice votes) threatened to spin the proceedings out of control. What confusion. What suspense. What glorious fun. Who but Democrats would decide by majority vote whether to invite God to the party? No one has yet improved on Will Rogers: “I’m not a member of an organized political party, I’m a Democrat.”
The chairman of the convention, Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa, called three times for a voice vote to amend the platform, which nobody will ever again read, to restore a mention of God and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. After two unsuccessful votes, you could see dilemma written in his face. He had to rule that the amendment was adopted not by a simple majority but by the two-thirds vote required by convention rules.
The first time, the voices crying “aye” and those shouting “no” seemed about even; the second time, the “nos” seemed louder. The mayor looked like the goose hit on the head with a long-handled wooden spoon. “I, uh,” he said after a long pause, “I guess I’ll do that one more time.” A young woman at his side, presumably a parliamentarian, told him in a frustrated aside: “You’ve got to rule, and then you’ve got to let them do what they’re gonna do.”
The third time was not exactly the charm, and the “nos” clearly had it. But a result had been ordained by the party powers that be.
“In the opinion of the chair, two-thirds have voted in the affirmative.” Mr. Villaraigosa’s sheepish expression said he didn’t believe a word of it, and later in the day he told a PBS interviewer that he was sure a “majority” voted “aye.” Neither of the PBS interviewers, being well-mannered ladies, thought to remind him that a mere majority was not enough.
The deed, which had to be done, finally was, and it was left to the spinners to put a face on the debacle. They cast President Obama as “personally” intervening to get God and Jerusalem back in the platform, though there was nobody to believe that the president had not been consulted earlier before God was banished and Jerusalem and the Jews were told to get lost. Mr. Obama had never before acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital, pending resolution of “final status issues” in the so called “peace process.”
When Jay Carney, the president’s flack, was asked in July to name the capital of Israel, he declined to do so. With the changes in the platform made at his direction, President Obama put himself at odds with the Obama administration. (Will Rogers, take another bow.)
The president’s luckless spinners, faced with the impossible job of thinking up a fib big enough for the occasion, could only embarrass themselves. The president, intervening, was only expressing his “personal” view. “It doesn’t make sense for a U.S. president to impose his personal beliefs in a policy context,” an Obama campaign official, trying to keep a straight face, told the Weekly Standard magazine. “But it’s important for him to make clear where he stands on these issues.”
This is certainly an imaginative precedent for a president — that, yes, a president is expected to set out the goals and expectations for his administration, but, after all, he shouldn’t be expected to agree with himself. Why ask the president? You might as well ask Joe the Plumber. Or the cat.
But now we can get serious with the campaign. There will be plenty of rough places for both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to stub a toe. The president, who looked invincible in the spring, now looks “vincible” indeed. To quote the president’s favorite former president: “Bring it on!”
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.