It struck me that the GOP convention featured speaker after speaker talking about the hardships their grandparents had overcome. Last night we heard speaker after speaker talk about the hardships they had overcome themselves.
To be fair, several Dem speakers spoke of parents and grandparents also. But the hardship stories were different in another way — the Dems connected the hardship stories to real policies in a way that the GOP did not. John Dickerson noticed this, too.
If the speech is effective beyond the power of well delivered rhetoric, it will be because the first lady took this description of Obamaâ€™s core self and linked it to policy. This is what Ann Romney and Mitt Romney never did. The message of the GOP convention was â€œTrust Mitt.â€ That was Michelle Obamaâ€™s message too: Her husband could be trusted because he came from a background and has lived a middle class life. But then she started connecting the biography to the policy. This was always Bill Clintonâ€™s great gift. If this connection is successfully made, then that’s what will make this pitch more politically [word missing?] than just a pretty speech by a loving wife who thinks her husband deserves an A for effort.
“We were so young, so in love, and so in debt,” she joked about their early student loan debt, which was higher than their mortgage. “Thatâ€™s why Barack has fought so hard to increase student aid.” She made the same connection between Obamaâ€™s grandmother and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work. Tax cuts, the auto bailout, and every other policy, she argued, grew out of his biography.
You got that from most of the Dem speakers; a personal connection, a story of how their own experiences shaped their views and inspired them to enter public life. With Republicans there’s a huge disconnect; their experiences of real hardship are second and third hand. We ended up listening to Ann Romney — who is having an elevator installed in the garage of one of her homes to manage her several cars — pretend to care about the price of gasoline.
Another difference between GOP and Dem “hardship” narratives is that Republicans like to tell these stories to show how Grandpa succeeded without anyone’s help, whereas Dems talk about coming together to achieve success. Mayor Julian Castro, for example, talked about “investing in opportunity.” I liked this part of his speech —
Of all the fictions we heard last week in Tampa, the one I find most troubling is this: If we all just go our own way, our nation will be stronger for it. Because if we sever the threads that connect us, the only people who will go far are those who are already ahead. We all understand that freedom isn’t free. What Romney and Ryan don’t understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.
Another thing that struck me is that the Dems talked a lot about veterans, a group absent from last week’s GOP rhetoric. And when Iraq veteran Tammy Duckworth said,
President Obama pushed for fairness in the military, listening to commanders as we ended “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and on how to allow women to officially serve in more combat jobsâ€”because America’s daughters are just as capable of defending liberty as her sons.
— I saw a roaring ovation from the women in the hall. (Duckworth also reinforced the “working together” theme by talking about how her Blackhawk helicopter crew didn’t abandon her after a rocket-propelled grenade tore her legs off.)
In Tampa, the GOP seemed to have entirely dropped its long-standing conceit of being the pro-military and pro-national security party. Maybe somebody said this, but I didn’t hear them talking about supporting the troops or getting tough on terrorists. It was like they forgot. Why was that?
After Osama bin Laden was killed, I wrote,
The larger point is that, while the death of bin Laden might not be a front-burner issue in 2012, it certainly has changed the trajectory of U.S. politics in President Obamaâ€™s favor.
Some commenters argued that the polling bump the President got from bin Laden’s death would be short-lived, and I didn’t disagree, but my point was that the killing of bin Laden would force the GOP to make narrative adjustments it didn’t want to make. And I think the lack of talk about security and terrorists in Tampa was the result of that adjustment.
Righties still can, and do, reassure each other that Obama is soft on terrorists. They still like to compare President Obama to President Carter, who in rightie mythology plays the role of the Specter of Wimpiness. But it must have sunk in to at least some of them that they can no longer credibly claim to be the party of Tough Guys Who Will Protect You From Scary Things versus the wimpy Dems. That part of their sales pitch was kneecapped when Bin Laden was killed.
And given the rolling embarrassment that was Mitt’s “world tour,” I suspect Mitt himself may have banned talk of foreign policy from the convention.
Here is Deval Patrick’s speech, if you missed it.