BY RICHARD L. SCHREADLEY

“The hungry sheep look up and are not fed ...”

— John Milton, “Lycidas”

I watched a great deal of the two recent political party conventions. On television. What I remember most poignantly is not a flaming, prime-time speech, but cutaway shots cameramen caught of the rapt, upturned faces of delegates and guests on crowded convention floors.

The hungry sheep look up and are not fed, indeed! So many innocent, trusting sheep. Without a clue.

A president or a would-be one reciting from a telephone book might well have received similar applause and approbation from the floor at either convention. Acoustics in convention halls are seldom such that even true believers paying close attention can make much sense, much less implicit deception in words shouted at them from the podium. You have a far greater chance of making sense of it all if you watch and listen to it on television.

Confession: That’s what most print journalists did in my time, and probably still do, from comfy seats in the Railroad Lounge over free drinks and sandwiches. (I’m assuming the railroad industry still sponsors a lounge for journalists covering the conventions. Gosh, I hope so.)

But no matter. It’s what goes on behind the scenes that captures the drama of these quadrennial stampedes of the political herd. For example, wouldn’t you love to know the real circumstances behind the Democrats taking God and Jerusalem out of the party platform, and then clumsily putting God and Jerusalem back in, after three voice votes that clearly failed to produce the two-thirds majority party rules require?

Or how about inside dope on who in the Romney high command suffered heartburn from Clint Eastwood’s unscripted dialogue with an empty chair? (I thought that scene played rather well, actually.)

And why did an observant (subservient?) press allow President Obama to get away with plagiarizing himself in his acceptance speech? Surely, someone must have noticed how often he parroted the acceptance speech he gave in 2008.

Did someone mess with the teleprompter? Or did Obama, enthralled with the sound of his own voice, simply fail to realize that he was reading the same speech he read four years ago when hope and change meant something other than missed opportunity?

To pick up on what Bill Clinton said in his ringing, but unpersuasive, endorsement of Obama (it’s no secret the two men hate each other), arithmetic matters. No one, Clinton said, not even he, could have cleaned up in just four years the mess Obama inherited.

Fair enough. But how about the mess the president inaugurated next January will inherit? A $16 trillion public debt (up $5.4 trillion on Obama’s watch); chronic unemployment north of 8 percent for, as of now, 43 consecutive months; trillion dollar-plus budget deficits stretching to the far horizon; a foreign policy that confuses our friends and encourages our enemies; a war seemingly without end in Afghanistan, at least without end for the “advisors” both Obama and Romney seem persuaded to leave behind when our combat troops come home — how will the next president clean this mess up?

Arithmetic is a tricky thing to hang a call for “four more years” on. Arithmetic means numbers, and the numbers above do not compute well for Obama.

Here are a few more, as reported in the last few days by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

¦ Median household income now stands at $50,044. This is 8.9 percent below its all-time high of $54,932 in 1999.

¦ 46.2 million Americans live in poverty, near the record high of 15 percent.

¦ Gasoline prices were up 13.6 percent in August, the largest monthly increase in three years.

¦ Initial jobless claims were up 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 382,000 in the week ending Sept. 8.

You’ve already heard, I’m sure, of the record number of Americans now out of work, on food stamps, and the doubling of those collecting disability payments on Obama’s watch.

The conventions are over. The race for the White House, on an astonishingly muddy track, is thundering down the home stretch. Well, maybe not thundering. Sauntering is a better word. Two grown men throwing spitballs at each other is not thundering.

Mr. Romney has no record in national and international affairs. President Obama has, but he cannot run on it.

Like a football coach whose team won only one game in four years (don’t ask me what Obama’s one game is), he is reduced to making the claim that things would have been far worse had it not been for him.

Romney — well, maybe he’s saving his ammunition for the debates. He might live to regret that.

So might we all.

R.L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor.