The Democrats killed. The first night of their convention was a great success. The question is: Killed in the room or killed also in the country? We’ll get a sense of that through polls and comments over the next few weeks.
The elements of last night’s success:
The crowd was happy, attentive, responsive and moved. And there were many thousands of them. All eyes were trained on the stage. The Republican convention site last week never looked so full, so crowded and full of human passion. The Democrats had animal density.
They stayed on schedule—they weren’t going to allow the audience’s engagement to dissipate.
The speakers were uniformly interesting, some absolutely first-rate and some—that would be you, Ted Strickland—sourly mean-spirited and ad hominem. But that was interesting too. It told you, again, how the Dems will spend the next eight weeks going at the Reps.
Julian Castro, smooth, handsome, bright, winning. “Gee, why didn’t I think of that?” was a great line because it cut to the bone of a certain kind of Republican cluelessness, and did it with humor. His conceding that Mitt Romney is not a bad man was clever—it made his subsequent sharp criticisms of Romney seem fair-minded, or at least lacking in animus. Castro and many other of the speakers were at great pains to get across a point that might be called We Are Spiritually Normal.
The Democratic Party is the party of abortion; it supports the widest possible interpretation of choice, and is heavily funded, literally, by the abortion industry. Abortion involves the killing of children. Sometimes Democrats speak of it, publicly, in such a way that it sounds like a small thing, a tooth extraction; sometimes they speak of it in a way that suggests it is a holy right, a high value, a good thing. Because of this, there’s a shadow of weirdness over their party, and it’s been there for at least a quarter century. When Kathleen Sibelius walked out to speak I did not think, “There’s the HHS Secretary,” I literally thought, “There’s abortion enthusiast Kathleen Sibelius, who decided to make the Catholic church bow to her need to spread abortion-inducing drugs.”
Julian Castro and other speakers were at pains to dispel the Shadow of Weirdness. Twice he spoke of his grandmother making the sign of the Cross as he went to school. (There were a lot of babies and children in the audience, and their parents held them tenderly, and I’m telling you, even those babies were watching that stage.) Anyway, Castro and others were at pains to communicate that they do not see themselves as cruelly outside the mainstream. He seemed like a very nice young man, and certainly gifted in terms of political communication.
Too smooth? Yes. But there’s a lot of too smooth on the other side, too. It’s the thing that marks the rising generation of political stars 30 to 50, they’re all too smooth. Remember when you were learning “Now I know my ABC’s . . .”? They learned it too, but on a teleprompter.
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Michele Obama has turned into a great political performer, and her speech Tuesday night was remarkable and memorable. She is a strong woman. People have asked the past few years where the Barack Obama of 2008 went. I have wondered where the Michele Obama of 2008 went. She was so compelling and interesting on the trail that year, so proud and eager and, occasionally, awkward, which only underscored her good points. Then in the White House she often looked unhappy, resentful, going through the motions. Last night she was none of those things: ’08 Woman was back.
She was beautiful with an almost eloquent beauty, she was dazzling in that salmony, orangey dress, she spoke clearly and with complete confidence, and she enjoyed, it seemed, being the focus of all eyes. The first half of her speech was socially conservative and could have been given to great hurrahs at the Republican convention, although oddly enough from a Republican it would have sounded preachy. She sounded like a woman who respects standards, had good role models, came from a home that was full of love and discipline, and whose lack of the broadest or richest material comforts did not leave her bitter or misshapen, it left her committed. The second half of the speech was more political and partisan and might have been the point at which you started daydreaming. I continued listening because I am interested in how she thinks, and how she sees what is at issue. She did not seem at all apologetic as she spoke of her husband’s leadership. She seemed proud, and protective.
Near the end, as she spoke of her daughters, her eyes seemed to fill with tears.
In the camera cutaways many of the audience’s eyes were full of tears.
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Rhetorically, a number of Democrats last night used the old ways, the old tricks: call and response, involving the crowd, making them yell “Yes!” and “No!,” bringing them into chants that energized the speaker and enhanced the effectiveness of the text. It was great stuff. Props to Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland: the “Forward, not back!” chant was the best of the night.
They ended the night with a prayer.
I remember when Republicans did better conventions than Democrats—better staging, better films, better speeches, more fun. So far, looking at both last week and last night, that’s being turned on its ear.
Does any of this matter? Will it affect the outcome? We’ll see. But if I’m a Democrat, I’m looking at last night and thinking, “That didn’t hurt. That didn’t hurt at all.”