Diary of an undecided voter (GOP convention edition)

Summary:There are probably less than 10% of Americans who haven't decided on who to vote for in the November Presidential election. Yet, it's often the undecided voters, like ZDNet Government's own David Gewirtz, that eventually choose the winner. Here's David's review of the GOP convention.

Overall impressions

I always find it both fascinating and disturbing to watch politicians give speeches. They make claims that are sometimes completely factually inaccurate, sometimes aspirational (but ludicrously false), and sometimes complete, purposeful misrepresentations of what the other party said.

It's not just that the Republican speakers often bend the truth that bothers me. After all, you know a politician (any politician) is bending the truth because his or her lips are moving.

This convention seems somewhat more serious than those of the George W. Bush era. Perhaps that's because Mitt's a more serious man that Dubya ever was. Perhaps that's because Mitt inspires far less passion among his own party than George W. ever did. No matter what, I prefer this more-serious, less-childish version of convention behavior.

From a production design point of view, I found one of the staging elements rather ill-advised. The speakers were backdropped by a large wall of screens, but when they showed up on TV in close-ups, they only had a mottled color background behind them.

For most of the first day, the speakers were backdropped by an over-saturated image of the parchment from the Constitution. Unfortunately, when the speakers were presented on TV, viewers didn't see the Constitution. All they saw was what appeared -- more than anything else -- to be almost explosive flames. What should have been patriotic seemed more Devil's Advocate -- clearly not the intention of the campaign's handlers. You want your candidates to bring a little hellfire and brimstone to their speeches, but not appear to be from there.

Romney himself was backdropped by just a gray background, almost as if he were standing in front of smoking rubble. While you can read a lot into these production design issues, one key point to take away is that the staging of this convention wasn't quite as carefully choreographed as previous outings.

There's a lot of oddity in conventions. After all, after tailgate parties at football games, pretty much the only place you'll see people wearing cheese hats is at a political convention. But in this case, there was a strange little back and forth about what Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney listened to on their iPod playlists (where both candidates mentioned the iPod brand by name). In Ryan's case, it seemed relatively natural. In Romney's case, it seemed like something he was convinced to do against his better judgement.

That, in fact, is my big takeaway from the convention. It seems like Romney does have considerable better judgement and outside the enormous gravitational pull of special interests, he'd probably make good decisions and be a good leader. But he does seem to be convinced, regularly, to go against what he seems internally comfortable with, and I have to wonder whether -- if elected -- we'll get the Romney of the better judgement and better angels, or the Romney who is swayed constantly by trying to fit in with the conflicting demands of all those special interests.

Nothing here has convinced me to make a choice. That's good for the Republicans, because -- in previous elections -- there has often been something in a convention speech that made it clear I couldn't support the party that cycle. This time, with the exception of a little too much blind religiosity on the part of some speakers, there was nothing that was a complete deal-breaker.

There was nothing that closed the deal either. I still remain an undecided voter. I probably won't have definitive opinion until after the debates. In any case, next week, it's the Dems.

Bedtimes and politics

One of my more interesting observations this convention season is one I didn't expect: bedtimes affect political engagement.

I know this will seem weird to a lot of you (and very familiar to others of you), but for years, I went to bed very late at night (as late as 5am and 6am). I always liked writing and programming in the quiet of the night, and I naturally gravitate to late nights if I let myself.

This schedule used to make watching politics easy, especially with the help of a Tivo. I could record events like convention nights and debates, and watch them for hours later that night, taking notes, and discussing each interesting point with my wife.

But recently, I've changed my schedule to one where I go to bed at 11pm and get up at 7am. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the big one is I need to be available during working hours for clients and contractors.

I've discovered that I've been reluctant to allocate five hours a night this week to the convention. First, the coverage ends after my bed time, and second, I don't want to try to go to bed all riled up from political sports-fannery.

So, rather than full body immersion to the convention, I've been Tivoing the thing, and then picking and choosing the speeches I want to listen to, some of which I've listened to the next morning, rather than the night of the speech.

It's been an interesting change, and it's helped me realize why so many Americans (many of whom must have structured bedtimes dictated by their work schedules) have such a difficulty engaging in these bigger events.

It's hard to allocate 15 hours of your week to consume politics when you have other work that needs to be done. That, plus family time, takes a whole lot of your discretionary pre-bed time away from the 24/7 politics fire hose, especially if you're working multiple jobs.

ZDNet Government's coverage of Election 2012:

Topics: Government, Government : US


In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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