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.)

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