National Consumers League

Political conventions feature impressive speakers, lack some important discussion


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By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
This past week I attended the Democratic Convention in Charlotte. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were nominated once again on the Democratic ticket. Charlotte laid out the red carpet for delegates and attendees at the convention. I especially enjoyed meeting seven of America’s Olympic championship girls, including gymnast Gabby Douglas and Soccer player Abby Wambach, who were signing autographs at a special event for kids in downtown Charlotte. I should note that I also had the opportunity to attend the Republican Convention this month, which I blogged about earlier. So now that I have had the privilege of attending both of the national parties’ conventions, I thought I’d discuss some of my impressions. First, the focus of both campaigns is decidedly on middle-class voters. It’s all about how tax cuts will affect the middle class, jobs for the middle class, whether the middle class is better off today than it was 4 years ago when President Obama was elected. What I missed was any mention of how people who make minimum wage and are the working poor are doing. They number, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), an astounding 47 million. And middle-class jobs are disappearing at an alarming rate, so how do our leaders think we can lift people who are forced to live on low wages out of poverty – because minimum wage workers usually live below the poverty line. As NELP notes, these low wages are “driven in part by the steep erosion of wage standards throughout our economy.” VP Joe Biden talked about the importance of good, middle-class jobs, but that’s as close as anyone got to the issue. My Labor Day post addressed the condition of those 47 million low-wage workers. These are the people who are behind counters at airports, train stations, fast food restaurants, and convenience stores. What’s the plan to get American companies to give these folks a path to a better life, and why is no one talking about those millions of workers? This disappearing middle class is a national crisis, but our politicians don’t talk about it. I also heard precious little at either convention about global warming and the environmental crisis we face. Senator John Kerry, who ran for President in 2004 on a platform robust with concerns about—and solutions to address—global warming, mentioned the crisis exactly once in his speech at the Democratic Convention. And yet, the Wall Street Journal reported this week (“Record Ice That in Arctic and Greenland”): “The Northern Hemisphere's largest expanses of ice have thawed faster and more extensively this year than scientists have previously recorded. And the summer isn't over.” The consequences for climate across the world are enormous; changes in the ice of the far North can raise sea levels and affect weather throughout the hemisphere by altering wind currents, heat distribution and precipitation. But to listen to politicians over the last two weeks, you’d never know we are facing an environmental crisis. On a more positive note, the conventions gave us a chance to see some amazing people in action. I was struck by the number of articulate and compelling women who spoke at the Conventions. Ann Romney was smart and thoughtful and an accomplished speaker. I had never before seen her in action, and I was very impressed with her poise. Though I didn’t much care for what South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had to say about Voter ID laws (she supports them), she is an equally effective and attractive speaker. The Democratic Convention featured a riveting talk by First Lady Michelle Obama, who caused a few commentators to say the next day, “SHE should be running for President.” Jill Biden talked warmly about her VP husband’s lifelong devotion to making life better for the middle class, and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm provided a theatrical performance that won’t soon be forgotten as she described the jobs that were preserved as a result of auto industry loans. All these women—Republican and Democrat—should be a great source of pride for both parties. They are in some ways the best news the parties have to offer and both Republicans and Democrats are smart to give them center stage. In addition to my list above, there are a number of other issues of national significance neither party chooses to address; consumer protection issues were largely overlooked, as was sensible gun regulation. As we count down the next two months until the election, I hope we can count on voters to ask the politicians some of the tough questions that got short shrift during the Conventions.