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POLITICS

Day one of the Democratic Convention

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michael Barone,Politics Digest

Amid the storm squalls that occasionally pelted rain on Charlotte, the Democrats in their opening day sent squalls of rhetoric toward Mitt Romney and the Republicans. Delegates heard from one speaker after another who massaged the politically erogenous zones of the party’s various core constituencies. Anyone listening heard over and over the Obama campaign’s talking points: 29 months of private sector job creation, the need to “invest” in education, Mitt Romney got rich by backing the original out-sourcers and has a Swiss bank account. There was plenty of material for mainstream media fact checkers if they haven’t decided to go on vacation this week. The Romney-Ryan Medicare plan doesn’t cost seniors $6,000 a year, for example.

There was an awful lot on “choice,” for example, the most since 1992. And the platform went to the extreme position of abortion at any time and with government financing. The Obama strategists are evidently eager to rally single women. Former Gov. Ted Strickland delivered a loud denunciation of the Republicans with some really good lines. But he is a former governor of a key target state (Ohio) for a reason: he lost in 2010.

Comments on the final-hour speakers:

Gov. Martin O’Malley riffed on the meme, embedded by the great New Deal historians, that history does and should always move left, from less government to more government. The problem is that polls show that most voters usually don’t want it to.

Julian Castro had an appealing personal story, though he’s not as strong a speaker as Marco Rubio and does not have the same level of responsibility (San Antonio has a city manager; he’s a part-time mayor). And it’s easier to get your city named as the nation’s top performing economy by the Millken Institute if your city is in Rick Perry’s Texas, with no state income tax and business-friendly regulation. Castro went on to make the argument, which Democrats have been attempting all evening, that Barack Obama was making when he said, “If you have a business, you didn’t build that” on July 13 in Roanoke–the argument that people need an ever bigger government.

Michelle Obama’s delivery was very good and some of the personal stories were genuinely touching. I thought the rhetorical premise that her and her husband’s family was similar was not actually true–her parents seem exemplary while his father abandoned him and his mother left for years at a time–but it was in service of a larger argument. She said more about the health care legislation than political consultants might advise. Some sentences struck a different note than the earlier proceedings. She said her and his family “didn’t begrudge anyone else’s success or care that others had much more than they did”–after other speakers attacked Romney for being born rich and having gottem richer himself. Later Michelle Obama said, “for Barack, there is no such thing as ‘us’ and ‘them’–he doesn’t care whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, or none of the above.” That doesn’t sound like the Barack Obama of the last year or so. The final paragraphs were a graceful riff on American history plus a declaration that she is “Mom-in-Chief.” In all, a much less partisan speech than those that came before.

I’ll make no comparison with Ann Romney’s speech. They had different tasks. Ann Romney had to introduce and provide a sense of a man voters don’t know in any depth. Michelle Obama set out to soften the edges and testify to the motives of a man voters already know pretty well and whom they’ve seen acting in a harshly partisan way of late. It seems to me that both speakers did well.

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Michael Barone

Senior Political Analyst
The Washington Examiner