Friday, September 7, 2012

Reflections on the Democratic convention and the election

Can one learn something from convention speeches? The answer is yes. At least, I learned something -- or was reminded of something -- from the passages on the energy issue in both Clinton's speech and Obama's. In those sections, they both highlighted the same set of facts about the last couple of years: the increased use of renewable energy sources and the rise in domestic oil and natural gas production and corresponding decline in oil imports. As Clinton put it, oil imports are at "a near 20 year low and natural gas production [is at] an all time high. Renewable energy production has also doubled." Both speeches also mentioned the increase in fuel-efficiency standards that will double the minimum required miles-per-gallon "by the middle of the next decade" (quote from Obama). I had been vaguely aware of all this but it hadn't been at the front of my mind. Whether it sank in with all that many people is of course an open question. Perhaps doubtful, given all the hoopla, distractions, etc. that tend to dominate these events.

Some points I thought were perhaps too heavily emphasized by the Dems. E.g. the auto industry rescue deserved emphasis but probably it was overdone. Apart from Kerry's speech, foreign policy got fairly short shrift, and Obama, for the most part, raced through the foreign policy sections of his speech, which were anyway rather unsurprising and, e.g. in the case of the Middle East, extremely vague (one sentence, in fact). However, the line about Romney being caught in "a Cold War time warp" was good, as was the line about it being time for some "nation-building at home."

Last thought: Martin Gilens's research, which he wrote about in a series of Monkey Cage posts, e.g. here, shows that the most affluent in the U.S. have far more success in translating their positions and political preferences into policy than everyone else. This casts doubt on the rhetoric of both parties about democracy, responsiveness to the popular will, self-government, and so on. So the question in the election might be less one of a grand philosophical choice between visions -- though there are of course real and significant philosophical differences between Obama and Romney -- and more a question of which outcome will intensify even further the situation Gilens documents, i.e. make the connection between affluence and influence (to use the title of his book) even tighter. I don't think readers of this blog will be in too much doubt about my answer to that question.

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