What We’ll Remember About All Those 2012 Democratic Convention Speeches
Now that the 2012 Democratic National Convention has winked into history, a dozen or so memorable moments continue to glow like embers in a late-evening fireplace.
Michelle Obama electrified the faithful with her passion, eloquence and wifely devotion… she could add a good ten years to any man’s life expectancy, especially if that man has been thwacked repeatedly by diehard partisan foes.
Massachusetts senatorial candidate and presumptive Cherokee Elizabeth Warren, an emerging folk-hero for the NPR set, delivered a stirring tribute to scrappy middle-class virtues, along with a persuasive retort to Mitt Romney’s assertion that “corporations are people, my friend.” Warren quoted from her popular campaign t-shirt and posters: “No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts. They have kids. They get jobs. They get sick. They cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die, and that matters.”
Youthful baldy Cory Booker, Newark’s idealistc, ever-charismatic mayor, galvanized the crowd with his patented Energizer Bunny performance… the guy is a walking, talking electrical power source who could still have a future in national politics.
Highly heralded San Antonio mayor Julian Castro, introduced by his identical twin brother, slipped gracefully into the brilliant-young-minority keynote speaker role perfected by an upstart named Barack Obama back in 2004… though his winsome three-year-old daughter almost stole the show by primping adorably for the cameras.
Prematurely grizzled political fireball Rahm Emanuel — former Obama chief of staff and current Chicago mayor — managed to breeze through his brief tribute to his former boss without uttering a single expletive. Miraculous.
Ditto for the sometimes bumbling, always upbeat VP Joe Biden, who surprised the crowd with a genuinely moving hymn to the U.S. auto industry and its embattled workers (not to mention the president’s role in rescuing them from certain doom). He was at his best when he spoke quietly and convincingly about the importance of the industry to America’s cultural psyche… the kind of intangible value that a pragmatist like Romney would overlook in favor of the accountant’s balance sheet.
Young, articulate and eminently telegenic, the newly minted feminist icon Sandra Fluke castigated Romney and Ryan for their alleged insensitivity to women’s reproductive issues. Noting the deep divide between Democrats and Republicans on abortion, she described “the two profoundly different futures that could await women—and how one of those futures looks like an offensive, obsolete relic of our past.” At least she didn’t call for public funding of late-term abortions.
Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm must have been a cheerleader back in high school. Shouting herself hoarse, arms waving wildly to and fro, she tallied the number of jobs saved by the Obama administration in half a dozen states, culminating with (of course) Michigan. (“211,000 good-paying, AMERICAN jobs!,” she yelled triumphantly.) Loud enough to make the average TV viewer adjust the volume, she scored a solid extra-base hit with her fellow Dems in the convention hall.
Instead of geriatric cowboy-director Clint Eastwood, who inadvertently delivered the most memorable remarks of last month’s GOP convention, the Dems mounted an eye-appealing parade of show-biz celebrities-du-jour and recent celebrities-du-jour, none of whom added much of substance to the proceedings. The Democrats seem to relish their role as the party of choice for Hollywood’s pretty faces.
Former President Bill Clinton lent his own superstar lustre to the convention. The aging Arkansas Fox, weighing midway between trim and anorexic (he’s gone vegan since his two close encounters with coronary disaster), blasted it out of the bleachers and then some; his 48-minute oration in praise of Obama garnered the highest plaudits of the convention from pundits and politicians alike.
First he disarmed the opposition by praising virtually every Republican president since Eisenhower, but he contrasted those honorable gentlemen with today’s obstinately partisan GOP. Blasting the “right-wing factions that have taken over the party,” he shredded Romney & Co. by cleverly reframing the reasoning behind their pursuit of Obama: “We left him a total mess [in 2008], he hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.” He astutely characterized the president as “a man who’s cool on the outside but who burns for America on the inside.”
As with any vintage Clinton speech, his Charlotte barnburner managed to fuse passion, policy and plain old common sense into a clear and compelling message. But this one had something extra: a righteous defense of the basic Democratic (as well as small-d democratic) ideals currently under assault by conservative ideologues. CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer immediately canonized the speech as the greatest of Clinton’s career, and other talking heads quickly followed suit.
I was simply relieved that Clinton didn’t keel over at the lectern, but I had to agree that the speech was a personal and political triumph. Unfortunately, the ex-president raised the bar impossibly high for the current president, essentially playing the hot-blooded Captain Kirk to Obama’s cerebral Mr. Spock.
Spock delivered, though. Barack Obama deliberately shed the mythic poetry of his previous convention speeches in favor of a more sober and presidential address that reflected his hard years at the helm.
Looking fit and confident, Obama managed to hit most of the right notes for a liberal leader who governs from the center: America’s traditional belief (and a true moderate’s article of faith) that “everyone plays by the same rules”… the peculiar Republican zeal for cutting taxes on the rich and easing regulations on Wall Street while gutting government benefits for the middle class and poor (“we’re not going back there,” he assured us)… a much-needed plan to restore the proud “Made in America” brand by rewarding companies that create jobs here in the U.S. … the vital importance of affordable education and health care (repeat: affordable, not free) … a warning about letting our government fall into the hands of big lobbyists “with checks”… and a pledge to use the money we’re no longer spending on wars to “do some nation-building right here at home.”
Obama has been known to break promises he made in the heat and idealism of his 2008 campaign, so he scaled down the level of commitments this time around. He sidestepped policy-wonk specifics in favor of big-picture goals and ideals. (Nothing wrong with that: this wasn’t the State of the Union Address, after all.) He confessed his disappointments and took the high road, refraining from blasting the obstructionist tactics of the GOP opposition in Congress.
The president spoke persuasively of the need for balance between entrepreneurship and responsible citizenship… for replacing the “What’s in it for me?” mentality with “What can we do together?” Collectivism? No… just an overdue recognition of the fact that — guess what? — we all play for the same team. Class warfare? No again… Obama was adamant that success in America is something earned rather than given freely. A call for big government? Guess again: Obama insisted, with admirable moderation, that government can’t fix everything but it’s not the problem. “Not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington,” he said. Nobody but a hidebound libertarian could call his vision socialistic.
The New Moderate hopes Obama can muster enough political clout and savvy to convert his vision into a model of inspired centrist leadership. He’ll have to shun the constant nattering of special interests on the right and left, but if anyone other than Bill Clinton can do it, Obama can.