Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Harsh realities for Democrats

By David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst
September 7, 2012 -- Updated 2140 GMT (0540 HKT)
President Obama was tempered and more cautious in his speech at the Democratic National Convention, says David Gergen.
President Obama was tempered and more cautious in his speech at the Democratic National Convention, says David Gergen.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Gergen: The Democrats have just completed a very good convention
  • Gergen: Obama's speech had flashes of inspiration, but he was tempered and cautious
  • He says Friday morning's job numbers brought harsh realities to the Democrats
  • Gergen: Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have a serious chance to win

Editor's note: David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been an adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- As Democrats awoke in Charlotte on Thursday morning, there was a euphoric sense that they could be on the verge of breaking open the presidential race. But as they said goodbyes at the airport Friday morning, the mood had changed.

They were still -- and rightly -- congratulating themselves on running a first-rate convention. Every night brought rousing speeches -- from Michelle Obama and Deval Patrick on the first night to Jennifer Granholm, John Kerry and Joe Biden on the third. Of course, the most energizing of all was masterfully delivered by the best orator of his generation, Bill Clinton.

Opinion: We're in for a heck of a ride

In a mark of their professionalism, planners ensured a consistency of themes that would appeal to the Democratic base. And Charlotte was not only a fine host city; it also provided an arena that was much better configured to generate excitement than the GOP convention site in Tampa.

All of this perfectly teed up what was to be the high point of the convention: the acceptance address by Barack Obama. What delegates longed for was the soaring lyricism of candidate Obama in conventions past; what they got was Obama the President, seemingly weighed down by the burdens of office.

There were flashes of inspiration but overall, he was tempered and more cautious. Make no mistake: It was a strong, well-delivered speech --"presidential," as they say. It just didn't sweep people off their feet the way Obama once did. Indeed, he was probably lucky that the speech was moved indoors: it worked much better in a compact arena than it would have in a cavernous stadium.

Opinion: Bill Clinton brings it for Obama

David Gergen
David Gergen

The president offered up a series of goals for his second term but even they seemed small and lacking ambition. His biggest jobs promise was to create 1 million manufacturing jobs over the next four years. Why is that impressive? The economy has already cranked out 500,000 new manufacturing jobs over the past 2½ years, so we wouldn't be picking up the pace much. And even with an extra million, the country will still be 500,000 short of the 2 million lost in the recession. That hardly makes the heart pound.

Republicans will surely pounce on how little he offered by way of plans for lifting the economy out of its mess, creating millions upon millions of jobs, and bringing trillion-dollar deficits under control. The Ryan budget is obviously controversial, they will argue, but at least it presents some concrete ideas for overhauling Medicare.

Moreover, Republicans believe they have a theory of economic growth -- lower taxes, spending cuts, fewer regulations -- that may not have worked so well under George W. Bush but unleashed the economy under Ronald Reagan, who inherited a recession and then saw the creation of some 20 million jobs over seven years.

By late Thursday night, over nightcaps, the realization was setting in among Democrats that their hopes for breaking open the election had probably fallen short. When they woke up Friday morning and heard the new jobs report, they knew for sure.

Not only were the numbers a sharp disappointment, but they also showed how tough life has become for so many Americans. In the past month, for every person who found a job, almost four people gave up hope and left the work force. The percentage of people in the work force today is the lowest in more than three decades -- and that is three years after the recovery supposedly began.

What all of this boils down to is this: The Democrats have just completed a very good convention. They may not have brought over many undecideds, but they probably raised the enthusiasm level among key constituencies, especially women. Moreover, Obama still remains a favorite in this election. The auto bailout, for example, could deliver Ohio to his column and no Republican has won without the Buckeye State.

Still, Thursday night and Friday morning brought some harsh realities to Charlotte. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have a serious chance to win this. Underlying economic conditions are working in their favor and with the new jobs report, it is easier to make the election a referendum on the past few years. And they have tons of cash to pour into the fall.

Both sides are thus settling in for a long, tough fight -- and waiting to see each other at the October debates.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Gergen.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT