Meanwhile, the Republicans' message was aimed at winners. Again, I don't mean in the juvenile sense of popularity. Indeed, as much as both parties would like to blur the fact, many of the "losers" in today's economy are parts of the Republican coalition and certainly key voters for a John McCain victory (which is why McCain and Obama's speeches had so many similarities). The culturally conservative, working class, rural voters - the sorts of voters Obama says cling to guns and God - are feeling the pinch of the global economy more than perhaps any other demographic.
Even so, the GOP message on economics is one of Reaganite optimism. Obama lamented the effects of global trade, while McCain celebrated the prosperity that comes with opening markets. Even Mike Huckabee, who generally speaks for economically downscale Republicans, highlighted the difference: "I'm not a Republican because I grew up rich," he proclaimed, "I'm a Republican because I didn't want to spend the rest of my life poor, waiting for the government to rescue me."
Contrast that with Obama's lament that more Americans own cars "you can't afford to drive" and "credit card bills you can't afford to pay." He concedes that these problems "are not all of government's making" and then proceeds to explain why they are all largely the government's responsibility to solve. Hillary Clinton has admitted she ran for president "to stand up for all those who have been invisible to their government for eight long years." Suffice it to say, it is the dream of a great many Republicans to be invisible to their government. Consider the VP picks. Joe "the Scranton scrapper" Biden claims to speak for allegedly Dickensian working-class folks suffering by flickering lamplight. Sarah Palin's whole persona is that she is working class, but the last thing she looks like is a victim in need of government charity.
On national security issues, the winner-loser gap is even more stark. Speaker after speaker at the Democratic convention expressed "support" for the troops and promised to bring them home from Iraq. Left out was any sense that the troops might actually want to win, never mind have their recent victories celebrated. Instead, the impression left by the Democrats, from Michelle Obama on Monday to her husband on Thursday, was of a military cruelly exploited and manipulated and now desperately in need of "mental health care," in Mrs. Obama's words. No Republican would say returning troops deserve anything but the best, but for the GOP the troops are heroes in pursuit of victory, not dupes in search of a handout. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina summed it up well: "Victory! You can say it at this convention. We are winning!"
Of course, none of this is really new. Franklin Roosevelt transformed American politics by recasting the relationship between the government and its people to that of caretaker and client, and the Democrats remain the party of Roosevelt. The challenge for the Democrats is that they've somehow lost their Rooseveltian optimism, to the point where they're the Downer Party.
The challenge for the Republicans is perhaps more acute: A majority of voters might think now is the time for the Downer Party.