Monthly Archives: September 2012

The American Mind Opens to Psy

In 1987 Professor Allan Bloom, previously of Cornell University, published The Closing of the American Mind, protesting what he called the 2 uncritical beliefs of contemporary American undergraduates: their belief that truth is relative and their moral commitment to equality. What proceeded was a sweeping account of a philosophical error which Bloom thought to have overtaken Western philosophy in the time of the Renaissance–namely the premise that man’s passions can be disciplined and directed towards productive pursuits, that the human lot overall could be improved through the widespread correction of prejudice and cruelty with the rational faculty and the satisfaction of material needs. This focus of Liberalism on utility, he argued, had weakened the moral integrity of the west until it fell prey to the opportunistic contagion of Fascism and Communism–and in his own time, multiculturalism.

Well, we have now witnessed the consummation of whatever process Bloom was so afraid of. On September 14th, while you were probably at unawares, Korean rapper Psy literally remade Cornell University in his own image–and he did so not through conscious effort but by way of the willing aspirations of a fleet-footed avatar. No-doubt the shade of Professor Bloom solemnly intoned that the West finally fell just 11 days ago, on Ho Plaza, Gangnam-style:

In any case, props to Psy: He did something truly different, and now a lot of people want to do it just like him, too.

Korean Rapper Psy, whose odd appearance and offbeat dance moves have interacted with his Korean pop credentials and lively sense of humor to make him pretty much hands-down the most-famous Korean pop artist ever, owing to the near-instant worldwide fascination with his recent single, “Gangnam Style.” Maybe it’s time I reviewed Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s primer on the constant potential for the unanticipated big event, The Black Swan.

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Who Is Responsible for Retaliatory Violence?

As protests roiled Benghazi, an eastern Libyan city that had served as the power base of the uprising that deposed Libyan dictator Colonel Moammar al-Gaddafi last year, gunmen launched an acute assault on the United States consulate there Tuesday night.  Successfully exploiting the protests as cover, they attacked the consulate with guns, hand-thrown bombs and rockets.  The United States Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, was killed, along with 2 American security contractors who were formerly Navy SEALs and 1 other member of the Foreign Service.  The BBC reported that Ambassador Stevens apparently was only on the grounds of the consulate at the time because he was assisting with the evacuation.  The Libyan doctor who tried to revive the Ambassador after the attack said he died of smoke inhalation.

The 4 Americans who were killed in the line of duty were brought back stateside yesterday, and buried in a ceremony led by President Obama.

The principle reason I’m writing this is to wade into a controversy that developed almost immediately.  It is a political controversy, but because it involves a serious question of the priority with which government regards our rights I will try to deal with it in as minimally-political (but not apolitical) a fashion as possible.

The controversy started when Governor Romney predictably criticized President Obama’s response to the attacks.  I want to be very clear about this: I will spend most of this entry on the title question, not on the “apology” for the American value of freedom of speech which Romney accused the President of giving (and which anyone paying attention to the actual course of events knows he did not give).  Since I’ve cleared that up, Governor Romney’s charge was directed towards a tweet issued by a member of the Foreign Service at the US Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, without knowledge or authorization of the President:

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

This statement was tweeted by a Foreign Service member before the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi or the US Embassy in Cairo even occurred.  Governor Romney seized on it because they fit with his campaign’s foreign policy narrative of “no apology” for American values and the empowered role of the United States in the World.  He immediately caught a round of flak, including from some prominent Republicans, for seeking to politicize an unfolding crisis; the President responded with unusual harshness, saying Governor Romney has a “shoot first, aim later” approach to foreign policy problems.  But I want to look past Governor Romney’s objection to this comment from its political context, with the attendant charge against the President.  I even want to look past the focus of the statement itself, which “condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.”  So: When you remove the question of the appropriateness of Governor Romney’s comments, of President Obama’s moral tone in responding to the crisis, and of the notorious tweet’s call for respect for religion, what’s left of the controversy?  Well, none other than the most-fundamental political question of all is left.

Who is responsible when offensive provocation leads to retaliatory violence?  The perpetrators of violence are responsible.  The perpetrators of violence are always responsible, and they are entirely responsible.

This is not to say that the creation of an artwork (however badly-made and contrived in its meaning) that one can reasonably expect to engender a violent response isn’t a morally-fraught question.  Moral considerations that don’t at least countenance the likely response of others to the act are really moral abdications.  But the difference between the provocateur and he who rises to the bait with a violent response is the difference between a person who may (or in some cases, does not) have bad motives but performs a nonviolent act versus a person who chooses to initiate violent force because of their subjective feelings.  The makers of the bad movie insulting Islam’s chief religious and historical figure may warrant our contempt for issuing an insult that was designed expressly to provoke a response…but that is the most sanction they deserve.  Their act of provocation does not warrant physical retaliation against anyone whatsoever–in any way.

When President Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose Abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin horrified many with its account of man’s inhumanity to man under American slavery, he is said to have greeted her with immortal irony: “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”  Hyperbole, of course, but is it plausible through some stylized narrative to hold Stowe accountable for the bloodiest war in American history?  No, no, a thousand times no.  Neither Stowe’s obvious innocence in the course of the war nor the rightness of the Abolitionist cause have anything to do with it; the simple fact is a match of this sort is happenstance compared with the tinder it lights.

And the tinder itself is much smaller than people think for how brightly it burns.  CNN yesterday was in particularly-shameful form, playing a few minutes of violent Friday protests over and over and over again.  The Cairo area has about 20 million people; a few thousand participated in Friday’s protests.  Worldwide, most of the protests were not riotous.  The narrow subset of people who perpetrated acts of violence deserves more attention; the attack on the US consulate in Libya appears to have been planned by a Libyan radical Islamist group, Ansar al-Sharia, which blocked Libyan security forces from moving in to protect the consulate while it was being overrun.  While this comes up in an online CNN article explaining the riots, the news channel’s coverage yesterday nonetheless was full of headlines like “RAGE IN THE MUSLIM WORLD.”

But again, the small number (and telling geographic confinement) of Muslims actually involved in violent riots is not the issue in assigning blame between provocateur and rioter.  The principle at stake here is as basic as they come.  Our refusal to take punitive action against the makers of a message–however-offensive–isn’t simply about our fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression in this case.  It is even more-basic than that.  When we rebuff the demands of those who answer an insult with violence, we repudiate the uncivilized notion that the one whom is willing to use violence can dictate the actions of others.  Anyone has the right to take offense; expressed indignation can be quite virtuous and even have beneficial effects on individuals or on a culture.  Anyone has the right to put these provocateurs on the couch, so to speak, or to seek to ridicule or disqualify them in the public sphere.  But as the use of violence expands the public sphere contracts; it is never in its essence anything more than it is between 2 individuals–namely, an attempt by one to subordinate the other mechanically to his will.  Violence is simply about unadorned power.  The most-basic principle justifying government is that it may monopolize violence to prevent its subjective use by individuals against one another.  Thomas Hobbes goes so far as to say that there can be no talk of morality without what we call law and order; suffice to say that casting blame on a provocateur in a way that implies that violent men can blame others for their violent actions is nonsense.

While Neoconservatives and the emphatically religion-averse “New Atheists” have preached confrontation, in the face of this latest rash of violent riots much as they did with the 2006 “Cartoon Riots” following the publication of offensive drawings of Muhammad in a European newspaper, they have done so on freedom of speech grounds.  Offensive images, including those that bring the sacred down to the level of the profane, can always be sufficiently defended on the grounds of freedom of speech.  But I’ve noticed that those who congregate to defend these gestures on these grounds have an odd tendency in practice to share the sentiments expressed.  There is a right even more-basic than our freedom of speech that violent rioters calling for punishment for those who made the offending video are violating.  That right is the expectation that our government will protect us from violence.

On account of our First Amendment, Americans have the right to express themselves as they wish–provided that such expression will not create an immanent danger.  On this grounds one does not have a “right” to yell “Fire!” in a theater because it could cause a stampede; however, one does have a right to offensive gestures; others have the opportunity to consider and decide how to respond.  Those who have rioted, burned several American chain restaurant franchises in the Middle East, launched attacks on our and German embassies and even killed 4 staff members at our consulate in Benghazi, Libya were not automatons responding reflexively to a present stimulus; they were human beings who decided to riot, destroy property, threaten people and in some cases kill because of an idea.  This idea, in case this characterization invites confusion, had nothing to do with changing their own lives or other people’s lives for the better; given that, one might have said the same about the Arab Spring of late 2010 to the present, which has brought striking political change in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and may do the same in Syria once the Assad Regime finally succumbs to the rebellion it cannot contain.  The only idea the present rioters are fighting for is their capacity to use violence to dictate terms to others.  They say it is to defend the integrity of their religion, or the dignity of their religion’s founder; a Liberal Ironist maintains as always that these ideas and their need for defense are human in origin, as are both the standards by which the rioters judge them “defended” and the crude and hamfisted tactics they would use to achieve that aim.  This is and only ever has been about them, about the violent radicals themselves, and about their efforts to use force to control other people’s behavior.  To say that expressive provocateurs are responsible for the violence their work incites–even if they might have thought that their actions could provoke a reaction–is in its very nature to follow the script written by the violent extremists.  (It hardly seems to make sense to speak of them “writing” something, but there it is.)  The Liberal Ironist sees religion as a series of theoretically-inviolate symbols people use either to congregate and communicate difficult truths (at best) or simply to dominate each other (at worst); these symbols are always anthropomorphic, and never transcend human experience.  1 idea may prove more practically useful than another in one’s experience, but no idea is more “real” than any of the others, and no idea is going to “win the Contest.”  Ideas compete, but they are not involved in zero-sum games.  Animals–humans very-much included–play zero-sum games.  This is a zero-sum game: To blame anyone other than the actual initiator of violent force for actions consciously taken, is to submit to domination by anyone immoral-enough to assert it.  They may portray themselves as victims, but the ironist at his most-illiberal would say that this is an old trick of those who want power they cannot earn.  The impersonal use–or even the credible threat–of deadly violence to counter an insult isn’t like the problem of terrorism, it is the problem of terrorism.

I want to close with an attempt to address Governor Romney’s attack on the President’s leadership through this episode.  Aside from on the most-basic level (regarding government’s role in protecting the peace and our interest in conducting a sure-footed foreign policy), I want to do this without recourse to politics.  Governor Romney responded to an unofficial tweet issued by someone in the US Embassy in Cairo; Andrew Sullivan marvelously noted that this tweet was tweeted before the film riots and the assault on the US consulate in Libya–but that Governor Romney’s response blamed the President for issuing an apology in the face of violent attacks that had not yet occurred, by way of a statement that he hadn’t seen or authorized.  Romney admonished him thusly:

“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

This crosses the line, as does Romney’s equally shrill later “clarifications”–and not principally because the Governor is blaming the President for something he didn’t do, or because he saw fit to wade into the issue without actually knowing what was happening.  Governor Romney tried to make the President look weak while a security crisis unfolded that involved multiple United States diplomatic missions in the Middle East, as well as possible risks to American citizens and American property abroad.

I do not level this criticism lightly or opportunistically.  In 2007, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Syria to confer with President-for-Life Bashar al-Assad, who had not yet come fully into his own as a brazenly mass-murdering tyrant (merely a quiet, garden-variety tyrant).  Speaker Pelosi sought to show-up President George W. Bush for his strict policy of diplomatic silence towards the Assad Family Regime.  This was wrong–and not because “we shouldn’t have been talking to Syria.”  5 1/2 years ago, I agreed that our government should have been trying to establish better relations with the Assad Regime.  I cannot say for certain whether this would have benefited the pro-democracy movement in Syria in 2011 or would simply have made the United States look worse and the Assad Regime even more-confident; In any case, I was all for better communication with the Assad Regime at the time.  But I was not in favor of legislative leaders holding out the promise of alternate US foreign policies.  That is simply inappropriate behavior for an elected official of the same government.  In a CNN interview last night, former Utah Governor, US Ambassador to China and Republican Presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman said “politics stops at the water’s edge;” that’s a sentiment I like very much–whoever happens to be President.  In-house disagreements are fine, as are serious disagreements about foreign policy.  But you do not undermine the President while he is conducting US foreign policy.  This is not a game.  This kind of opportunistic effort at backseat driving leaves us all worse-off; in any case, a Presidential candidate shouldn’t be making comments that could be taken for more than they are while a foreign security situation is unfolding, or in ways that could be construed as an attempt to force the President to change his policy tack.

I didn’t want to link these 2 judgments together, but tactical concerns and concerns of tact must be allowed to take precedence over statements of principle where foreign policy are concerned.  Lives are at stake; if a government’s foremost responsibility of protecting the lives of its citizens dictates that we not comply with the demands of violent malefactors, it also requires that the President be permitted to formulate a response to an emerging situation when our foreign service personnel or other Americans abroad may be in danger.  The initial provocateur’s political right to get us into this mess may still be a moral wrong, and in any case a doubling-down by a political candidate looking for an angle cannot help.  Those who want a position of power in government have to think responsibly, even if the proper functioning of our political system sometimes defends citizens when they don’t.

The Liberal Ironist hopes that you think without fear, speak your mind–eloquently, I must ask–and ask yourself when considering political action, “Am I helping to make the World a more- or a less-threatening place?”

11 Years After an Act of Terrorism

This blog started 2 years ago today.  The principal purpose of the Liberal Ironist is to offer political and moral opinion aimed at the lessening of human cruelty and the harshness of life (the aim and tendency of political Liberalism), and to offer a warning that our understandings of the Universe and our grasp of the good at their best are never more than another way of being human (which is the starting insight of the ironist).  2 years after this blog’s founding, we mark 11 years since a brazen act of mass murder by a very different political species–reactionary fanatics.

The terrorism of September 11, 2001 was the work of those who believed they had divine license to kill 3,000 people–principally American civilians but also foreigners and (a simple matter of probability with such indiscriminate killing in an urban area) their at least nominally fellow-Muslims.  This act of terrorism was carried out principally because of xenophobia; at the time the United States had thousands of soldiers–withdrawn by the Bush Administration following the invasion and occupation of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq–stationed in Saudia Arabia, homeland to the 2 holiest cities in the Islamic tradition.  The other reason for that act of mass murder was the United States’ support for the State of Israel, which these terrorists believed to be a Crusader state.  While this blog on principal countenances criticism of particular Israeli policies as legitimate both as part of its aim to advance humane treatment of one another and as essential to the health of any democratic polity, it is noteworthy that the same terrorists who were so obtuse in including about 3,000 non-combatants at work in their home cities as legitimate targets of a war were also obtuse in seeing no difference between a political controversy between 2 nations seeking a homeland now and a murderous invasion fought on religious pretexts that essentially sought to plunder rich Arab cities about 900 years ago.  The vain masterminds of September 11th  (whom, whether they have died grisly deaths, been incarcerated by the United States, or remain at large in Pakistan are all greatly-diminished and far from home) seemed to enjoy admonishing us with references to history, but the crudeness of their obsession with fitting-in to that history (and their rage against their own inability to control events) is more-striking than their crude understanding of that history.

Both as a people and through the mustered force of their government, Americans have done both great and stupid things in response to the terrorist threat that reared its head on September 11, 2001.  Many Americans turned-out to clear the wreckage of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan; meanwhile, George W. Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency assured Lower Manhattan residents and relief workers that their air was safe to breathe.  This lie led to respiratory illnesses and cancers among 70% of the first-responders at Ground Zero by as early as 2006; cancers from respiratory exposure to extremely-toxic asbestos may take decades to develop.  Then-New York Governor George Pataki established a compensation fund that expanded State death benefits for first responders who died from cancer following relief work at Ground Zero, but Federal action had to wait for the 112th Congress and the Obama Administration, whose compromise with Senate Republicans on tax cuts for the rich ended a filibuster and finally allowed passage of the James Zadroga Health And Compensation Act of 2010.  While there were scattered reportings of violent and at times deadly hate crimes–not just against Muslims but also against Sikhs and Hindus, whose religion wasn’t even nominally associated with the September 11th attacks–America as a whole did not regress 100 years in its social relations with minority groups.  That said, there was regression, both in the broad discretionary police powers of the USA PATRIOT Act (some of which had originally been proposed nearly 20 years before as measures to fight drug smuggling) and in the seizure of large numbers of American Muslims and Muslim immigrants on suspicion of material support for terrorism.  First opened to receive inmates in January 2002, the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp was originally created on the reasoning that, being located at the US Navy base in Cuba, it was outside the jurisdiction of our country’s legal system.  779 men have been in carcerated at Guantanamo Bay on terrorism charges since that time; 600 have been released and 8 have died at the camp, including 6 suicides.  169 prisoners remain at Guantanamo Bay, half of whom have been cleared for release but remain in detention.  Today the prison is well-below it largest extent, and so far from the initial confusion and at times clumsy reaction following September 11th, both the number of those detained at the facility and their treatment is probably more-commensurate with the inmates’ suspected crimes.  Still, an untold number were simply wrongfully-detained, and the legal and moral snarl created both by their wrongful imprisonment and the torture or abuse of innocent and guilty alike at Guantanamo Bay may never be resolved.  And the allegations of abuse of detainees at Guantanamo Bay occurred in the shadow of far more-widespread cruelties committed against suspected enemy combatants at Abu Ghraib, Saddam Hussein’s old torture prison, after the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.

It warrants mention that President George W. Bush was good-enough to clarify that we were at war with a particular terrorist group and group of political ideologists, not with the religion of Islam and not with Muslims generally.  You may say it was a common-sense thing to say, but the truth is he didn’t have to say it, and doing so certainly had a positive effect in grounding our thoughts in the uncertain months ahead.  Let us not forget the times when evils were averted with the right words.

Our invasion of Afghanistan to root-out al-Qaeda and their protectors, the Taliban, was fought pretty cleanly as nationwide invasions go.  Owing to its poverty, long history of war, minimal infrastructure or commerce, and the ease with which these factors feed into political corruption, the chances of Afghanistan actually consolidating a democracy remain poor.  But we did try to develop a democracy in that country, and the arrival of US forces in Afghanistan brought the extreme oppression of the Taliban mostly to an end.  It is atypical in history for counterattacks to be waged so little in the spirit of revenge.  Of course, this war of such comparatively narrow scope and justification was followed by the Iraq War.

4,805 Allied soldiers and 1,554 security contractors (read: mercenaries) killed.  16,623 soldiers of the new Iraqi government we created killed by Iraqi insurgents to-date.  A projected total price tag to the United States of about $1.9 trillion.  Oh, and if anyone is keeping track, over 110,000 Iraqi civilians killed.  Note that these figures are just of US and allied military forces and civilian bystanders; I haven’t even listed the toll of enemy combatants killed.  This is harm we have visited upon ourselves and upon foreign innocents.  When the dust settled, we found Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.  I felt much ambivalence about mentioning some of these misadventures of ours–this one in particular–because I know people are hurting and that I risk provoking partisan dispute on a day our entire country was wounded; but it occurred to me that such an episode, combining a failure of the media to ask important questions, of a majority of the public to stay informed and ask follow-up questions, and of top State, intelligence and Defense officials to see past their own wishful suppositions, has to be seen for what it is.  The Iraq War was an ideological blunder of epic proportions that cannot be understood outside of the sense of insecurity we felt in the wake of September 11, 2001.  We have learned some valuable lessons from our mistakes of that time, but this mitigating fact still leaves me with a heavy heart, because we could have perceived in advance the lessons that we apparently had to learn from blunt experience, and those lessons cost us (and a country that had nothing to do with September 11th) dearly.

To our great credit, in the end we didn’t “learn” the worst possible lessons from this experience.  We didn’t “learn” that the entire Middle East is incorrigible, nor did we “learn” that foreign interventions were never worth the trouble or expense.  Our grim experience in Iraq probably retarded our response at the cost of Rebel lives, but the NATO intervention in Libya, jointly spearheaded by UK, French, and US forces, brought a murderous tyrant’s 42-year rule to an end and gave a home-grown movement for democracy an unprecedented chance there.  Rather than be overtaken by hysterical fear over Islamists, we have cautiously maintained relations with the strategically-significant governments of Egypt and Yemen as their people deposed long-running dictators, asking the old guard to stand aside in deference to popular sovereignty and offering assistance as transitional governments seek to consolidate democratic change.  We have done a lot of good–and where the good that needed to be done has been better-suited to those who live in the countries in question, our leadership and we ourselves seem to have grown in wisdom and perspective, letting oppressed peoples take the initiative in taking government into their own hands when they’re ready and offering assistance when needed.

We also continue to kill or imprison the masterminds and pawns of al-Qaeda.  A complicated–indeed, seemingly-contradictory–resolve seems to be needed to defend civlization against terror without submerging one’s awareness in messianic license. Americans often view themselves as standing outside of history.  This myth allows us to make mistakes (including serious mistakes) for want of perspective, but it also allows us to transcend those mistakes faster than the politics or shared perceptions of other societies might.  I won’t stoop to pretending we always do right or that the history of the World is our story alone.  But we have seen the precipice and pulled back before, and when errors or injustices come to light we make a change.  We owe this capacity to adaptation both to our political institutions and the respect for it that is a basic part of our culture.  I am proud of how far we have come, and of the common concern of Americans, in spite of the differences that motivate it, that we must remain vigilant.

May the day’s recollections be sober but not ache, may you demand justice without malice or prejudice, and may you find, as you celebrate what you love, that those you might not understand are nonetheless good–worthy not only of life, but of freedom also.

Live-Blogging the Democratic National Convention, Night 3

Note: Like last week, I am catching the last night of speeches a bit late; I may have a later update about  some of the earlier speeches, but so far Vice President Biden’s speech seems to have summarized a number of points that have come up with some of the other speeches, especially last night.

11:10 pm Cardinal Timothy Dolan gives the closing benediction at the Democratic National Convention as well!  His benediction is certainly similar to the one he offered at the Republican National Convention; clearly I spoke too soon of his partisanship.  A Liberal Ironist by definition can do without benedictions, and likes 1 quality and 1 quality alone about them: As Edmund Burke, who would probably not call himself a Conservative in the contemporary American strain, once said, there ought to be 1 place and 1 time a week where people of different trades, parties and parts of town come together to focus their attention on something that is not contemporary.  As it happens, a god is an easier object of such repose for such a large audience than any substantive intellectual or aesthetic concept.

11:05 pm: The speech is ended.  Confetti falls but there are no balloons; the speech was originally supposed to be held in a large outdoor stadium but there was concern about rain.  Some Republicans alleged that the closing night speech was moved indoors because Democratic Convention-planners realized they couldn’t fill it this time; that’s bunk.  There was actually a lengthy ticket backlog, and many Democratic campaign volunteers and contributors now will have to be compensated with another appearance by the President later in the campaign; for now, a lot of Democratic Party money was saved on balloons this year.

11:02 pm: The rhetorical flourish is upon us.  In case you have forgotten, Barack Obama is Church of Christ.

10:55 pm: The reforms of the past few years–getting the banks out of the student loan business, the Affordable Care Act, the repeal of the failed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gays in the military–were possible because people turned out to support the Obama Campaign and the Democrats in 2008.  He gets a big applause for taking just a moment to reflect on the fact that he did become President.  He breaks through the chant of “4 more years!  4 more years!” to say that this means everything has become very real.  He is responsible for managing wars.  He can see the people he campaigned and now governs to help, and he gets the news those times when they don’t get the help they need.

10:54 pm: President Obama invites Americans to think of politics as being about a common cause and shared values rather than about “what’s in it for me.”

At 10:53 pm, President Obama settled an old score: Government is not part of the problem.

10:48 pm: The President acknowledges that “No party has a monopoly on wisdom,” and calls for Republicans and Democrats to work together on deficit reduction in the wake of his Bowles-Simpson Deficit Commission.  I was happy to hear him say he won’t punish middle class families trying to pay-down a house or send their children to school to give millionaires another tax cut–a perverse and harmful tax proposal that often goes by the clever euphemism “lowering the rates and broadening the base.”  I didn’t think he would give up the mortgage interest deduction or the child tax credit to pay for tax rate cuts for the rich, but I was glad to hear him say it; this was the time and the place to say it.

10:42 pm: President Obama talks about ending the Iraq War, taking the fight to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and the pending drawdown from Afghanistan in 2014.  “A new tower rises in the New York skyline,” he adds, always focusing on what we’re building.

10:39 pm: President Obama scolds Governor Romney for joking about the President’s concerns about global warming during his own Convention acceptance speech.  Good; for Governor Romney to joke about global warming after saying during his party’s primaries that he is well-aware it is real, and in this year of extreme and widespread drought and with new studies tracking the surprising speed with which sea levels rise, what we need is leaders who will be serious with the public when matters are serious.

10:37 pm: The President summarizes the fuel efficiency, renewable energy and domestic energy development achievements of his 1st term.  It’s an impressive record–more impressive than one would think possible if they hadn’t heard it.

10:35 pm: President Obama assures us that our problems are manageable, but that they still require shared sacrifice, cooperation between different interests and bold policy experimentation.  “I may offer a harder road, but it leads to a better place…I’m asking you to rally.”

10:32 pm: “At their convention down in Tampa last week, our Republican friends were happy to tell you everything they think is wrong with America, but they didn’t want to tell you what they were going to do about it.  They want your vote, but they don’t want to tell you their plan.  Is the economy in trouble?  Try a tax cut.  The deficit too high?  Try another?  Have a cold?  Take 2 tax cuts, roll back some regulations and call me in the morning…”

10:30 pm: President Obama tells us that it’s been a long time since we faced such a momentous choice of President in November.  Sure, the choice must seem momentous to him when he’s in the race himself, but he casts the choice as essentially one in which our social safety net and even the basic bargain for our middle class is at stake.  Most Americans already seem to believe it; the evidence mounts around us.

10:28 pm: “If you’re sick of hearing me ‘approve this message,’ believe me–so am I.”

10:27 pm: “The first time I spoke in front of this Convention, in 2004, I was a younger man.”  He reminds us that he spoke of hope, not miracles, hope in the face of numerous challenges and grim days.

10:26 pm: The Obamas’ daughters, Sacha and Malia, have to go to school tomorrow.  Wow.

10:24 pm: The stagecraft of the past 3 nights has worked.  We’ve all seen our President many times before, but having Barack Obama walk out on the stage now after all these speeches, endorsements and reflections on the past 3 1/2 remarkable years really does feel like a “big reveal.”

10:18 pm: No matter how many times the Democratic Convention mentions President Obama’s saving of the American car industry, I won’t get tired of hearing it.  No matter how many times President Obama’s willingness to stand up for Progressive policies even when they might be unpopular, I won’t get tired of hearing it, particularly not when he’s running against a man like Mitt Romney, who everyone expects to tell us what he thinks we’ll like to hear.

10:11 pm: I like Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL)’s reminiscence about his request that then-Senate candidate Obama give the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, about his introduction to then-Senator Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, and his introduction to President Obama as he seeks re-election now.  Senator Durbin is a serious Progressive; I like the message this Convention is sending in opening prime time 2 days ago with a retrospective on Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and leading in to President Obama’s Convention acceptance speech with Senator Durbin.  The point is that the Democratic Party does stand for something–improvement in the lives of working Americans–and the leading lights of that cause have long-since accepted Barack Obama as their leader.

10:08 pm: The Vice President’s exeunt to Earth, Wind and Fire was nice.  The speech itself seemed a bit like a retread of what we have heard already–though I may want to review it later.

9:57 pm: The Vice President identifies what is probably just about the worst recent Republican economic proposal (aside from all the other ones): Territorial corporate income taxes.  Governor Romney has embraced Governor Perry’s idea from the Republican Presidential Primary to exempt corporations’ foreign profits from the corporate income tax so they are inclined to repatriate their profits; this would incentivize US corporations shifting more of their business overseas.  It’s hard to understand how this point is lost on Republicans, but rather than reduce or even eliminate corporate income taxes, they talk of keeping the capital gains tax rate low.  So: Making it easier for corporations to do business in this country isn’t as big of a priority as giving the rich more money to invest, and making it easier for those corporations to do business overseas.  It’s almost like the economy isn’t their foremost concern.

9:53 pm: “Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive!”  The Vice President comes out with what seems to be his favorite campaign line.  This speech does come close to hero-worship, but the comprehensive review of President Obama’s administrative record looks pretty heroic from here.

Live-Blogging the Democratic National Convention, Night 2

11:23 pm: “I love this country–and I know we’re coming back, because Americans have beaten every crisis they have faced in 200 years.  People have been predicting our demise since George Washington was called a mediocre surveyor with a bad set of wooden teeth.  But to-date everyone who has bet against America has lost money…”

I’d go further: Most of them have lost everything they wagered.  An allusion to Republican election efforts this year?  I suspect it is, considering Clinton’s earlier reference to Mitch McConnell’s putting party ahead of country in full view of the public.  In any case, President Clinton’s faith was infectious–something I think home viewer will have to agree. Imagine: A speaker who can answer every major Republican Republican attack, line by line, charge by charge, and remain inspiring.  The Republicans who planned last week’s Convention will rue their placement 1 week ahead of the Democrats in the schedule; 2 nights in a row the Democrat have had speeches that are sure to be remembered.

11:19 pm: “Don’t you ever forget this: Republican policies quadrupled the national debt in the 12 years before I took office, and doubled the debt in the 8 years after I left.  They did this because they defied the arithmetic.”  What a warning to take home; Bill Clinton is great.

11:13 pm: “Governor Romney said he doesn’t want his campaign beholden to fact-checkers.  Finally, I can say, ‘That is true!’  I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

11:06 pm: Clinton defends President Obama’s $716 billion in cuts to Medicare spending: Those cuts came from unnecessary subsidies to Medicare service-providers and insurance companies (as determined by an expert panel), and much of those cuts went to “closing the donut hole” in President W. Bush’s Prescription Drug Benefit for seniors with middling prescription drug costs and increasing the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund by 8 years.  He notes that Congressman Ryan has proposed cutting Medicare by just as much as President Obama!  “I’ll give him this–It takes cajones to accuse a guy of doing the thing you did yourself.”

President Clinton continues with a scathing account of what is now the Romney-Ryan proposal to “reform” Medicare, which is to turn Medicare’s funding over to insurance companies.  He also notes that President Romney has proposed to cut Medicaid by 1/3 and block-grant it out to the States, letting them to decide what benefits to keep and what to cut.  At this point Clinton identifies a hidden cut in Medicare spending: Medicaid is a major funder of nursing home care for poor seniors.  “It would be the end of Medicare as we know it,” he warns, without a shadow of hyperbole.

11:04 pm: President Clinton touts some of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act health care reform: parents can keep children on their health insurance plans until age 26; senior citizens have more purchasing support to buy their prescription drugs; insurance companies will benefit from millions of new customers.  Finally, for the last 2 years, cost inflation in the health care sector has been under 4% for the first time in 50 years.

11:00 pm: Clinton emphasizes the importance of job-retraining programs as we lose inefficient jobs to technology and trade.  This weaves nicely with the attention give to trade adjustment assistance during the Clinton years as NAFTA–our biggest free trade agreement to-date–was implemented.  President Obama also secured an agreement with Senate Republicans just less than a year ago–after much hand-wringing–for expanded job-retraining programs as part of our free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

10:55 pm: President Clinton insists that no President–himself included–could have repaired all of the damage wrought to the economy by the housing bubble and the 2008 Financial Crash within 1 Presidential term.  Coming from anyone else, this message would sound defensive; but a lot of people have fond memories of the Clinton years, and he gives the case for the depth of the crisis and the need for economic triage legitimacy.

10:49 pm: Clinton reminds us that “in a remarkable moment of candor, 2 years before the election,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Congressional Republicans’ #1 priority was “to make Barack Obama a 1-term President.”  What an extraordinary thing for the Senate Minority Leader to say during a press conference in late-2010.  I give House Speaker John Boehner credit for contradicting him at the time; I like to think it might be possible for President Obama and John Boehner–whose party will still control the House of Representatives but whose position in the House Republican Conference is not necessarily secure–to work together on our fast-approaching financial and economic hurdles after this election is over.

10:47 pm: President Clinton applauds his wife Hilary’s work as President Obama’s Secretary of State.  (No esoteric plug for Hillary Clinton in 2016.)

10:46 pm: A standing ovation, at the direction of President Clinton, for Vice President Joe Biden for his advocacy and legislative management of the President’s program.

10:41 pm: President Clinton says he wouldn’t be able to hate the Republicans as much as “the Conservatives who currently run that party seem to hate the President.”  He notes with gratitude President Eisenhower, who integrated the schools in Little Rock, Arkansas and planned, paid for and built the Interstate Highway system.  He expresses his gratitude for both Presidents Bush for working with him on disaster relief.  He says that “In the real world, compromise is how we get things done.”

10:38 pm: President Clinton calls the Republican Party’s narrative–the Democrats are terrible stewards of the economy, the rich are all self-made–the description of another universe.  He brings the discussion back to the Democrats’ opportunity theme; a stable middle class and opportunities for the poor to enter into that middle class are more-important than nostalgia.  Quoting a past Democratic Party leader, he observes that “Republicans imagine we are all born in a log cabin we built ourselves.”

10:34 pm: Bill Clinton must be the most fondly-remembered living President with Americans of both parties.  Think about it.

10:32 pm: Next up to speak is former President Bill Clinton.  This update requested by a friend: “Release the Krakken!”

10:27 pm: “President Obama believes in a country where billionaires pay their taxes like their secretaries do, and–I can’t believe I have to say this in 2012–where women get paid for the same work as much as men do.”

10:15 pm: Elizabeth Warren, President Obama’s architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, walks out to the Convention podium.  Senate Republicans blocked her when President Obama nominated her to lead the CFPB after the passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform due to her Liberal politics; in very-Democratic but also corporate-friendly Massachusetts, Ms. Warren is actually trailing Senator Scott Brown, the Republican who took the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s seat in a special election in January 2010 and provided the crucial “41st vote” that let Senate Republicans start filibustering Democratic bills like there was no tomorrow.  It will be an embarrassment if she can’t bring that seat back into the Democratic fold, especially with President Obama at the top of the ticket and certain to win the Commonwealth; she offers a barn-burning speech at the Convention, repeating Van Hollen’s earlier refrain that you grow a national economy “from the middle-out (by helping people to consume) rather than from the top-down (by making investment by the rich easier).”  A friend watching the speech with me notes that Warren has probably led among the Democratic public figures speaking thus far in strong statements; next former President Bill Clinton will come out to bring the conventioners back to a centrist place of good feelings.

10:12 pm: Sinegal says that presidents of dynamic and growing American companies will tell you that the most-important interests for growing the economy are a good education system, low costs, a safe and well-designed transportation system, a balanced approach to deficit reduction and a rational and welcoming immigration policy.  It sounds like he isn’t a Republican.

10:07 pm: Jim Sinegal, co-founder and past CEO of CostCo, speaks on behalf of President Obama.  I think the Democrats have beaten the Republicans at featuring businessmen Convention-speakers.

10:00 pm: Sandra Fluke speaks at the Democratic National Convention.  She speaks well and hits all the essential notes.  In my opinion the best moment comes early: House Republicans shut Ms. Fluke, a student at Georgetown University, out of her role on a House-organized panel on contraception.  She notes that no women spoke on the panel on contraception; strange, “since this is an issue that affects every woman.”

She recounts right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh’s attack on her as a “slut,” which President Obama immediately condemned and Governor Romney, in a singularly pathetic moment, averred was “not (his) choice of words.”

9:59 pm: A rising tide lifts all yachts.

9:54 pm: Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Paul Ryan’s Democratic opposite on the House Budget Committee, says “Paul Ryan, America is literally in your debt.”  As the previous speakers aimed to disqualify Governor Romney’s claim on the Presidency by virtue of his business experience, so Congressman Van Hollen aims to disqualify Congressman Ryan’s record as a deficit hawk.  Congressman Ryan proposes deficit-positive tax cuts for the rich that will require steep spending cuts that hurt the poor, the working-class and the middle class.

9:44 pm: “I just heard Bob King talking about President Obama’s record of saving jobs.  I’d like to talk to you about Governor Romney’s record of cutting jobs.  Mitt Romney once said, ‘I like to fire people.’  I can tell you from personal experience, he does!”

A few of those laid-off from their struggling companies by Bain Capital come out to address the crowd.  The speaker of these zingers insists that he doesn’t believe Governor Romney is a bad man, and that he isn’t bitter or resentful.  (Ugliness will ultimately be in the eye of the beholder there.)  However, he says that he believes Romney “makes money without conscience.”  The woman who follows him goes further: She says that she knows some businesses must fail, but argues that something is wrong “when dedicated, hard-working workers have to feel the pain while men like Mitt Romney get all the profit.”  The worker from GST Steel speaks of 1 of Bain Capital’s failed attempts to turn a business around: Bain Capital loaded-up GST full of debt, then laid-off about 700 and walked away with a $12 million profit.  The speaker notes that a GST employee would have to work for about 240 years to make that much.  In fairness, a good private equity firm has to have a pretty-good business turnaround record to be viable, and it also has to be able to avoid taking-on much debt in order to be viable.  Private-equity companies acquire struggling companies and make tough choices in order to make them viable; some of the organizational and policy changes they make to those companies might seem cruel or exploitative, but they are in the business of making failing businesses competitive.  But the GST story is a sordid one, and I think it will follow Governor Romney around.  The speaker has a strong finish, linking his loss of his own job at GST to Governor Romney’s op-ed call to “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”

9:39 pm: Repeating the title of a New York Times op-ed that Governor Romney likely already regrets writing, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” Mr. King claims that prudent policymaking and an emphasis on shared sacrifice–“from labor, from management, from suppliers, from debt-holders, from dealers”–saved not only General Motors and Chrysler, but their many employees and a vast array of small businesses both directly and indirectly dependent upon those large, then-teetering corporations.  This is another central Democratic message this year: The Republicans like to talk in generalities and iron principles; the Democrats actually craft policies designed to nourish the sophisticated organism of the economy.

9:36 pm: Bob King, President of the United Auto Workers, comes out to drive this message home.

9:33 pm: Karen Eusanio speaks on behalf of UAW workers in the Midwest.  She was laid-off in 2008 and fearful for her daughter’s future; today she has a job again and General Motors paid back all its loans from the Federal Government ahead of schedule.

9:30 pm: OK, the Democratic National Convention is now putting the President’s bailout of Detroit front-and-center.  Going forward from the 2012 Presidential Election, I believe the successful bailout of American car manufacturers will have to be a part of any serious historical analysis of it.

9:20 pm: Cristina Saralegui looks like a big endorsement for President Obama; a daughter of Cuban exiles, she has built a media empire that resembles Oprah’s; as she is Hispanic, it also has a large multinational reach.  She is more of a self-made woman than many of the self-made men who are luminaries in the Republican Party; she really did have to build her business herself without the benefit of an economically well-established family.  She says that the American Dream as she knew it is in jeopardy.  She calls the re-election of President Obama an urgent mission in order to preserve access to opportunity.  I don’t want to trivialize what this moment probably means for the Convention, but looking back I’m actually surprised that the Republican Party aimed for so little during their Convention.  Aspersions were cast about their insincerity at the time (particularly focusing on the lack of diversity among their delegates), but the RNC clearly tried harder during their 2000 Convention, and in both 2000 and 2004 their party benefited from the big-tent approach; this year the Democrats clearly have a more serious outreach to Americans who happen not to be both white and male (which would be nearly 70% of them).

9:15 pm: Democrats to Republicans: “Just leave the keys to Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada under the doormat.”

9:13 pm: The Convention shifts its focus from the economy and small business to immigration.  It’s time to put a fork in the Romney-Ryan campaign out West.

9:09 pm: Kamala Harris, the Attorney General of California, condemns Governor Romney’s call to let housing prices “hit the bottom” so that the pure and all-important market could “take its course.”  “That’s not leadership,” she says.  The focus on well-established counterfactuals sets the President up well for the debates coming in the next few weeks.  Governor Romney has said many rightly compromising things about how the market should be able to “take its course;” we’ll see which candidate the public thinks understands its problems.

8:57 pm: Overall, Jack Markell, Governor of Delaware, gave a good speech.  I like the repeated attacks on Governor Romney for his failure to see what Detroit needed during its urgent troubles of early 2009.  Governor Markell was right to take credit for acting to keep a car factory open in Delaware; Governor Romney has way overplayed the “creative destruction” ideal out on the campaign trail.  Such talk may excite ideological Conservatives who like the vague idea of old and musty things coming crashing down, but the truth is they have confused a narrow, profit-driven perspective on the economy for a public policy.  This was the power of Governor Markell’s message: A businessman doesn’t necessarily know how to manage an economy because the scope of his responsibilities is so narrow, so comparatively selfish.  Turning a profit for shareholders is simply a different goal that requires potentially very-different thinking from managing a large country with complex and contending problems and interests.  Governor Romney’s private-equity credentials are real, and irrelevant–and possibly a trap of conceit.

8:57 pm: Mitt Romney doesn’t not “like to fire people,” he was talking about the value of having one’s choice of private-sector goods providers.  At least the Democratic Party hasn’t actually built its entire Convention message around a misquote.  Mischaracterizations like this have been fortunately few.

8:44 pm: Yes, I was right: Sister Simone Campbell is speaking on behalf of NETWORK, speaking for a number of Catholic nuns who were chastised recently by the US Catholic Conference of Bishops for the attention they have paid to the problems of needy or lost Americans to the exclusion of expounding on Church teachings on the immorality of abortion and birth control, or gay marriage.  I didn’t much like either the presence of or the tone of Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s closing benediction at the Republican National Convention; I also don’t much like the current interest of non-religious Liberals (otherwise much like myself) in the current confrontation between the Bishops and the Nuns.  This is what the 1st Amendment is all about: If the Roman Catholic Church wants to advance its archaic and unjust compunctions about sex and sexuality above its mission to help those in need, that it’s really non-Catholics’ business.  An organization that professes to have eternity in mind–superstitious as it may be–is not and should not be subject to a popularity contest, not even to “respectable opinion.”  I respect the Nuns’ sentiment, but this is an in-house fight and just because I smell something I don’t like in Timothy Dolan doesn’t mean that Sister Campbell isn’t being insubordinate in this instance.  I don’t think religious personalities should be barred from political activities and expression, but they should consider it carefully before they do it and not take it lightly; these dual appearances could reflect a consequential partisan divide within the Church…for whomever it may concern.

8:43 pm: A nun speaks.  I think I know why this particular nun is here; not sure how I feel about this.

8:38 pm: Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper released 22 years of his tax returns when he ran for that office in 2010.  Nothing untoward was found.

8:32 pm: Retired General Eric Shinseki speaks well and in more-general terms about President Obama’s work to address the material needs of veterans of the US military, particularly the destitute, the injured and the troubled.  General Shinseki has been in the public eye since he testified to the Senate in early-2003, somewhat under duress, that it would take around 500,000 troops to properly occupy Iraq following the invasion.  Donald Rumsfeld’s Department of Defense, embarrassed by what turned out to be a prescient warning, announced his replacement early, essentially rendering him a lame duck among the military brass.  He is both an eloquent and a meaningful messenger for the story of Democrats’ attention to the needs of our military personnel.

8:30 pm: We hear of the thousands of mental health professionals hired by the Veterans Administration under President Obama and the new focus brought to the problem of military suicides.  “Last Memorial Day, President Obama called the treatment of Vietnam Veterans a national shame, and he said 2 sweet words my generation of veterans have waited years to hear: ‘Welcome home.'”  This is at least the 3rd veteran to speak during the Democratic National Convention; it’s as though on both political optics and policy performance, the Republicans remain asleep and the Democrats have appropriately adopted for themselves the North Carolina State motto, “To be, rather than to seem.”

8:23 pm: Hoyer notes that Paul Ryan voted for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq without proposing a plan to pay for it, for almost 2 trillion dollars in tax cuts over the same decade, for a prescription drug benefit that wasn’t paid for, and against the bipartisan proposals of the 2010 Bowles-Simpson Deficition Commission.  Hoyer also returns to the refrain, little-heard during this Convention thus far, that Congressman Ryan was the author of the plan to replace Medicare with vouchers for senior citizens to buy insurance in our regressive and unpopular health insurance market.  The crowd’s enthusiasm seems to wane somewhat during this list of harmful policies supported by Congressman Ryan, but it’s a long list.

8:20 pm: House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says that the Republicans “want to drown the captain, and are willing to sink the ship to do so!”  He notes that “not a single Republican voted for the legislation that brought our economy back from the brink,” by which he means the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the “Stimulus” that most economists agree saved millions of jobs.

8:17 pm: Going by the Conventions, Democratic women are far more-passionate than Republican women this year.  It shines through so clearly.

8:06 pm: “When Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan threaten to get rid of funding for Planned Parenthood, it’s clear they don’t know anything about women like me–women who are of limited means and are sick…”  A woman tells of her past health issues and challenges in raising her daughter.  The “Romney and Ryan just don’t get what we’re going through” message is a core part of this Convention; this could really 1-up Republican efforts to make  the President look out of his depth as he tries to contend with our economic problems.

8:04 pm: We see a video of President Obama celebrating the policy achievements of the Affordable Care Act–which he calls “Obamacare” without ambivalence.  Republicans will regret making President Obama the namesake of his own health care reform plan if he gets re-elected and the most-popular provisions of the law come into effect without interruption.

7:55 pm: Former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt is on a roll on President Obama’s work on behalf of college students; again we hear about the other party’s market-oriented proposals for education.  Saying “This is not a time for Americans to believe in magic,” Governor Hunt decries the efforts of private lenders to double interest rates on student loans before they were pushed out of the student loan business.  This Convention has done a good job so far on maintaining both its overall convention theme and the continuity of successive messages.  This Convention also reveals a clearer pursuit, I think, of the constituencies that must be reached for the party to do well in November.

7:48 pm: Johanny Adams speaks on behalf of young Hispanics pursuing an education.  Mitt Romney’s policies towards undocumented immigrants have hurt him badly with Hispanics in the polls.  This by itself has put Nevada and likely Colorado beyond Governor Romney’s reach; Florida (where Ms. Adams is from) has tacked towards Obama, then Romney, then back to Obama in the polls, but if he can lock-up the vote among minority groups in Florida President Obama can probably take that State handily as well.  Anyway, Ms. Adams talks primarily about education support, not racial or immigration issues.  Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan have proposed the re-privatization of student loans, an issue that is going to be very unpopular with college students and families–if they pay attention.

7:42 pm: Katy Perry…Greeeat.  This does not necessarily help with the theme of empowering women; a convention can be too much of a commercial spectacle.

7:38 pm: Senator Mikulski’s speech reflects the Democrats’ desire to have their cake and eat it, too: The Democratic Party is for everyone, but it accepts that its path to victory in November is through constituencies.  President Obama wants to reach deep into the women’s vote, and Republicans uncomfortable gesture towards women almost represented a concession of a majority of half the electorate.  Mikulski notes that women could pay up to 50% more for health insurance than men–a deplorable injustice ended by the Affordable Care Act’s new insurance regulations.  She raises the issue of women victimized by sexual assault also being rejected for claims by their insurers; the Affordable Care Act addressed this structural injustice as well.  The Republican National Convention took pains to conmiserate with those left behind; the Democratic National Convention thus far has highlighted particular manifestations of it and advanced solutions.

7:32 pm: A lineup of woman Democratic Senators takes the stage.  “Ann Romney can say she loves women; we Democrats really include women,” the party seems to say.  Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) speaks 1st.

Live-Blogging the Democratic National Convention, Night 1

11:04 pm: The superior force of the First Lady’s Speech to Ms. Romney’s this time last week was not an effect of Ms. Obama’s greater political experience–though that was in evidence as well.  This was a better speech, better delivered, by a person who really feels her husband’s mission.  Ann Romney’s speech was a minimally-disciplined assemblage of shout-outs to women and Michigan, replete with misleading accounts of basement apartments designed to imply that the Romneys know something about uncertainty.  Michelle Obama’s speech stood on its own, as a capstone to an evening that validly-linked what the President has already done–and what he is trying to do–to the public and private lives of the Democratic Party’s luminaries.  The Republican message is one that straddles extreme despair towards the present with selective amnesia about the origins of our current troubles, laid uncomfortably with a vague, almost ahistorical picture of self-made men who have wagered with little understanding of what is actually at stake for real families, today.  The Republicans offered nothing to the typical viewer; they merely invited us to ruminate on the successes of others, out of context.  Tonight President Obama and the Democratic Party removed all doubts that they stand on their record.  The First Lady’s speech contrasted with Ms. Romney’s more-sharply but in a manner that was still idiomatic: I saw less emphasis on hitting all the notes and more of a core of conviction.  It was impressive to see.

10:48 pm: It was said in passing, but Ms. Obama underscored that her parents “didn’t begrudge others their success or envy those who had more than they did.”  All they cared about was that their children could get ahead if they worked hard and showed merit.  Republicans harped on the premise that Democrats feed off of class warfare; they aren’t playing into this preconception.

We are witnessing an act of “framing ju-jitsu” here: Republicans gave a message last week based upon the idea that dreaming big and taking risks is thrilling and that taking wealth from the rich to provide for the poor is born of resentment and a form of political corruption; the essential Democratic message is implicit, and I think will register: You are not resentful, but you know very well that something has come undone, that the promise of a secure place after years of hard work and investment in oneself has not been met.  We need to adapt our contemporary social contract to make this arrangement work again.  The Republican message was no more-sophisticated than that we must cut taxes on the rich because Thomas Edison–and for all its bleary-eyedness, it still had less pathos than this.

10:46 pm: The First Lady’s father had to take out student loans to send his kids to college.  It’s such an ordinary story now–and so far from what a Bush or a Romney could ever understand.  Simply-put, the Republican ticket has no way of competing with this.

10:44 pm: When Michelle met Barack, the latter’s proudest possession was a coffee table he found in a dumpster.  Just keeping the public informed…

10:41 pm: Michelle Obama is better at this stuff than Ann Romney.  I wonder if she sounded this “present” during the Democratic National Convention 4 years ago; if she did, Ms. Romney hasn’t just been upstaged, she has been indicted on account of her own lightness.

10:35 pm: The Democrats have brought out a military mother to acknowledge the First Lady’s sensitivity to the needs of military families.  It looks pretty sincere.  I hope it’s not too crass to point-out that the Republicans look pretty bad given their obliviousness to veterans’ issues, both in the past decade of Federal policy and at last week’s Republican National Convention.

10:22 pm: Mayor Castro spoke up for President Obama’s support for the DREAM Act, which would give a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought into this country by their parents as children and who either complete 2 years at a 4-year university or give a term of service in the US military.  I’d feel more-comfortable for his invocation of this (and the President’s recent executive policy change to give young immigrants without papers a reprieve to pursue their education) if deportations of undocumented immigrants weren’t at an all-time high.  This is an issue where President Obama’s stated principles and current operations of the Executive Branch are in rare but measurable conflict.  Much like the Obama Administration’s turnaround on marijuana policy reform which has set the stage for a crackdown on legal medical marijuana in several of the States, this is 1 of a short list of issues where change has only come partially if at all.  Because of the central difference this makes for deserving people who only want to become Americans, I’m not going to hedge on this issue.

10:20 pm: “We all understand that freedom isn’t free.  What Romney and Ryan don’t understand is, neither is opportunity.  You have to invest in it.”

10:13 pm: “The dream of raising a family in a place where hard work is rewarded is not an American dream…The dream is universal, but America makes it possible–and our investment in it makes it a reality.”  He promptly and with levity notes that “Texas may be the only place left in the country where people still have bootstraps!” but then promptly sounds the alarm that only prudent investment in the up-and-coming generation of Americans is essential to our future prosperity.  This is going to be the contrast to the message of last week’s Republican National Convention: “We (in San Antonio) know that you can’t be pro-business without being pro-education.”  Last week the Republicans spoke of the importance of good parenting and good schooling; they said nothing about requiring any commitment from the public in order to make either of them possible for struggling families, to say nothing for single mothers.

10:06 pm: Keynote Convention speaker, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, is on.

10:06 pm: Governor Martin O’Malley’s speech probably won’t stand-out in the popular consciousness all that much.  He has been effective and popular in Maryland, but his standards are fairly-conventional for the Democratic Party at this time, at least for such a deep-Blue State; his Convention speech reflected this.  With due respect to the Governor, I see no reason to dwell on it considering what has come before.

9:53 pm: “The President’s list of accomplishments is long and barely-told–and even more impressive when you consider that Congressional Republicans have made obstruction itself their governing strategy.”  I personally know supporters of the Republican Party who still proactively shout “Good!” whenever the subject of Republican refusal make policy with President Obama–even in these difficult circumstances–comes up.  This is something to consider if you are still seriously-considering your vote: You have a choice between a President who entered office in 2009 with his agenda on the table and our common material problems in mind, and when Republican leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says something like, “Our top goal is to make Barack Obama a 1-term President,” that and not the promise to repair our broken economy is what has captured the animus of “the base.”  President Obama has embodied a mode of governing; Congressional Republicans have adopted a series of postures of ideological purity.

9:50 pm: “We believe that, in times of need, we should turn to each other, not on each other.”  Republicans offered the same notion at some point in their Convention, but it sounded more-maudlin back then, and based more on a conviction now.

9:46 pm: Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick attacks his immediate predecessor in that office–Mitt Romney.  He lays it on a bit thick on that count, I think, but he quickly moves on to his own accomplishments, which are numerous and very much in-line with Democratic values–generally, that politics should be about those who need resources rather than those who already have a surplus of them.  What a strange effect of a functioning democracy, that it could be both deeply- and closely-divided on this point not in implementation, but as a principle itself.

9:40 pm: Lilly Ledbetter (namesake of the Equal Pay Act) comes out and declares, “What a difference 4 years makes!”  I admit, I’d like to have that statement clarified immediately.

Ms. Ledbetter does clarify that statement.  She refers to the lack of sympathy from Conservatives, particularly in the Courts, for her claim of discrimination in pay for her work.  (The Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that Ms. Ledbetter and others could not sue their employers for pay discrimination if they fail to file their suit within 6 months of the offense–even if they do not find out about the unequal treatment in question until after that.)  Ms. Ledbetter thinks it speaks volumes of President Obama that the Equal Pay Act was the first bill he signed into law as President.  The 1st people he did something for upon taking office were millions who suffered from discrimination every day.

9:26 pm: Harold and Kumar star and House supporting actor Cal Penn speaks to young people about what President Obama has done–for gay rights, for immigrants, for Detroit, for seniors who need support for prescription drugs, for veterans, and yes, to al-Qaeda.  I love Clint Eastwood (as do many of his recent critics), but President Obama’s star power has outshone Governor Romney’s star power, cosmetically, stylistically, and substantively.

9:23 pm: “The American auto industry is not just surviving; it’s thriving.”  1 million jobs saved by the successful bailout of Detroit; the Democrats aren’t going to let Governor Romney’s emphatic call to allow Chrysler and General Motors run through dual dessicating bankruptcies as a matter of market principle pass-on quietly.  Republicans have conceded “buy American” completely, without a fight.

This might be a good time to come clean: Before the success of the President’s bailout of Detroit, I had become totally cynical about American car companies and American cars–to the point of certainty that the next car I would buy would be Japanese.  Now, I would be inclined to buy an American car.  Imagine!  That is change I believe in.

9:17 pm: Mayor Emanuel recounts summing-up the multiple ongoing economic, fiscal, political and strategic crises as President Obama took office and asking the latter, “Which crisis do you want to tackle first?”  “The American people elected us to take-on all of them,” was the response.  As the Liberal Ironist has sought to stress in other contexts, we often don’t appreciate how much good is done when disaster is contained or averted; President Obama has done this on multiple fronts.  We sort of know this, yet we don’t quite apprehend it.  Mayor Emanuel calls him a “Once-in-a-generation President.”

9:16 pm: Chicago Mayor and former Obama Administration Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel strolls out. If you look at his right hand closely while he waves, you can see the half a finger he is missing; do not mess with Rahm Emanuel.  Really, don’t.

9:08 pm: Health and Human Services Secretary (and former Kansas Governor) Kathleen Sebelius, the tactical implementer of the Affordable Care Act, has pulled-off a great political Gestalt-switch: “While the Republicans may see Governor Romney’s health care reform as a scarlet letter, we democrats see health care reform as a red badge of courage!”  This reality was hidden in the open all along; while Republicans have insisted the President wouldn’t run on his signature legislative achievement because of political embarrassment, the President is clearly prepared to run on the Affordable Care Act; it is the Republicans who are ambivalent that their party’s standard-carrier this year was the 1st political leader to institute the individual mandate.

9:03 pm: Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland assures us that President Obama understands what it’s like to live on a paycheck and to have an eye on a family member’s medical bills.  You can already hear the next line about Governor Romney’s total insensitivity to human need.

I would be happy to hear the title of Governor Romney’s 2009 New York Times op-ed opposing President Obama’s bailout of the domestic car manufactures, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” as many times during this Convention as the Republicans’ deliberate misquote of President Obama’s “You didn’t built that” line during theirs.  Again, at least this quote would be used in the spirit in which it was intended.

“If Mitt were Santa Claus, he would fire the reindeer and outsource the elves.”  Nice lines about how Governor Romney’s income “summers in the Cayman Islands and winters in the Swiss Alps.”  Also, “As the Scripture says, ‘Where a man’s wealth dwells, there his heart dwells also’!”  This is a good barn-burner speech.  We know this line of attack on Governor Romney was working this summer (as well it should have been, as it actually told us a lot about the economic program Governor Romney has to offer us); I believe it will resonate more with the public than Republican attacks did last week.

8:55 pm: A mother speaks on behalf of her daughter, who is onstage with her father, whose insurance would already have run-out, were it not for President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  As they continually force us to hear, the Republicans have promised to “repeal Obamacare.”  It’s not exploitation to bring the kids out onstage if the Republicans have promised to cut off their access to the medical care that’s saving their lives.  I can’t think of another issue that’s more-fitting for Republicans to lose this election on–except maybe for what they have done to our veterans, and what the Democrats have done for them.

8:53 pm: I like how the Democrats don’t require their former Republican to debase himself with personal cheap-shots or repeated known untruths the way the Republicans used Artur Davis last week–or the way Republicans used Conservative Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) in 2004.

8:46 pm: “There’s nothing moderate about our love of country, or our passion for America’s future.”  Lincolin Chafee, the independent Governor of Rhode Island and onetime Senator from that State, speaks on behalf of President Obama.  He was a Liberal Republican from New England, proof of their existence.  Rhode Islanders turned him out of office in the Democratic wave election of 2006, in spite of the fact that he was completely pro-choice, opposed the Iraq War, and didn’t support George W. Bush for re-election in 2004.  (All you can do to punish a President you cannot vote out of office at the time is vote-out his party in Congress, a rational act if a dissonant one from the perspective of just desserts.)  Somewhat-ironically, Governor Chafee was elected in the Republican wave election of 2010 in very-Blue Rhode Island.  Among the highlights of Governor Chafee’s speech: He says moderates are truly committed to our freedom, refusing to sacrifice our personal lives to a partisan agenda; he also scolds Republicans, more than once, for their disastrous and costly war in Iraq.  “Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want to return us to the fantasyland of never having to pay for the things we buy, such as education, basic research, good roads, and a clean water supply.”

8:39 pm: Seriously, did the Republicans have nothing to say about our veterans, while promising to “get tough” with Russia and return to saber-rattling towards Iran while sanctions are clearly starting to bite?  They don’t seem to have much use for people who have been to war; they promise us new wars in a pharisaic mockery of patriotism when it goes without saying they should know better.

8:37 pm: Tammy Duckworth, Democratic candidate for the Illinois 8th Congressional District and an Iraq War veteran who contributed both of her legs to that conflict, speaks of her personal experiences.  Wait; where were the veterans during the Republican National Convention?

8:33 pm: A short speech by a veteran (who subsequently walks out onstage) expressing gratitude to President Obama for his expansion of benefits through the Veterans Administration.  President Obama increased funding for mental health coverage through the VA by about $4.6 billion; George W. Bush introduced the $250 co-pay to veterans’ benefits because he wanted to be able to fight wars of choice and cut taxes at the same time.

8:28 pm: Shooting from the hip, I’d say Ms. Keenan’s speech will probably resonate more-deeply with women than Ann Romney’s “I love you women!

8:25 pm: Among the messages the President of NARAL has had to make during the Democratic National Convention but shouldn’t have to make: A woman shouldn’t have to undergo a vaginal ultrasound before exercising her reproductive rights; rape is rape; women’s freedom (not to mention their health) shouldn’t be held hostage to men who showcase their ignorance of the female anatomy.

8:24 pm: “This Love” by Maroon Five: Kind of an inappropriate song to introduce the President of NARAL Pro-Choice America…

8:20 pm: “Women are not an interest group; women shouldn’t be treated that way.  Women are half of this country, and half of its workforce!…The recent fight over contraception was illuminating.  It was like opening a time capsule from half a century ago.”    It’s nice to hear Democrats put their money where their mouth is, not just celebrating women who want to have children but actually providing them material support when they need it to get by.

8:19 pm: Monk supports Barack Obama (from a hygenic distance).

8:10 pm: R. T. Rybak, Mayor of Minneapolis, is delivering a good speech summarizing values of togetherness at times of national trial.  Warning that “pyromaniacs shouldn’t fight the firefighter,” he calls Congressional Republicans out for setting-out to deny President Obama any policy accomplishments in the depths of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  Of  particular note is his celebration of President Obama’s bailout of Detroit, which was such a success for both ownership and labor in the Midwest that Governor Romney has had to backpedal from his earlier portent of it as a doomed policy.  “President Obama has earned every gray hair on his head, fighting for middle-class America and every American.”

8:03 pm Former Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL), now President of the Center for Middle East Peace, speaks on behalf of President Obama’s defense of Israel.  A friend who is watching the Convention with me notes that the crowd is only half-committed to this speech.  This could be due to the middling magnitude of former Congressman Wexler’s star in the Democratic firmament, or to the lack of an engagement of either party on their mostly-hyped foreign policy differences of the moment–or to a growing skepticism of Democrats towards the current Israeli government.  In any case, this speech is obviously part of an effort to shore-up President Obama’s support among supporters of Israel.  The truth is that the chilliness of President Obama’s policy position towards Israeli settlements, while real, very-much represents in-house criticism; President Obama’s desire to restrict Israeli expansion of settlements represents the last, best hope for a 2-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.  Barring such a policy demanding accountability from the current government, Israel will likely have no choice over the long-term but full integration and citizenship of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories in a single state.

7:49 pm: Yes!  We just had a great clip of an exchange from the 1994 US Senate debate in Massachusetts: Challenger Mitt Romney offers to show incumbent Senator Kennedy his health care plan; Senator Kennedy demands that Romney show his health care plan to the people.  If that were used over and over as a refrain, it would make a more-truthful attack refrain than the Republicans’ use of “You didn’t build that” last week; considering their discomfort with Governor Romney’s innovative use of the individual mandate to buy health insurance when he passed health care reform in Massachusetts, a great many Republicans would have to agree.

7:45 pm: Joseph P. Kennedy III reminisces with the assembled Democrats about Senator Kennedy’s political temperament and political goals.  “As we pause to remember Senator Ted Kennedy, we re-commit ourselves to the leader he entrusted to lead us to our goals, and to fulfill our cause.”  Well, former President Carter followed-up so promptly by a retrospective on Senator Kennedy…The Republican Convention focused on up-and-coming Congressional Republicans and the current generation of Republican Governors; the Democrats have gotten off to a running start with their leaders of yesteryear.  I can’t tell which of these approaches will prove more-inspiring for the base of the respective party; there is no denying that the Republican Party has a bigger “farm team” right now.

7:39 pm: “Now, Mitt Romney…He just doesn’t get it.  He hasn’t walked in the shoes of most Americans.”  Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has started it.  I’m expecting us to hear a lot over the next 3 days about Governor Romney’s blindness to the needs of the middle- and working-class.  The President’s success with the ads focusing on Bain Capital and Romney’s too-clever-by-half tax returns suggests to me that a low-key version of this caveat about Romney will resonate with the public.

7:35 pm: Former President Jimmy Carter decries “quick fixes” and “snappy TV ads.”  That’s an obvious contrast with the easy answers of the current crop of Republicans.  This Convention probably intends to offer a sharp contrast with the Republican Convention last week by contrasting more talk of recent policy accomplishments rather than vague discussions of values and ideals.  (The Republican Convention spent little-enough time on its actual goals, let-alone its generality in discussion of policy.)