x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Economy, foreign policy dominate convention

The final night of the Democratic Convention featured a litany of high-profile and powerful speakers and concluded with Vice-President Joe Biden and the president, himself, delivering his acceptance speech.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA // President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney both faced challenges in their respective conventions. Romney had to close the deal with his party's Conservative base and better define himself as a regular guy for undecided independent voters. He relied on his running mate to accomplish the first objective, and his wife to achieve the second. President Obama, on the other hand, had to address the disappointment of some voters with the fact that he had not been able to live up to the overly high expectations that ushered in his presidency and to make a convincing argument as to why he deserved another term in which to solve problems still plaguing the United States.

It was around these themes that the entire Democratic Convention was structured. Speaker after speaker told stories of how their lives had improved because of the policies implemented by the administration: jobs saved, health care delivered, education more affordable, women's rights protected, businesses started, and soldiers now home from Iraq and employed or going to school.

A repeating theme was the contrast in philosophies of the standard bearers of the Democratic and Republican parties - with Mr Obama standing for government playing a necessary part in boosting the economy and lifting up those who need a helping hand; and Mr Romney believing that government needs to get out of the way so that the initiative of individuals can be free to create jobs.

These were the themes and the messages of the first two nights of the Democratic Convention, and the final night was no exception. It featured a litany of high-profile and powerful speakers, ranging from actress Scarlett Johansson to Senator Richard Durbin and concluded with Vice-President Joe Biden and the president, himself, delivering his acceptance speech.

While the economy remained a focus of the conversation, unlike the previous days, the final line-up included a good deal of foreign policy, particularly from Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign relations Committee and considered a candidatefor Secretary of State in a second Obama administration.

Mr Kerry presented a dual narrative, highlighting the diplomatic strengths of the Obama administration while lambasting the Romney-Ryan ticket for its foreign policy inexperience. He touted Mr Obama's handling of "the disarray and disaster he inherited," including two failing war efforts, the continued elusiveness of Osama Bin Laden, and a unprecedented level of global ill-will. His language was, however, peppered with the usual economic attacks, as when Mr Kerry brought the crowd to its feet when he said, "Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago." Mr Kerry also wove together Mr Romney's reputation as an "outsourcer" with his documented reliance on neo-conservative heavyweights for foreign policy advice. "This is not the time to outsource the job of commander in chief," Mr Kerry quipped to thunderous applause.

Mr Biden delivered one of his better speeches telling stories of Mr Obama's decision-making and his courage and steadfastness in addressing tough questions, focusing on the decisions to save the auto companies and to get Bin Laden.

As for the president himself, his speech hit on all the main issues of the convention: women's rights, job creation, killing Osama Bin Laden, and what needed to be done to unleash and support the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people. He presented a "choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future," visions based on divergent political foundations. In doing so, he base the Democratic vision of America in the context of citizenship: "a word at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy; the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations." The collectivist ethic struck a decisively different tone from the individualistic approach used by his Republican opponents.

Mr Obama only touched on the US commitment to Israel, but also made a point of balancing the rhetoric with strong language on the Arab Spring: "The historic change sweeping across the Arab World must be defined not by the iron fist of a dictator or the hate of extremists, but by the hopes and aspirations of ordinary people who are reaching for the same rights that we celebrate here today."

As Mr Obama and the other speakers rallied the crowd, they paid particular homage to delegates from swing states such as Michigan, Ohio, Florida, and Virginia. What was particularly interesting was that virtually every camera shot of these groups showed numbers of delegates waving "Yalla Vote" and "Arab American Democrat" signs, an inspiring affirmation that the Arab American community has firmly integrated itself into the ranks of the Democratic Party.

Reflecting on the past four days, I know that the record-number of Arab American delegates at the convention walked away empowered and aware of the challenges they continue to face as they seek to make their voices heard. In discussions with many I found that despite their disappointment with the platform fiasco they were pleased with the strong support they received from their fellow Democrats. And return home inspired by this President, committed to his vision for the country, and determined to play their part in this reelection campaign. If their mood is any indication, Mr Obama's convention worked for them as much as the Romney effort worked for their GOP counterparts.

Now it's on to November.


James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute (www.aaiusa.org and Twitter at @aaiusa)