Neither the Republican nor the Democratic National Convention held any surprises this year, as the parties selected Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, respectively, as their presidential nominee. The two have been campaigning against each other since late May, when Mr. Romney won the Republican primary in Texas, giving him enough delegates to clinch the nomination.
As a result, party leaders could focus on convincing voters why their party’s vision and policies would be best for the nation. Whether they were successful will be decided on Nov. 6—and pollsters are just as divided as the population on the final outcome.
This year’s Republican convention posed several challenges for the “Grand Old Party”—not the least of which was the threat of Hurricane Isaac, which prompted party leaders to shorten the convention by a day. Leading up to the convention, Mr. Romney’s favorability rating was just 40 percent among all voters and even lower among women voters, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll. The selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as the vice-presidential nominee brought Medicare reform front and center. Republicans also needed to illustrate to independents and Democrats who supported President Obama 4 years ago why they should instead back Mr. Romney this November.
Convention speakers, including Mr. Romney himself, sought to assure voters that he would be a champion for the middle class. That argument was first made by his wife, Ann Romney, who took the stage on the opening night. Using their early years of marriage as an example, she reassured voters that Mr. Romney knows what it is to struggle. “We got married and moved into a basement apartment. We shared the housekeeping [and] ate a lot of pasta and tuna fish,” she recounted. “But those were the best days.”
Mrs. Romney also highlighted her husband’s work ethic and experience as a businessman, two qualities she believes will make him a successful president. “This is a man who will wake up every day with the determination to solve the problems that others say cannot be solved,” she told the audience. “This is the man who will work harder than anyone so that we can work a little less hard…this man will not fail.”
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey outlined the party’s future plans for the economy and attacked the Democratic Party for not being truthful with the American public. He said that Americans can trust Mr. Romney to tell the hard truths as he works to rebuild the economy.
“We (Republicans) believe in telling hardworking families the truth about our country’s fiscal realities. We believe in telling our seniors the truth about our overburdened entitlement,” he said. “They (Democrats) believe the American people are content to live the lie.”
A tangible plan
On the second night of the Republican convention, vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan offered some insight into the ticket’s jobs plan. “We have a plan for a stronger middle class, with the goal of generating 12 million new jobs over the next 4 years,” said Rep. Ryan. “With tax fairness and regulatory reform, we’ll put government back on the side of the men and women who create jobs, and the men and women who need jobs.”
Rep. Ryan criticized President Obama for lacking leadership and not having a tangible plan for the economy. He also attempted to mollify seniors’ suspicions about his Medicare reform plan, saying, “A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare for my mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours. Medicare is a promise and we will honor it.”
Rep. Ryan then attacked President Obama for “robbing” $716 billion from Medicare to pay for his “unwanted” healthcare bill. He was later criticized for neglecting to point out that his own deficit plan called for the same $716 billion in cuts to Medicare.
Making the American dream a reality
In his speech, Mr. Romney shared some personal history, talking about his father’s immigration to the United States from Mexico and his rise to becoming the governor of Michigan. Rather than build on his father’s name and position, Mr. Romney told the audience that he decided to move to Massachusetts to pursue his own American dream.
“We look to our communities, our faiths, our families for our joy, our support, in good times and bad,” said Mr. Romney. However, he said, for too many Americans, these good days are harder to come by, which he blamed on President Obama’s policies.
Mr. Romney attributed the president’s failure to his lack of business experience and assured the audience that his business experience will help him lead the country toward economic prosperity. “I am running for president to help create a better future. A future where everyone who wants a job can find one,” he said. To accomplish this, Romney outlined a five-point plan, details of which can be found on the campaign website, www.mittromney.com.
The AAOS presence
Members of the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), representatives from the Orthopaedic Political Action Committee (PAC), and staff from the AAOS office of government relations were also in attendance at the Republican convention. According to John T. Gill, MD, chair of the AAOS Advocacy Resource Committee, “The greatest benefit of attending the conventions is the networking activities—the chance to meet and get reacquainted with governors, senators, and representatives, which becomes valuable when you are back up on the Hill. Being there provides you with so many opportunities to meet and build personal relationships with our leaders in Washington.”
Dr. Gill had the opportunity to meet with party leaders Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich, commentator Ann Coulter, Speaker of the House John Boehner (Ohio) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), and Senators Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and John Thune (S.D.), among others.
“In all of my conversations, healthcare reform was a major topic,” said Dr. Gill. “Those whom I did meet were committed to repealing the healthcare law, but were oftentimes a little light on what the replacement would be. I did tell them that I believe patients need to have more ‘skin in the game’ and that was something that was absent in the president’s healthcare law.”
The incumbent’s challenge
During their convention, Democrats were challenged to convince voters that they are better off now than they were 4 years ago and that the Obama-Biden ticket offers a better path forward for the nation than the Romney-Ryan ticket.
Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, Texas, delivered the opening keynote address. A grandchild of immigrants, Mr. Castro sought to rally Latino and working-class voters by depicting how the hard work of his Mexican-born grandmother provided him and his brother with a chance at a better life. He claimed that the Romney-Ryan budget cuts to public education, transportation, and job training and their dependence on trickle-down economics will “dismantle what generations before us have built to ensure that everybody can enter and stay in the middle class.”
First Lady Michelle Obama sought to remind voters of the qualities that drew them to President Obama in 2008 and how these traits have shaped his presidency. She talked about how the president’s growing up in a single-parent home and struggling to pay the bills inspired him to make health care and college loans more affordable and to ensure that future generations of women are paid just as much as men. “These issues aren’t political. They’re personal,” Mrs. Obama said.
According to her, the president knows and appreciates the daily struggles of all Americans and is invested in fighting for everyone’s success. She told the audience that, although change does not come fast and still more work remains to be done, it is President Obama’s values, vision, and life experiences, not Mr. Romney’s, that will lead the middle class into more prosperous times.
A past president’s appeal
Former President Bill Clinton responded to the challenge of convincing voters that they are better off now than they were 4 years ago during a 48-minute speech that outlined each of President Obama’s accomplishments—from an economic stimulus package to the auto industry bailout, and from the healthcare bill to student loan reform.
Mr. Clinton was highly critical of the Romney-Ryan economic proposal, in particular their plan for Medicare. He warned that block grants for Medicaid would be detrimental to low income families, people with disabilities, and seniors who depend on Medicaid for nursing home care. He charged that Republicans cannot be serious about cutting the deficit if they continue to give tax cuts to millionaires. “The numbers just don’t add up,” he told the audience.
According to Mr. Clinton, the president’s plan—incorporating tax cuts for all but the wealthiest, revenue raisers, and targeted investments—is the kind of sensible approach the country needs. “President Obama’s plan cuts the debt, honors our values, brightens the future of our children, our families, and our nation. It’s a heck of a lot better,” he concluded.
Asking for 4 more years
In his own defense, President Obama pointed to the fact that during the past 4 years, the nation has been tested by war and one of the worst economic crises in history. He said that voters have a stark choice between candidates. “I don’t believe that another round of tax breaks for millionaires will bring good jobs to our shores, or pay down our deficit,” he said, referring to the Republican plan. “I don’t believe that firing teachers or kicking students off financial aid will grow the economy.”
Mr. Obama noted that his accomplishments—including rescuing the auto industry, passing healthcare reform, and investing in education and clean energy—have allowed the country to begin its recovery and provided a foundation for a successful future. Adopting his plan, he said, would create a million new manufacturing jobs by 2017, double exports by 2015, and reduce the deficit by $4 trillion. Details of the President’s economic plan can be found on his campaign website (www.barackobama.com).
“You can choose a future where we reduce our deficit without sticking it to the middle class,” President Obama said. “If you believe in a country where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules, then I need you to vote this November.”
Opportunities for outreach
Among the thousands listening to the president was Peter J. Mandell, MD, chair of the AAOS Council on Advocacy. He, along with other AAOS fellows, members of the Orthopaedic PAC, and AAOS staff, took advantage of the opportunity to be able to speak with members of Congress in an environment in which they “weren’t rushed to get to their next meeting and perhaps had more time to engage with AAOS and learn about our issues.”
Dr. Mandell pointed to the long-term effects of attending political conventions. “You get to see young American politicians, like Mayor Castro, who are going to be helpful to this country over the next 20 to 30 years; you get to see who are going to be the up-and-coming stars in the party.”
Like Dr. Gill, Dr. Mandell reached out to both incumbents and challengers. “On the Senate side, I had an opportunity to talk to Sen. Kay Hagan from North Carolina. I thanked her very much for her work to get the custom device language into the Medical Device User Fee Act, and she was very interested in hearing about our issues,” said Dr. Mandell. “I also met with Tammy Baldwin, who is running for Senate in Wisconsin.
Dr. Mandell also took the opportunity to urge legislators to move forward on a permanent fix to the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. “I spoke with Rep. Gene Green from Texas. One of his children is a physician and so he is very interested in the SGR and getting health reform ‘right’ for Americans,” said Dr. Mandell. “I also spoke to Rep. Allyson Schwartz (Pa.) about her SGR efforts. We both agreed that something needs to be done soon and that both physicians and policymakers must find common ground on how to fix it.”
Madeleine Lovette is the communications specialist in the AAOS office of government relations; she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional Resources (speeches)
Gov. Chris Christie
Republican Vice Presidential Nominee, Paul Ryan
Republican Presidential Nominee, Mitt Romney
San Antonio Mayor, Julian Castro
First Lady Michelle Obama
Former President, Bill Clinton
President Barack Obama