A British Student’s Take on the American political party conventions

By Scott Nicholls

The Democratic National Convention ran this week with little surprise or controversy. The two major party’s conventions have seemed rather insignificant in recent elections but they delivered entertainment in droves this year, intentionally or not.

Photo courtesy of freerepublic.com

For one, we had Chris Christie shamelessly promoting himself, nearly forgetting to mention presidential candidate Mitt Romney, then an impromptu conversation with an empty chair—you can thank Clint Eastwood for that one.

One thing that stuck in my mind for a more positive reason was Michelle Obama’s speech on Tuesday night of the DNC. It really struck me. I can’t describe why, speeches from politicians don’t normally effect me whatsoever, but it really, really struck me. It made me think of how hard my Mum and Dad work back home in England to pay for my tuition at DeSales, and how they continually help my brother and sister stay afloat in the worst economy the world has seen in years. They’re not rich people, they never have been, but they work hard. That is what my Dad is most proud of, not money. So when Michelle Obama said, “It’s not about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives,” I couldn’t help but feel slightly moved.

Most students have reacted positively to Michelle Obama’s speech. A student told me that she thought, “If politicians in America could follow her lead in discourse about this country, I think a lot more would get done in a lot less time and with a lot less controversy.” This is something I would tend to agree with.

One thing I have noticed since watching the DNC and the Republican National Convention is that most of the onus seems to be on quoting statistics no layperson really understands (only that a trillion is a lot and a billion is less… but still a lot.), and putting the other party/candidate/the president down almost systematically.

Not everybody would agree with this, however. Chris Wallace, of Fox News, voiced his concerns about Michelle Obama’s speech saying that whilst “masterful,” the First Lady’s speech was mainly about “big government.” He was concerned about the philosophical undertones of her speech, and the misleading statement that America was better off now than it was four years ago.

Some of these concerns were evident when I spoke to students one who said, “I question how much change there really is compared to what Michelle described. My interest rate on my loans increased this year. I have a huge mountain of debt.”

The conclusions I get from students about Michelle Obama’s speech were largely that, no matter what party you are affiliated with, it was a great speech. They think it was a great speech because it did not take on the new fashion of political discourse that just completely berates the other person and what they stand for. It’s a start, but students also need answers.

They need answers as to why they were promised changed and why it hasn’t come… yet. While students can relate to the things Michelle Obama said in her speech, for those graduates struggling with student loan debt and failing to find jobs right now it is about the money, and less about the difference they make.

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