Opening Night in Charlotte

There’s that odd scene in Citizen Kane where Charles Foster Kane tells his second wife, Susan, “The bulldog’s just gone to press.” What? By that point in the narrative Susan is well on her way to becoming an alcoholic wreck and she sneers out her sarcastic reply – “Well, hurray for the bulldog!” She’s had it with big-shot newspaper guys and their hyper-masculine jargon, and this is just another puffed-up newspaper term. The bulldog edition is the first early print-run of the day’s newspaper – something cobbled together to hit the newsstands first, before the other guys can. You win the game by being first, and in fact the bulldog edition is kind of a first draft. Details will be missing, or even key facts, or maybe they got the whole story wrong – but they were first. If you want to know what really happened, look for the word “Final” on the upper right corner of the front page. Buy that copy.

All that is arcane now – we get our breaking news elsewhere. Newspapers have become reference material, supplementing what we already heard on the radio or saw on television or read on the net or had tweeted to us. The newspapers’ investigative reporters are almost always those who uncovered and first reported the story, whatever it might be, which was then picked up by the wire services and other media, and then analyzed and commented upon by every broadcast and cable outlet everywhere, and then pinged back and forth on thousands of websites where someone was appalled or encouraged or bored at the moment. The actual source of the story can be forgotten, and now if anyone buys a newspaper it’s to have a hard-copy resource that puts the now-whole story in perspective, the next day, so you can see who said what about what happened, at your leisure, with the morning coffee. You do get a review of the situation, with sober and careful perspective, which is kind of handy, but bad news for the newspapers. Their expensive worldwide and national and local staff of intrepid reporters discovers the news – something important no one knew – and the physical newspaper itself is the last place it ends up, even if in its best and most complete form. And few read the daily paper anymore. That’s a lousy business model.

The problem is instantaneous access to events now, and our certainty that something big just happened, but with an inevitable time-lag before the events are processed through the media and finally land with a thud on your doorstep at dawn, in actual physical form. Everyone wants to know what just happened, but it’s not that simple, and that’s what makes the first night of the Democratic convention so hard to report. Something just happened in Charlotte that seems a big deal, but it might not be. So this is a brief bulldog edition of the column – the first draft of what seemed to be going on. But it might not be what was really going on. But it might be. We’ll see.

Maybe you had to watch it. This wasn’t Tampa, where a lot of the Republicans didn’t much like Mitt Romney and pretended they weren’t uncomfortable with him, with various degrees of success. The Ron Paul folks REALLY didn’t like him and walked out at one point. The only thing that seemed to unify everyone was a distaste often bordering on brutal hatred for Barack Obama, along with some sort of existential panic for America. Unhappiness hung in the air, and there was the party platform, reeking of something like fear, of women, gays, immigrants, racial minorities, foreigners, Muslims, Medicaid recipients and on and on. Many saw a party of aging white men, lashing out, and Clint Eastwood didn’t help matters much. It was a dour and sour crowd, and too, things didn’t go smoothly. They lost a day to Hurricane Isaac and had to reshuffle the schedule of speakers, so coherence and flow was an issue. The keynote speaker, Chris Christie, talked about himself. On the other hand there was Ann Romney’s quite fine speech “humanizing” her husband – which was fine, except that he actually needed to be humanized. He is a stiff and distant fellow. She said he wasn’t, really, and most everyone gave here the benefit of the doubt on that, because she seems to be pretty cool and earnest in the best sense of the word. It was just hard to agree with her about Mitt after he addressed the convention the next night. And then everyone went home. And there was no post-convention “bounce” in the polls and lots of talk in conservative circles about how this Tampa thing had been a wasted opportunity.

The Democrats opened their convention in Charlotte differently – with a tight schedule tightly adhered to and speakers all on message and a lot of happy people having a good time, being positive about most everything. No one walked out. So, after a few lesser lights, it was Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius opening her speech with a full-fledged defense of Obamacare – “For us Democrats, Obamacare is a badge of honor. Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition. Now that’s what change looks like.”

Fine – what one might expect – and Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland talked about Obama saving the auto industry and attacked Romney for wanting to “let Detroit go bankrupt” of course, but he really laid into Romney:

To him, American workers are just numbers on a spreadsheet.

To him, all profits are created equal, whether made on our shores or off. That’s why companies Romney invested in were dubbed “outsourcing pioneers.” Our nation was built by pioneers – pioneers who accepted untold risks in pursuit of freedom, not by pioneers seeking offshore profits at the expense of American workers here at home.

Strickland is also a minister of course:

Mitt Romney has so little economic patriotism that even his money needs a passport. It summers on the beaches of the Cayman Islands and winters on the slopes of the Swiss Alps. In Matthew, Chapter 6, Verse 21, the scriptures teach us that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. My friends, any man who aspires to be our president should keep both his treasure and his heart in the United States of America. And it’s well past time for Mitt Romney to come clean with the American people.

That was a tad over the top, and many protested, but when Andrew Sullivan said this was too harsh, Sullivan got this note:

Watching with my dad; he’s 57, white, working class, son of a lifelong Chrysler man, and one of the few remaining truly undecideds I know. He loved Strickland. Class warfare may be distasteful intellectually and historically, but are working class people supposed to adopt a Quaker mentality as class warfare is so thoroughly waged against them? Strickland’s red meat seems to have worked for dad, commentariat notwithstanding…

So that went well enough, as did this:

Actor Kal Penn, a former White House staffer who still reaches out to young people on behalf of the Obama campaign, urged Americans and young people in particular to vote in his speech in Charlotte Tuesday. … Penn also said working in the White House was better than working in the movies because he had a boss who killed Osama bin Laden and believes in gay marriage. He threw in a mention to Clint Eastwood’s Republican convention speech: “So thank you, invisible man in the chair.”

That was a nice touch, but the three closing speeches were where the news was, perhaps, starting with Massachusetts’ current governor, Deval Patrick, demolishing the former governor, Mitt Romney. The man’s record was abysmal, save for healthcare, and then there was that Teddy Kennedy video – old clips of Teddy demolishing Mitt in Massachusetts debates long ago. It hardly seemed fair. The crowd ate it up, and Sullivan says this of Patrick:

The “47th out of 50 states” job-creation number is pretty devastating. It cuts directly to Romney’s core message. It disrobes his image of business acumen. And I like Patrick’s affirmation of fiscal responsibility over Romney’s – as well as his boasting about the right to marry the person you love. Yes, he’s boasting that Massachusetts got there first. If you live long enough … and the GOP, in contrast, was so tone-deaf on this question.

Patrick merely portrayed the Romney record in Massachusetts in the worst possible light. And I think most Americans understand that investing wisely in education and infrastructure is not hostile to free enterprise but critically complementary to it.

Patrick is on fire. His line about Democrats’ getting a backbone to stand up for what they believe was an obvious play for 2016. But unlike Christie and Rubio, these speakers are all about Obama and his record. And they sure aren’t playing defense.

No, they weren’t playing defense, and then there was the next speaker:

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the grandson of a Mexican immigrant and the son of a Hispanic rights advocate – and who credits affirmative action and public education for his rapid rise – took direct aim at a central Republican messaging tenet against President Obama.

Though the keynote was historic – Castro was the first Latino keynote speaker – the message was very much of the moment. Opportunity and government investment in infrastructure and schools go hand in hand, Castro said. People build their own success, he said, but they achieve it thanks to the social structure America has created.

He turned the “you didn’t build that” argument around:

Castro drew sharp contrasts with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, saying the GOP seeks to destroy the very foundation that helped lift Castro and his brother Joaquin (who’s running for Congress) to success.

“Twenty years ago, Joaquin and I left home for college and then for law school. In those classrooms, we met some of the brightest folks in the world,” Castro said. “But at the end of our days there, I couldn’t help but to think back to my classmates at Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio. They had the same talent, the same brains, the same dreams as the folks we sat with at Stanford and Harvard. I realized the difference wasn’t one of intelligence or drive. The difference was opportunity.”

That’s what Obama meant in the first place, only Castro was more pointed:

“Of all the fictions we heard last week in Tampa, the one I find most troubling is this: If we all just go our own way, our nation will be stronger for it,” he said, “because if we sever the threads that connect us, the only people who will go far are those who are already ahead. We all understand that freedom isn’t free. What Romney and Ryan don’t understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.”

Having the government do next to nothing, so the right people can thrive and get all the goodies, is fine in an Ayn Rand novel, but no way to run a country if you want to maximize growth and wealth and stability. It seems the Democrats are not backing down on this, like everything else. That’s a change.

And then there was Michelle Obama:

“Barack knows what it means when a family struggles,” she said in remarks that electrified the party faithful in the Time Warner Cable Arena and were broadcast nationally by the television networks. “He knows what it means to want something more for your kids and grandkids. Barack knows the American dream because he’s lived it, and he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love.”

Four years of partisan sniping, Washington gridlock and continued economic challenges may have dulled the luster of the man this party nominated four years ago. But Mrs. Obama sought to remind his 2008 voters that the same person they supported then is underneath the tarnish she sought to buff away.

The address was meant to lay the foundation for a convention program devised to remind wavering working- and middle-class voters – the same ones Mr. Romney is working so hard to woo away – what they liked about the president when they supported him four years ago, and how his own humbler roots have helped inspire his policies to help them.

“He believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you,” Mrs. Obama said, her impassioned delivery drawing the crowd to its feet as it waved red, white and blue “Michelle” placards. “You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed. …

That wasn’t nice, nor was this:

As someone with whom she was “so young, so in love, and so in debt,” Mrs. Obama said, her husband believes “success isn’t about how much money you make. It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”

Mitt Romney does not get it and Michelle Obama was making the case that President Obama does – it was a barnburner of a speech, which Sullivan tracked here:

10.50 pm. Her values are what my parents taught me. And she has this crowd rapt. “Being president doesn’t change who you are. It reveals who you are.” Having told people where she and her husband are from, she’s now pivoting to Barack, his values, his support for the working class. She’s nailing this.

10.52 pm. The appeal to women and students (and their parents) is more effective for being wrapped up in her personal story: a beautifully constructed speech so far, very tough while being pellucidly graceful. She has even bested Ann Romney’s lovely speech last week. “He turned down high-paying jobs … success is not about how much money you make. It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” That’s the true middle class American creed.

10.56 pm. As she describes the courage, wisdom, patience and grace of Barack Obama, I see them too. I make no apologies for admiring this president as much as anyone in public life, and seeing his sincerity and integrity and hearing this woman tell the truth about him after so many lies, it all comes as a huge and joyous relief. He is for our time what Reagan was for his. And the time is very different.

11 pm. Stunning, brilliant, moving, passionate and right. Flawless. That was a speech a presidential nominee would be proud to have given – the best speech of the conventions so far. There was an emotional arc and steel to this that was as suffused with patriotism as it was with love. Yes, I’m gushing. But gushing is what I feel. And this is live-blogging. So sue me. I’ve never heard a speech from a First Lady anywhere close to this.

Ed Kilgore simply offered this:

Appreciation of Michelle Obama’s speech tonight seems to be building and building. For sure she (as Chuck Todd just said on NBC) “owned” the convention in a way no speaker at either event has so far. There is zero question she accomplished a great deal to help generate “base” enthusiasm for her husband; she basically shamed Democrats into caring about this election. And her perfectly delivered speech created a variety of implicit contrasts with Ann Romney’s address last week, which “humanized” her husband by explaining that they once had to eat tuna pasta before Bain Capital was formed and took off, and have always given a healthy portion of their unimaginable wealth to private charity.

Yeah, there’s that. And after the sour and angry Republicans all but ignored the war in Afghanistan and the veterans from Iraq, not even mentioning any of that stuff, we had a military mom introduce Michelle Obama. Something is going on here. The Democrats just cleaned the Republicans’ clock.

But maybe they didn’t. This is just the bulldog edition. The complete news comes later. The “Late Final” hits the newsstands Wednesday morning, November 7th this year.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Opening Night in Charlotte

  1. Rick says:

    Yes, Michelle gave an impassioned speech, from her heart, but maybe my heart just wasn’t in it.

    Maybe what the Democrats do need is to get fired up, but I’m always a bit suspicious of cheerleaders trying to get us to show more school spirit. I hope it worked for independents, but mostly right now I doubt there’s anything more that can get those people to see the light that they haven’t already seen. If just seeing the Republicans continually lie through their goddam teeth doesn’t do it, why would hearing Michelle Obama speak right from her heart do it, especially since she’s famously good at that sort of thing?

    And all this military stuff? It goes nowhere. After all, it never worked before — remember choosing John Kerry because, unlike his opponent, he’s actually fought in a war? I think when we Democrats do that, it’s meant to demonstrate that everybody misjudges us when it comes to believing we are weak on national security. It’s true, they do, but blatant public demonstrations of support “for our troops who fight and sacrifice their lives to defend American Freedoms” — yatta yatta — just bounces off conservatives like water off a duck’s back. Rather than cleaning anyone’s clock, it just ends up looking fake.

    I think it was on CNN where I saw her speech followed by gushing praise from James Carville (who actually gushed about ALL the speakers of the night), and then Ari Fleischer complaining that she didn’t use her speech to explain her husband’s economic policies. What a dork. I must have missed the part of Ann Romney’s speech that did that.

    Oh, well, I’m sure it’s just fatigue from my frustration that Republicans seem to be getting away with all their lies, while I keep waiting for the Democrats to not just strike back, but strike them down!

    Rick

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