Blog Posts by Jeff Greenfield

  • Who built it? We did! The Democrats rebut the GOP convention

    CHARLOTTE, N.C.–For a week, I’ve been waiting to see whether and how the Democrats would answer one of the driving themes of the Republican campaign: “We Built It!” which is the reply to President Barack Obama’s alleged disdain for the achievements of the business owners of America.

    Tuesday afternoon, walking down College Street in between the bands of rain, I saw the answer. Volunteers were handing out fans so that delegates could attempt to wave away the heat and humidity. On the fan was this slogan: “We Make It Possible.”

    In that simple statement we hear echoes of a class divide between the parties. And however muddled, however overshadowed by issues of race, war and culture, this notion has endured for most of the Democratic Party’s political life, and may yet wield decisive influence on this campaign.

    For Republicans, Obama’s jumbled argument that business successes depend on communal efforts–schools, roads and bridges as well as technical and financial assistance–was a godsend. And

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  • A very depressing walk in Charlotte

    CHARLOTTE, N.C.—The neighborhood where Democrats will meet this coming week is as agreeable as any I’ve seen in the 18 conventions I’ve attended. Tryon Street is lined with restaurants, bars, comfortable benches on the street for a few minutes of ease or conversation. College Street boasts more of the same, with movie theaters, cafes, shops of every variety.

    At least, that was what the neighborhood looked and felt like on Saturday. By Sunday morning, the 10-block walk from my hotel to the convention center left me profoundly depressed.

    Metal gates lined the sidewalks, blocking the entrance to building after building; security guards were posted at almost every entrance. Uniformed police, soldiers, steel barriers, vehicles of every sort filled the streets. It was as if a military coup had occurred during the night.

    “So,” I hear you saying, “what else is new? Conventions have been like this for years, at least since 9/11, right?”

    Well, yes and no. Even before Sept. 11, 2001, there was

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  • Monumental Moments From Past Democratic Conventions: ‘Just Explain It’

    Will Rogers once said, "I am a member of no organized political party. I am a Democrat." If you take a look at some of the tumult and controversy that's surrounded past Democratic conventions, you'll know just what Rogers was talking about.

    In 1896, William Jennings Bryan, a 36-year-old Congressman, mesmerized the convention in a debate about monetary policy with his "Cross of Gold" speech. He roused the crowd by denouncing the gold standard, saying, "You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold." They nominated him for president for the first of three times. He lost each time.

    In 1924, Franklin D. Roosevelt resumed his political life after being stricken with polio with a speech putting New York Governor Al Smith's name in nomination. That convention took 103 votes, a record, to pick its nominee.

    Eight years after his comeback, Roosevelt won the nomination in 1932. In a break with tradition, he flew to Chicago to personally accept the it.

    The bitter divide over Vietnam threw

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  • Surprising Moments at Past GOP Conventions: Just Explain It

    Governor Mitt Romney had been the presumptive GOP nominee for weeks ahead of the Republic National Convention, so it wasn't a surprise when he was nominated as their candidate for president Tuesday night. In fact, there hasn't been suspense at any convention for decades. But that's not the way it used to be. Take a look back at some of the memorable convention moments.

    Go all the way back to 1860, in Chicago. The betting money was on former New York Governor William Seward, or maybe Ohio Senator Salmon Chase. But it was little known former one-term Congressman, Abe Lincoln who won the nomination on the third ballot and wound up putting all of his ex-rivals on his White House team.

    Imagine the drama in Chicago in 1912 when President William Howard Taft found himself in a fierce fight for renomination against his old friend and mentor, ex-President Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt had dominated the primaries, but Taft controlled the convention and won the fight, only to face Roosevelt in

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  • Why JFK’s 1960 acceptance speech is depressing in 2012

    If you want a depressing example of how political language has changed—and not for the better—check out this excerpt from John Kennedy’s 1960 acceptance speech.

    Kennedy was making a key argument, that Richard Nixon would not win the love of the votes of many of “the millions of Americans who voted for President Eisenhower.” And he reached for examples of other “Richards” who were unworthy successors.

    “Just as historians tell us that Richard the First was not fit to fill the shoes of the bold Henry the Second,” he said, “and that Richard Cromwell was not fit to wear the mantle of his uncle, they might add in future years that Richard Nixon did not measure up to the footsteps of Dwight D. Eisenhower.”

    Now imagine a group of modern political operatives looking at a speech that invoked 12th and 17th century British history.

    “Are you nuts?” they’d scream at the speechwriter. “Who are you writing for, the history department at Yale? Nobody’s going to understand that. You want to invoke a Richard

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  • Nixon's the one: Why conventions are now about personalities, not policy

    TAMPA, Fla. – It’s one of the most memorable moments in convention history: Franklin D. Roosevelt telling a rapturous Democratic convention in 1932, “Eleven years ago, I lost the use of my legs; for many days and nights, I questioned whether life was worth living. But, with the love and support of Eleanor, I learned to stand and walk again; and I believe with all my heart that America, now paralyzed by Depression and privation, will stand and walk again.”

    You don’t remember that? Of course you don’t. FDR never would have put such a note in an acceptance speech. It wasn’t until Richard Nixon introduced the “politics is personal” trope that the self-revealing anecdotes took hold. Now, try to find a convention acceptance speech without one.

    Back in the day, the only personal touch in FDR’s 1932 address was when he acknowledged that he had broken with tradition by flying to Chicago to accept the nomination in person. He then went on to propose “a New Deal for the American people.” (That’s

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  • Jumping ship: The party platforms no one stands on anymore

    In the furor over Todd Akin’s inventive understanding of biology, we should not lose sight of another matter. His position on abortion--that the victim of rape should be compelled to bear her rapist’s child--has been the official position of the Republican Party for more than thirty years.

    Indeed, the language of the GOP platform--all but certain to be adopted in Tampa next week--goes further. It declares that: "Faithful to the 'self-evident' truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.”

    Taken together with its support for “a human life amendment to the Constitution,” and for “legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children," its platform calls for a ban on all abortions--even to save the life of the mother.

    So why has this decades-long position triggered comparatively little political furor?


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  • Mitt Romney’s Buckeye brushback: Will Paul Ryan lose Ohio for the GOP?

    A specter is haunting Ohio: the specter of John W. Bricker.

    Sixty-eight years ago, the Republican presidential nominee picked Bricker, the Ohio governor and future senator, as his running mate. The choice is the likely reason why Thomas E. Dewey defeated Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Buckeye State by 12,000 votes–a margin of 0.37 percent.

    As I traveled through central Ohio last week–before Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan for his ticket–I heard a constant refrain that Rob Portman, the Republican senator from Ohio, could provide Romney with the margin of victory in the state in November.

    And it wasn’t just from Republicans like Rep. Pat Tiberi (who would have been a leading contender to fill Portman’s Senate seat had he won). “Sen. Portman on the ticket would help tremendously in southwestern Ohio, where he's from,” Tiberi said. “That is the Republican bastion of the state, and that's where he would help, I think, drive up support for the Romney ticket.”

    [Related: Ryan's constituents sound off]

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  • Political confessions: A mistake to admit mistakes?

    Suppose the incumbent is facing an unhappy electorate. The change he’d promised four years ago hasn’t materialized, and the hope he’d stirred has curdled. Suppose the incumbent’s top campaign aides are convinced he needs to acknowledge that all has not gone well. What does he do?

    If the incumbent is New York City Mayor John Lindsay, and the year is 1969, he sits on the steps of Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s official residence, and tapes what came to be known as the “Lindsay Eats Crow” ad. (“Crow” was not the precise substance mentioned.) The ad itself conceded very little, and quickly trumped each mistake with successes.

    “I guessed wrong on the weather before the city’s biggest snowstorm last winter,” he began. “And that was a mistake. But I put 6,000 more cops on the street. And that was no mistake. The school strike went on too long, and we all made some mistakes. But I brought 225,000 more jobs to this town. And that was no mistake.”

    Lindsay continued: “The things that go wrong are what

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  • Add it up: The prediction models look dismal for Obama. Can he still win?

    I got into writing and thinking about politics because I was told there would be no math.

    Boy, was I misled. It’s not just the torrent of polls that we have to deal with, but the numbers that supposedly forecast Presidential elections with uncanny accuracy. Depending on whom you turn to, the key lies in second quarter real GDP growth, the optimism or pessimism of the electorate, individual or family real income growth or a dizzying mix of these and other measurements.

    They’re usually economic, although one prognosticator—Allan Lichtman, history professor at American University—uses broader measurements, asking whether the incumbent or challenger is charismatic or whether the incumbent party has presided over a major change in social policy. (This is considered a positive, although I don’t know if we’ve ever had a case like the Affordable Care Act, which—unlike every other major social change—passed without bipartisan backing and remains broadly unpopular.)

    I’m a skeptic about the

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