After the party, the hangover. Just hours after US President Barack Obama made his case for another term in the White House — received with such fervor from the 20,000 Democratic supporters assembled in front of him that it brought back memories of the euphoria of 2008 — the latest job figures landed with a thump. Fewer than 100,000 jobs were created last month, when twice as many were needed; the jobless rate was down to 8.1 percent, but mainly because many US citizens have given up the search for work.
If Obama had not had an early sighting of these numbers, as some pundits suspect, then he certainly pitched his speech on the assumption they might be bad. It was designed to be the antidote to the paean to hope and change that a bushy-tailed Obama delivered four years ago.
“I was a younger man then,” Obama said almost wistfully.
There was no Greek temple this time, no rallying cry of the “fierce urgency of now” and though he talked about hope he did so apologetically, lamenting that it had been tested “by one of the worst economic crises in history.”
None of that seemed to matter for the faithful in the arena, though, who cheered and chanted as though it were early 2008 all over again. Even the thousands of supporters who were turned away from the arena after the larger stadium event was canceled refused to be dampened by disappointment: they screamed at Obama as he was beamed on to screens in front of them in the spill-over ballroom to which they had been relegated.
Conventions are a form of theater and in purely thespian terms Obama won hands down. His performance on Thursday night resonated with committed Democrats on a level that Mitt Romney could only dream of. Republican delegates in Tampa, Florida, the previous week were muted by comparison.
This was partly a simple reflection of the audience: Hard-core Democrats remain far more enamored of Obama than the conservative base is of Romney, and Obama had a Tony award-winning supporting cast in Michelle, who played the emoting wife more convincingly than her first lady challenger, Ann Romney, while former US president Bill Clinton — who once again proved himself to be the Laurence Olivier of political soliloquizing.
However, running for the presidency of the US is not just about stagecraft, even in the era of the TV soundbite. Outside the bubble of the convention centers in Charlotte and Tampa, away from the autocues and the flag waving, there are millions out of work and millions more anxious that they could lose their jobs.
Which is why, for all the razzmatazz inside the arena, outside the election remains an ugly affair, bitterly fought and certain to be agonizingly close.