Richter Scale

The Democrats, Viewed Globally

Was the multigenerational, multiracial and multiethnic Democratic convention a reflection America’s melting pot society?

Bill Clinton
Credit: Remy Steinegger-World Economic Forum (CC BY-SA 2.0)


  • Bill Clinton will work hard behind the scenes to cast Obama's two terms effectively as Clinton's third and fourth terms.
  • Mitt Romney's trouble is that he is like a chameleon and (re)invents himself according to the circumstances in which he finds himself.
  • Think of Barack Obama as the son — and the political heir — that Bill Clinton never had.

For all the talk about how beautifully stage-managed the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte was last week, or how well the speakers stayed on point (avoiding Clint Eastwood moments of their own), the most significant message from the convention was an entirely unspoken one.

Regardless of how many speakers extolled their party’s patriotism, its support for the troops and faith in the United States, none of that was as powerful as the images on the audience side of the podium.

The Democratic convention was clearly not just another (largely) white and (largely) male crowd, like the one that gathered for the Republican National Convention in Tampa. To a person, the delegates in Charlotte seemed to have been assembled by Hollywood-style central casting.

What the world got to see was what makes America so unique — its patchwork of faces of all generations, colors, nationalities and ethnicities. Whether this coalition was put together by central casting or came together by pure coincidence, the Democrats came off as the party with the all-are-welcome big tent

In a society that is rapid turning majority-minority, that message will undoubtedly be key to the future of the Democratic Party.

An old hand among the non-U.S. television correspondents asked afterwards whether the Democrats had paid (!) the camera crews to transmit such an attractively diverse array of faces into the nation’s living rooms.

Yet all the cameras had to do was pretty much focus on any face in the room.

Remember the old guy in his Veterans of Foreign Wars cap, shown time and again, listening intently? Or the Latinos, Asian-Americans and the many women from all walks of life?

The Democrats represented the MasterCard and Visa crowd with their inclusive, broad-based imagery, which contrasted quite vividly with the Republicans’ exclusivity of the American Express card crowd.

Overcoming the Carter legacy

While the race to the White House may already be lost for the Republicans at this stage, it would be unfair to put the blame entirely at the feet of the standard-bearer. Mitt Romney’s trouble is that he is like a chameleon and (re)invents himself according to the circumstances in which he finds himself.

He went one way in Massachusetts — and another in the 2012 campaign. But the real strike against Mitt Romney is his party’s relentless pursuit of becoming ever more ruthlessly elitist and socially harsh.

The bitterness that the Republicans convey is appealing only to a stagnant pool of people. Moreover, it is violating the cardinal Reaganite rule of Republican politics: to promise the American people an ever brighter tomorrow. In the face of the current economic crisis, that promise rings ever more hollow. In fact, it is quite empty.

At their 2012 convention, the Democrats finally overcame the Carter legacy of believing that honesty pays in electoral politics. Instead, they more or less copied the Republicans — and beat them at their own game by unflinchingly rallying around the troops.

That this theme was not given broad space in Candidate Romney’s own speech in Tampa was the gravest — in fact, unpardonable — oversight of his speechwriters and advisors and Republican strategists.

Such a tremendous opening is one that Bill Clinton would know how to exploit any day. And so he did. To him, his speech to the Democrats was about far more than settling scores, supporting Obama in the campaign or indirectly thanking him for how he has treated his wife.

It stands to reason that no Secretary of State in recent decades has been able to operate with less interference and more support and back-up from the boss in the Oval Office than has Hillary Clinton.

The real reason why Clinton is keen on supporting Obama is twofold. First, if Obama wins, then rest assured Bill Clinton will work hard behind the scenes to cast Obama’s two terms effectively as Clinton’s third and fourth terms.

Whenever the Republicans interfered with the Clinton agenda in the 1990s — say, on health care — it took another go at the till, he will argue, before the obstinate Republican refuseniks could be wrestled down.

On top of that, Clinton seems to have another, very personal perspective on Obama. Think of Barack Obama as the son — and the political heir — that Bill Clinton never had.

Obama is brainy and, like Clinton, he is able to deliver a remarkably good speech. Clinton also possesses a lot of the wiliness of Barack Obama, Sr., the wayfaring man from Kenya and father of the current president. Even by Bill Clinton’s standards, Obama Sr. took things too far on many fronts, not just the womanizing.

Still, Bill Clinton knows that, at least until his after-presidency, the devil — read: a high degree of irresponsibility — was riding him at times. So he feels, to a spectacular extent, a certain paternal kinship with Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States.

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About Stephan Richter

Director of the Global Ideas Center, a global network of authors and analysts, and Editor-in-Chief of The Globalist.

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