Voters to decide ‘better off’ question

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, September 9, 2012

The funny-looking hats have been packed away, the balloons and confetti cleaned up, the signs packed, shipped on to the next event.      Meanwhile, the candidates are off to new speaking engagements and preparing for the debates, while the political bean counters are counting votes and strategizing ways to reach those vital and elusive swing voters – voters who will decide the future of this nation on the first Tuesday in November.

     The Democratic and Republican conventions are now history, and only time will tell which convention had the most impact, if any, on those undecided voters. More importantly, however, will be the question: did the respective party conventions rally their bases at the grassroots level?

     Only time will tell.

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     In years past, party conventions were once masterpieces of political drama. They were television events that kept viewers glued to their seats for an entire week. Prior to the 1980s, nominees (sometimes including the incumbent) were rarely decided prior to the final vote count. The smoke-filled rooms where the political deals were hammered gave the convention drama and intrigue just like a good mystery book, as newspaper and TV reporters scoured the halls, searching for clues to the latest rumor. It gave drama to those at home as millions watched the events unfold.

     In 1976, the decision came down to the final vote count with Mississippi delegates holding the deciding votes. President Gerald Ford won the nomination over Ronald Reagan after a rancorous split within the Mississippi delegation. I had the opportunity to attend. I will never forget watching the Gerald Ford family standing nearby as the votes were cast, cheering for the Magnolia state.

     I created my own drama during the 1988 Republican Convention. Some say I have a striking resemblance to Michael Dukakis, the then Democratic nominee. As the first George Bush was making his famous, “No new taxes” proclamation, the secret service was checking me out to see who exactly I was!

     Lost is the drama of the conventions of today with every minute planned and orchestrated. Lost, also, is the question of who will win the nomination. Lost is the intrigue of who will be vice president. Those decisions are made now months prior.

     In Tampa two weeks ago, the drama for Republicans centered around Tropical Storm Isaac and its impact. Then came Clint Eastwood speaking to an empty chair.

     For the Democrats, the drama in North Carolina centered around the reasons behind the decision to move the convention indoors on Thursday night. To their credit, Democrats did add drama as they bounced around the importance of God to their party. After initially dropping the word God from their platform – the guiding document that states the party’s beliefs – the leadership decided maybe it was best to put God back in! Maybe, that is why party leaders decided they needed a roof over their heads Thursday night?

     The central theme for both conventions was: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” The answer depends on how one looks at it. Here in Mississippi, where one in every 10 individuals is without a job, the answer is likely different than the swing state of Ohio where jobless numbers are not as stark.

     Friday’s poor employment reports bring opportunity for Republicans as well as challenges for Democrats. While Mitt Romney had Isaac to dampen his momentum, Barack Obama had the jobs report suck away his. So, we are back to a dead-heat.

     There are 59 days till the most important presidential election in this country’s history, with plenty of time for voters to decide their own answer to that question.

     Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven MS 39602, or send e-mail to