by Jay Barth
A few final thoughts on the last evening of an exceptionally strong week for the Democrats in Charlotte. [The response of the progressives back home suggest that it had resonance in firing up the base that went well beyond the walls of Time Warner Cable Arena.]
The energy in the Arena on the final night of the convention was electric. The smallness of the arena (the smallest facility that the Dems had used for the convention for many years) made for an even more intense environment. Much of that would have likely been lost if the event had moved outside as was originally planned.
There were numerous strong speeches throughout the evening. Perhaps the most surprising came from the 2004 nominee Senator John Kerry who provided a scathing attack on the Mitt Romney foreign policy vision and a strong exhortation for the Obama record in that area.
As readers here know, President Barack Obama's acceptance speech has received somewhat mixed reviews; some have loved it, others have thought it was safe and underwhelming. It was a speech that played particularly well inside the hall and that audible enthusiasm also likely helped a bit on the outside. A few thoughts on it:
—What pulled at my heartstrings in Obama's speech was his discussion of the responsibility that comes with "citizenship," a word that is relatively new for Obama to employ rhetorically. “But we also believe in something called citizenship — a word at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy; the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations,” Obama said in separating his party from the Social Darwinist tendencies of the GOP. It's a potent and important word and Obama spoke about it in a thoughtful manner, perhaps the greatest response imaginable to those who bizarrely continue question his citizenship in the first place.
—As a kid of the 1970s and 1980s, it feels surreal to hear Democrats so cocky about foreign policy, a centerpiece of the last evening of the DNC. I was used to Republican braggadocio on those issues throughout the campaigns of my youth. Aided by the Republicans' ceding of the issue by Mitt Romney's failure to talk about the war at hand and the service of military men and women in those efforts in his own address, Democrats have taken complete control of the issue—both in terms of military success itself and the care of veterans after their return home. While this is certainly not a foreign policy election, if this thing comes down to a few votes in Virginia or Florida—both places with large military outposts—the Democrats dominance on the issue may decide the outcome. That said, the continual celebration of the death of Osama bin Laden (no matter its political effectiveness, with Kerry's "“Ask Osama bin Laden if he's better off now than he was four years ago" leading the pack in its punch) feels awkward to a kid toted along to Peace Links meetings by his grandmother. Am I alone?
—The line of the speech that received the most intense reaction from the crowd—"I am no longer a candidate. I am the president."—was the most interesting in terms of the feel inside the arena. It wasn't clear that the President and speechwriters saw this as simply a transition phrase rather than such a loud applause line; Obama did seem somewhat surprised by the crowd reaction and didn't know how best to handle it. He ended up playing it right since the line came off as a sign of strength and maturity with the crowd cheering so intensely. Just one of those things that felt different inside the hall than it does watching it on television later.
—Finally, the measured tone of the speech was completely in synch with Obama's opening and closing thoughts about the change that had taken place in his relationship with the American people, particularly the Democratic base. From a period of puppy love (after the 2004 introduction at the Boston convention) through a honeymoon period (culminating in his acceptance of the nomination in 2008) and finally to a maturation of the relationship (last night), the relationship between the President and the public has become more complicated and more complex. That's what takes place in lasting relationships like the one he needs now to get him through to a second term.