While Barack Obama is lounging on the beaches in Hawaii he will likely be musing about the DNC Convention. He no doubt expects this to be a rock-concert like send off to the rest of the road tour, otherwise known as the campaign, which will land him in the White House. But while he is soaking up the rays he might mull over what could go wrong in Denver. It is what effective planners and candidates, at least those who realize the election is not yet won, do: contemplate everything that could go wrong.
For starters, The One’s acceptance rally with 75,000 bouncing, screaming, and fainting fans could easily look like a cross between a Grateful Dead concert and another era’s Teutonic rally. They have the chant (O-bam-a), they have the salute and they have the haircut. If the cult of The Chosen One has gotten out of hand, the Speech — or is it a “happening”? — could be downright creepy. Worse still, it might become fodder for a slew of ads — from John McCain who is only too happy to mock The One For Whom They Assemble. So perhaps less is more. (And raining on The One might be interpreted as a sign that the political fates were turning on him.)
As for the substance, the Speech can’t be yet another helping of the same frothy, over-the-top rhetorical junk food he has been serving up for eighteen months. The pundits could yawn, the McCain team could chuckle and the voters could well say “It’s that all he’s got?” More ocean adjustment and invocation of “the moment” would likely bring eye rolls and guffaws, and not much tingling even from the increasingly skeptical media cheerleaders. In short, he needs to say something new, non-cloying and substantive that will convince voters he’s more than the self-parody which he’s quickly becoming.
If that isn’t enough to kept Obama tossing and turning in his Hawaiian hotel, he might consider what the Republican could be up to that week. The newly feisty Congressional Republicans might keep up the energy show with some fun antics. How much energy are all those stadium lights burning? How much oil could have been drilled offshore while Obama was in Denver? And how many hours and minutes has it been since Obama and his Democratic friends fled town rather than vote on a comprehensive energy bill? You get the point. A dazzling display of clocks, meters and, of course, ego gauges may keep the Republicans in fighting form and garner more attention (at least on the days Obama isn’t speaking) than the Democrats.
And then there are the Clintons. Hillary and Bill, even on their best behavior, might wind up reminding all of their devoted followers of their common grievances and disappointments. The Clintons’ memories are long and their grudges run deep, and their followers know it. They bring with them a couple of potential complications.
To begin with, there is the procedural tussle over whether to put Hillary’s name in nomination and allow a roll call. Why shouldn’t her delegates get the cathartic experience she says they need? Because it would look like a house divided, which it is. The truest of the true believers won’t like it a bit when she most likely will be denied the full honors (a tabulated roll call) which previous, less successful candidates enjoyed. She won’t be getting her full moment in the sun. And many of her most devoted followers won’t like it.
But beyond that, are the Clinton speeches. Will they steal the show? Ted Kennedy did it in 1980 by reminding his faithful followers that their dreams, and his, weren’t dying. Will the Clintons undermine The One through winks and nods? Like Mark Antony’s funeral oration for Caesar, a couple of Clinton speeches ostensibly designed to praise Obama may be fraught with zingers. Each time she mentions her 18 million voters (Read: “I got more votes than him”) and the dangerous world in which we live (Remember: the 3 a.m. ad) and reminds them that now is not the time for tomfoolery (Think: “And you are electing this lightweight?”), there will be plenty of fodder for the double entendre gurus to pick over. We could have had her may be on a few million aggrieved supporters’ minds. And the real Clinton message? “If Obama loses, the 2012 campaign restarts in three months.”
Finally, Obama still must provide an answer to the question on many voters’ mind: Why him? The bogey man of President Bush has dimmed — everyone knows he’s leaving. And the “change” message has become a tiresome cliché. But Obama has yet to explain what about his persona, experience and vision is superior to his opponents’. A convention about the putrid Bush administration or the wonderfulness of The One likely isn’t going to get him what he wants. The worst case scenario is that voters stare at the hoopla, turn to their spouses and friends and say “You know, there’s no there, there.”
So during his time in the Hawaiian sun, Obama would be wise to put the transition team on hold and start thinking about the Convention. It could be one heck of a party but, like the Magical Mystery European tour, he may wind up with a political hangover. Substance and restraint are not his strong suits and he will need a heavy dose of both.
Obama knows all too well that the two candidates’ conventions (along with the fall debates) will attract more viewers and may impact more voters than any other events before Election Day. And Paris Hilton and George Clooney can tell him: the worst thing for any media star is to fail to live up to expectations.