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September 10, 2012

Media Focus Misdirected in Tampa

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

[Editor’s Note: This column was written prior to the start of the Democratic Party Convention in Charlotte, NC.]


Last week's column was saved in memory before the first GOP convention speech was given. The analysis was saved for today.


Looking back, there are two distinct views of the GOP's week in Tampa. Now, with a week and half of distance, it's a little easier to analyze and comment.


Initially, the single biggest takeaway was logistical, not political. Party conventions are scripted, planned and plotted. It's always been assumed that this was strictly for message control and to focus on the presidential ticket.


Now we see why.


Clint Eastwood, an American icon and legend, was granted a rare spotlight in which to offer some extemporaneous comments on the presidential race on the GOP Convention's final night. Not just the final night, but within minutes of the nomination acceptance speech offered by Gov. Mitt Romney.


If conventions are overly scripted, final nights of conventions are reserved for the best and brightest, the idea being that it should be a rising crescendo of emotion culminating with the rousing acceptance of the party's leader.


As evidence, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, arguably the brightest light of the GOP, was placed on the stage right after the rumored "guest presenter.” Fox News broke the story midday, so the identity of the mystery speaker really wasn't much of a surprise.


Senator Rubio did his job, and he did it very well. He set a tone; he raised the bar; and he laid the foundation. Preceding Mr. Rubio, the audience was treated to a 10-minute video, the story of Mr. Romney, his faith, family and fitness for the job.


After the video, the lights went down and the first notes of the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly filled the hall. One of Mr. Eastwood's best spaghetti westerns, the song inspired a chorus of whistlers. It's just what we naturally do when we hear that song. The video backdrop set the famous tilted hat and small cigar silhouette against an orange desert sunset.


Understandably, the crowd went wild.


This was big for several reasons, notwithstanding his infamous film roles as Det. (Dirty) Harry Callahan, Josey Wales, or any of the silent and coldly efficient gunslingers in dozens of top-selling westerns, Clint Eastwood has become one of our most venerated film directors in the last 10 years.


Never too political, Mr. Eastwood even held public office at one time. He served as the mayor of Carmel, CA, and was reportedly a coolly efficient public servant. More recently, during the 2012 Super Bowl, he was featured in a commercial touting the comeback of the domestic auto industry called "Halftime in America". Some people thought the spot was a tacit endorsement of the Obama Administration, making Eastwood's GOP convention appearance all that much more significant.


As has been well-reported, the "performance" Mr. Eastwood logged onstage at the Tampa Bay Forum left a lot to be desired. Seemingly acceptable to the convention delegates, Clint's rambling monologue did not translate nearly as well to the television audience.


He almost seemed a little lost at times. While some of his jokes were funny, many were cringe-inducing. It felt a bit like a bad family reunion, where Grandpa grabs the mic and tells stories that were once funny, but are now just weird.


The saddest aspect of the Eastwood "moment" is that people like me aren't talking about Ann Romney's amazing speech, or rising stars like New Mexico Gov. Susan Martinez, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, or even better than expected talks by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Instead of the inspiring talk given by GOP vice presidential candidate and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, the media focused instead on Clint Eastwood speaking and gesturing to an empty chair.


In today's climate of obvious mass media bias, the Republican Party has to be better. They have to be better than the Democrats in order to not get excoriated by the national media. Even when they are clearly better, they still get the short-shrift from NBC, CBS and ABC.


There were outstanding examples of principled leadership demonstrated by dozens of small government conservatives. They offered thoughtful solutions for vexing problems, long-ignored or worsened by the inaction of the current administration and the less-than-productive Congress.


Did that stuff make the news? Nope! An old movie star talking to an empty chair, making innuendo of a sexual nature, led every single broadcast newscast on Friday following the nomination acceptance.


So, now the focus will turn to Charlotte. The Democrats get their moment in the sun. Repeating their Denver success in 2008, the bulk of the speeches, platform development and delegate work will occur in an indoor sports arena.


The big drama was originally scheduled to unfold in the home of the National Football League’s Carolina Panthers, an outdoor football stadium able to accommodate the convention-goers along with thousands of others who want to share the moment.


It would have created a moment of fun irony that the naming rights for the stadium are owned by Bank of America. One of President Barack Obama's bad guys, Bank of America has led the push to overturn the Dodd-Frank banking reforms so essential to an Obama second term.


In 2008, Mile High Stadium in Denver was packed. Whether due to the threat of bad weather (a 40% chance of thunderstorms) or the difficulty in filling the projected empty seats, the party decided to move the big acceptance speech back inside the smaller convention headquarters arena.


They chose the heart of the South for two reasons. One, Charlotte is a hip spot. Hot nightlife, busy daily downtown core, and young professionals fill the bars and restaurants at night. The more obvious reason is the strong desire of Democrats to protect this state in the Obama Electoral College column.


In 2008, President Obama turned North Carolina blue. No small feat, most skilled pundits list the Tar Heel state as a must win for Mitt Romney.


The unforeseen challenge was the fact that North Carolina voters support:


·        Keeping North Carolina a "right to work" state. That essentially means the state is union-unfriendly, which makes gathering grass roots supporters and union dues-payers and getting them to attend convention-related events much more difficult.


·        North Carolina voters adopted a traditional marriage constitutional amendment, meaning that only marriage between a man and woman is officially acknowledged in the state. President Obama and his surrogates will probably want to vilify the Romney/Ryan ticket for their traditional marriage platform. In so doing, will they also alienate the majority of Tar Heel voters?


Look for a carefully choreographed, minutely managed demonstration of inclusiveness, brotherhood and the love of the working class.


Needless to say, I doubt you'll see many empty chairs. In spite if some union bosses reticence on the selection of Charlotte, shifting the Thursday night spectacular to the 20,000 seat indoor arena spares them the embarrassment of thousands of empty seats. Based on Clint Eastwood's reviews, don't look for any empty chairs on stage, either.


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