What You Will (and Won’t) Hear in Charlotte This Week

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By Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru

This is the first in a series of reports from Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru from the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte,   North Carolina.

Margaret: Ramesh, your people had a very interesting week, buttoned down except for improv by Clint Eastwood starring in "The Old Man and the Seat," as Jon Stewart dubbed it, and Code Pink protesters dressed as vaginas that the Republican Party was to keep its ultrasound out of.

I’d like to see Charlotte top that. Protest control is one of the few things the parties agree on. Just as there is an army of handlers to make sure nothing surprising happens on stage (see exception above), there is a veritable Department of Protests that sets the perimeters, builds the fences and carts off those who don’t stay within the regulations. Ron Paul die-hards excepted, it was nearly impossible to get attention in Tampa (thus Code Pink’s costumes).

I doubt any group will do much better in Charlotte, even if a bunch of them dress up as penises to decry affirmative action.

No one yearns for Chicago 1968 or a smoke-filled room, but don’t you wish for a little drama to these things? Let’s pause to thank Mitt Romney for falling so hard for Eastwood at a Sun Valley fundraiser he invited him -- no strings attached -- to address the convention.

Forewarned (there are advantages to going second), I can hear Democrats scrubbing their Hollywood moment from the agenda right now. Think if Whoopi Goldberg were to do her thing, or even the sedate George Clooney. You never know when someone is going to go off script. Democrats would never hear the end of it. Still, I’m hoping there is something akin to a “mystery guest” as Eastwood was known on the official schedule.

We’ll see the flip side of some of the problems the Republicans had last week. Republicans have few minorities. You could look on stage and see all they had. I’m all for minority representation, but Democrats should find some way to bring some white working men back into the fold. According to polls, they’d rather have root canal than vote for a Democrat.

On social issues, Republicans have their own versions of Todd Akin (and Paul Ryan, for that matter). Pushed around for years by people like NARAL's Kate Michelman and NOW's Ellie Smeal, they went too far. Eventually Bill Clinton added to the platform language in suport of making abortion “safe, legal, and rare” to cast Democrats as pro-choice, not pro-abortion. That language was removed in 2008 and didn’t go back in this year.

On the positive side for Democrats, they’ve stolen a march on foreign affairs and national security with a roster of terrorists (led by Osama bin Laden) killed and drones as far as the eye can't see. All Republicans could do in Tampa was saber-rattle. I lost count of the wars they wanted to continue or start.

I remember the good old days of the Grand Old Party when their leaders wanted to spend much of the GDP on gold-plated weapons (they still do) they never intended to use. I don't know if the second part of that is still true. What I do know is that in their attempt to regain the upperhand on national security, they waved them on TV.

(Margaret Carlson is a columnist for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)

Ramesh: There was certainly a lot of tough talk about Iran and military force generally in Tampa last week, Margaret. Bizarrely, though, Mitt Romney omitted any mention of our troops in Iraq or Afghanistan in his acceptance speech. No way President Obama will make the same mistake. I expect we’ll hear more about Osama bin Laden this week, too. Democrats for once have an advantage on national security, and they would be foolish not to press their advantage.

It’s the social issues, though, that drive the delegates in both parties. You’re right to suggest that neither the Republican nor the Democratic platform is quite where the public is on abortion. The Democrats’ 2008 platform endorsed a right to abortion “regardless of ability to pay,” which means public funding, which polls so badly that they don’t put it that way. Only a minority of Americans consciously cast their votes based on social issues, and politicians for that reason do not want to come across as driven by them. Yet social issues are the fault line between the Republican and Democratic coalitions. Maybe that’s why the parties are increasingly moralistic and uncompromising on every other issue.

White working-class voters are way over on the right side of that partisan divide. But so are whites generally. White men, white women, whites with college degrees and without: All of them voted for McCain over Obama last time around, with only the Republican margin varying. Obama did better among whites under age 30, winning them by 10 points. But you can see why both campaigns are sweating over exactly who is going to show up to vote in two months.

(Ramesh Ponnuru is a columnist for Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter.)

-0- Sep/04/2012 00:16 GMT