Barack Obama's big speech last night left me a bit underwhelmed, considering oratory is supposedly his strong suit--even Bill Clinton, who I consider the human equivalent of a wet eel and whose speeches always bored me, did a hell of a rousing job and made a much better case for Obama's re-election than the President did. I can't really think of any part of Obama's speech that stuck with me, and just a few hours after watching the video cannot recall what the central argument for his re-election is. Are things actually better, with prosperity just around the corner? Is there a good reason to believe that the budget fights and lack of bipartisan cooperation will improve after his re-election? Either of these would have been winning themes. Instead, it felt like a State of the Union address, with a long list of proposals that I can't imagine would ever see the light of day.
Still, we'll see if there's any bump in the polls after the Democratic Convention, or if the heated up campaign season brings any swing in this tight race. Today's lousy jobs numbers--a meager gain of 96,000, which is lower than the previous month--might give Mitt Romney a boost, but I think voters have their minds made up on the economy. We're in a recovery, but it's a frustratingly slow and weak one, even more so than the frustratingly tepid recovery after 2001. Not strong enough to give Obama a Reagan-esque re-election wipeout, or weak enough to enable Romney to defeat him as Clinton beat the elder Bush in 1992. It's in the middle ground that makes prediction difficult.
Not that this should really reflect much on the president that presides over the recession or recovery--I'm hard pressed to understand how a GOP president would have made the economy better these past four years, or how a President Gore or Kerry would have avoided the big recession. (Though Bush and his Congresses deserve blame for letting the budget go into deep deficit from 2001-2009 and making it harder to deal with the recession when it did occur, this isn't the same as doing something to make it happen in the first place). It's not fair, but voters will punish or reward the incumbent based on how the country's doing, no matter whether the incumbent deserves the blame or credit. This slow recovery makes Obama vulnerable, but not so much that he can't pull off a win.
My other takeaway is that neither candidate--Obama or Romney--is particularly ideological. And that's a good thing--an ideologue is just a person who has an answer before he knows what the question is. These are really two relative moderates who have to play to their party bases much like a film would have to toss in a nude scene to appeal to the cheap seats. Hence Obama railing against "outsourcing" even though he knows full well that any serious policy to punish that practice would be far worse for the economy, and Romney talking as though he'd never agree to a revenue hike when it's pretty clear that he can bend to the wills of the electorate or the needs of the time (see, Massachusetts, Governorship of). Both parties' attempts to paint the opposing candidate as either Karl Marx or John Galt fall flat when you take a close look at these guys.
Still, heading into November we're left with the twin problems of a weak economy and a budget crisis, both of which seem to require contradictory actions by the government. I'm not convinced either candidate has figured out exactly what will fix these problems.