Thoughts on Last Night

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 Obama’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 “Trust Mitt.” That was Michelle Obama’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 Clinton’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. “That’s why Barack has fought so hard to increase student aid.” She made the same connection between Obama’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 jobs—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 Obama’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.

14 thoughts on “Thoughts on Last Night

  1. I watched most of the evening’s speakers, starting with the young lady from CO who had given up on the GOP, and I was impressed with every single one of them. I even liked Martin O’Malley, more because of what he said rather than how he said it. Unfortunately I somehow managed to completely miss Ted Strickland, don’t ask me how. I’ll have to watch his online because I heard it was scathing. I haven’t done an official comparison to the RNC, but it seems like the DNC had more speakers with direct military experience in a single evening than the RNC did their entire convention. LOL.

  2. I liked the introducing pairing last night. The woman who introduced Michelle Obama, who has 4 of her 5 sons in the military, drew a great comparison to the Romneys. Both have 5 sons; none of the Romneys have seen military service (although maybe like their father, they support wars — who knows) and this lady has 4 of 5 on active duty now and is waiting for her fifth to join up also. Not that I wish any of her children harm but she’s a Gold Star mother for sure.

  3. Yes, the Republicans didn’t make much, if any, mention of our soldiers, and terrorism, and national security – and Mitt didn’t mention Afghanistan at all.

    Only Clint Eastwood did.
    And he memorably asked chair-Obama the question that every feckin’ politician and pundit should have asked George W. Bush:
    ‘Did you ask the Russians, who threw blood and treasure in there for over 10 years, only to come home with their tailski’s between their legovich’s?’
    Clint acted as if Obama was the one who got us in Afghanistan, and not W. And the moron’s in the crowd roared and laughed, as if it was some Tampa redux of “1984,” and ‘George W. Bush and the Republicans were never at war with Afthanistan and Iraq. It was Barack Hussein Obama and the Democrats have always been at war with Afghanistan and Iraq!’

    It appears that the Republican Party might have decided to channel at least ONE of their long-standing beliefs and traditions – isolationism. And for that, we should be thankful.
    Though I wouldn’t hold my breath if Mitt is actually elected. John Bolton, Bill Kristol, and the rest of the neoCLOWNS won’t go down without a good fight – as long as they’re not the ones actually doing the fighting.

  4. Thanks for posting Gov Patrick’s speech. I was home to see our First Lady speak and was deeply moved by her speech, which showed her compassion and her willingness to stand firm beside her husband for another term.

    Patrick’s speech was brilliant. Moving, commanding respect, and absolute in his belief that Obama is the right man for the Presidency, Patrick did not disappoint. Watching it here on the small screen, I alternately cheered and wiped tears from my eyes.

    Republicans, you have been humiliated.

  5. “the GOP seemed to have entirely dropped its long-standing conceit of being the pro-military and pro-national security party.”

    They made a strong pitch to their real audience– defense contractors. By putting Cruella De Condi on stage they made a sacred promise to leave no third world opportunity un-bombed.

    “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 Obama’s favor.”

    Agree 100%. It shows he can make hard decisions. What kind of decisions does Mr. Cayman Islands make– Brie or Black Sea Caviar?

    Also, Maha, the press tends to pick and choose the most inflammatory statements to quote when they stick microphones in people’s faces, but you may be right about the OWS-ers. One was quoted as calling the two parties “the same” yesterday. That got my blood pressure up. They are too undisciplined about message to be effective.

    Still, Strickland, et al did a great job of twisting the knife re Mitt’s cryptic finances. That line of attack might not be effective in, say, the Clinton era, when the odds were less stacked against the middle class– and people still had illusions of rising to the 1% some day. People are more cogizent now, I think, of the need for more progressivity and opportunity.

  6. I don’t have teevee and am too busy to look up the convention speeches on the inner tubes. I so appreciate your posting of Deval Patrick’s speech – what a powerful call to action! I am thrilled to be proven wrong about my earlier comment that there are no next generation Democrats to challenge the Borg. It thrills me to see the Democrats finally finding their voice in people like Gov Patrick! Finally being able to clearly state what we’re for, instead of only reacting to what we’re against. And to realize that he’s not alone either (Julian Castro and others), just makes my whole day! Thank you!

  7. It’s standard for politicians to make use of personal stories and I generally tend to think we shouldn’t use personal identification with a candidate as a justification for voting.

    But the idea of “the personal is political” is a liberal idea, so in the four years that conservatives have chosen to rail against social and economic justice polices going back to the New Deal, why shouldn’t Democrats hammer home to their constituents how much they have benefited from so-called “identity politics” and “big Union”?

    The pundits made me barf, talking about how last night the Dems wanted to shore up “their target demographics” and “throw red meat” by talking about actual fecking policy that that Republicans managed to throw out there. Yes, they actually tried to ban access to birth control under the ACA, gay marriage, introduce trans-vaginal ultrasounds, and proposed to cut taxes to the wealthiest. All that isn’t the equal to red meat about declining Christian values, or the collapse of the capitalist state, or some Holy War with Muslims because that version of red meat rhetoric doesn’t actually exist in the real world.

    • I generally tend to think we shouldn’t use personal identification with a candidate as a justification for voting.

      I don’t think anyone here is saying we should use personal identification with a candidate as a justification for voting. That’s not the point.

      A wise person (I don’t know who) once said, “Sometimes you have to feel before you can see.” And sometimes you have to have your nose rubbed in personal experience before you can feel. The problem with Republicans is that they are so lost in their own ideological echo chamber, so untethered from the real-world experiences of most people, that they can neither feel nor see. And that’s why they are proposing such destructive policies.

      Democrats, on the other hand, are proposing policies that could actually help real-world people in real-world situations, and they can do this because they have experienced, felt, and seen. That’s the point.

      As far as “the personal is political” being a “liberal idea” goes — I realize the phrase came from 1960s feminist literature; I was there — it was a response to criticism that the consciousness-raising groups springing up around the country were just “group therapy.” And someone said “the personal is political,” meaning these discussions were generating real ideas about real policies that eventually were taken into the political sphere. But it really applies to conservatives as well, even though they won’t admit it, because their political views spring from their own personal experiences, or lack thereof. So it’s not a statement of how things “should” be, just how things are.

  8. “I am thrilled to be proven wrong about my earlier comment that there are no next generation Democrats to challenge the Borg”

    Our bench is a whole lot stronger than theirs, in my view. I wouldn’t trade. Only problem is they have the $$$; we have the demographics and the positions that will prevail (like civil rights and a sense of community).

  9. Our bench is a whole lot stronger than theirs, in my view.

    Bottom line, that was what I took away from the Dems’ first night.

  10. Much more polished than the RNC. The videos were more polished, the speakers not only spend significant time praising the president, they embodied his accomplishments while in office, and the use of the “Forward” “Not Back” signs during O’Malley’s speech was very clever because it forced the audience to remain engaged during one of the drier speakers. The Obama people know what their doing, this is not their first time at the rodeo.

  11. I do know that phrase from feminists, but I count it as a liberal idea precisely because conservatives build their whole ideology around refusing to acknowledge it. It’s not that they are somehow prevented by ideology from acknowledging the truth of the effect of context. It’s that they either hate the idea because it contradicts the ideal that someone is inexorably right or fear it because they think it reduces the world to amoral relativism. They like authoritarian types and buy into authoritarian policies for a reason. They disdain ideas of “the common good” because the believe in some kind of inherent power of an individual man over everything, no matter how much that idea is contradicted by reality. (To be fair, that thinking is only the other side of the Western Enlightenment coin.)

  12. OT…Tampa is back to its old self. The troops have been recalled to their barracks, the barricades and concertina wire has been removed, the police have shed their less menacing appearing khaki uniforms for traditional blue. Armored vehicles are gone, as is the temporary courts and detention centers. Love is in air instead of drones.

    Any reports from Charlotte on how they are suppressing the voice of opposition?..If they are at all.

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