The three days of the GOP convention seemed like the longest days of the year. In comparison, the three days of the Democratic convention went by in a flash. I can’t believe that last night was the culmination of the great lineup of progressive people. Although the last day had a greater majority of political figures, my favorite young LGBT activist, Zach Wahls, spoke about the importance of marriage equality. Those not familiar with the young Iowan Wahls and his rise to fame after he addressed the Iowa legislature on behalf of marriage equality might want to read his touching book, My Two Moms, about his lesbian parents Terri Wahls and Jackie Reger.
Folk singer and guitarist James Taylor performed “Carolina on My Mind” and then joked about the president’s struggle for support among older, white voters. “I don’t get it,” Taylor said. “I mean, I’m an old white guy and I love Barack Obama.”
Charlie Crist, former Republican governor of Florida and now an independent, gave the message that other Republicans are expressing: “Half a century ago, Ronald Reagan, the man whose relentless optimism inspired me to enter politics, famously said that he didn’t leave the Democratic Party; the party left him. I can certainly relate. I didn’t leave the Republican Party; it left me. Then again, as my friend Jeb Bush recently noted, Reagan himself would have been too moderate and too reasonable for today’s GOP.” Crist clearly expressed the major problem with the GOP today when he described the problems that he had after he was grateful to the president when he—in Crist’s words—“saved Florida: the determination to reject anything that the president does for the country just because the president has done it.
Sen. Dick Durbin (IL) urged the country to vote for President Obama for the same reasons that the country voted for Abraham Lincoln after the famous Republican president said, “I hope to stand firm enough not to go backwards.” Sen. John Kerry, Democratic challenger to George W. Bush in 2004, pounced on Mitt Romney because Romney claimed a separation between Israel and the United States. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu actually said that his country and the U.S. both have the same policy and that security cooperation has been unprecedented under the current administration. Kerry said, “When it comes to Israel, I’ll take the word of Israel’s prime minister over Mitt Romney any day.”
That wasn’t Kerry’s only zinger. On Romney’s obvious reliance on Bush’s gaggle of neo con “experts,” Kerry said, “This is not the time to outsource the job of Commander in Chief.” On Romney’s European disaster tour, Kerry said, “It wasn’t a goodwill mission, it was a blooper reel!” And my two favorites:
“The only thing exception about today’s Republicans is that, almost without exception, they oppose everything that has made America exceptional in the first place.”
“It isn’t fair to say Mitt Romney doesn’t have a position on Afghanistan; He has EVERY position!”
The last statement was particularly pointed because the GOP ruthlessly accused Kerry in 2004 of being a flip-flopper, a term that now haunts Romney. According to Kerry, Romney and Ryan are “the most inexperienced foreign policy twosome” to seek the White House in decades.
Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm gave a rousing speech in her defense of the president’s resuscitation of the auto industry. Describing Romney as someone separated from middle-class issues, she said, “He loves our cars so much, they have their own elevator. But the people who design, build and sell those cars? Well, in Romney’s world, the cars get the elevator; the workers get the shaft.” Her statistics backed up President Obama’s accomplishments in the number of jobs saved by the auto rescue: 150,000 in Ohio; 34,000 in Pennsylvania; 9,800 in Colorado; 19,000 in Virginia; 28,000 in Wisconsin; 25,000 in North Carolina; 35,000 in Florida, and 211,000 in Michigan.
Rep. John Lewis (GA) wove the story of his background suffering from racism with an attack on the recent GOP-backed voter ID mandates that will again keep many minorities from having the right to vote. He said, “They are changing the rules, cutting polling hours, and imposing requirements intended to suppress the votes. I’ve seen this before. I’ve lived this before. Too many people struggled, suffered and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote.” Beyond passing a draconian “literacy test,” Lewis said, “On one occasion, a man was asked to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap. On another occasion, one was asked to count the jelly beans in a jar — all to keep them from casting their ballots.” After he described the beating he endured while trying to go into a whites-only waiting room just a few miles from Charlotte in 1961, he asked, “Do you want to go back? Or do you want to keep America moving forward?”
Former Rep. Gabby Giffords (AZ) received a loud and sustained standing ovation with many of the delegates in tears, when she come onstage to lead them in the Pledge of Allegiance. Giffords was critically wounded in early 2011 when she was shot in the head during a political rally in Tucson and is still recovering. Earlier this week she and her husband Mark Kelly announced their new Political Action Committee, “GabbyPAC,” that will support candidates “in favor of reaching compromise and bipartisan solutions to the challenges we face.” Republican Trey Grayson, former Kentucky Secretary of State, and Democrat Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary will co-chair the PAC.
The evening ended in a high note with speeches by Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama. Biden showed the difference between the two presidential candidates. About Romney, he said, “I found it fascinating last week when Gov. Romney said that as president he’d take a jobs tour. Well, with all his support for outsourcing, it’s going to have to be a foreign trip.”
One of his more pointed comparisons was in the two plans for Medicare with President Obama saying that he would never take away this plan for senior health care and Romney’s goal to give seniors vouchers that they could use in the private insurance arena. Biden said that Romney’s business experience helped his companies make “highest profits. But it’s not the way to lead our country from its highest office.”
President Obama’s speech outlined his goals for the next term including deficit reduction, greater energy independence, lower college costs, and a revitalized manufacturing industry. He aims to create 1 million manufacturing jobs by the end of 2016, double exports in the next two years, cut oil imports in half by 2020, slow by half the growth of college tuition in the next decade, and reduce the federal deficit by more than $4 trillion over 10 years.
More specific than Romney, the president said, “[Republicans] want your vote, but they don’t want you to know their plan. And that’s because all they have to offer is the same prescription they’ve had for the last 30 years. Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high? Try another. Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!”
In contrast to Romney’s demand for smaller—maybe non-existent—government, the president said, “Over and over, we’ve been told by our opponents that bigger tax cuts and fewer regulations are the only way, that since government can’t do everything, it should so almost nothing.”
About Romney’s claim to fight Russia, the president said, “My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy, but from all that we’ve seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly. After all, you don’t call Russia our number one enemy–and not al Qaeda–unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War time warp. You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally.”
Echoing Bill Clinton’s assertion, the president declared that there were no quick fixes to the problems he inherited in January 2009 when he took office. “It will take more than a few years for us to solve the challenges that have been built up over decades,” President Obama said, making the point that Bush had eight years to destroy the economy and that these eight years cannot be turned around in fewer than four years.
Pundit response to President Obama’s speech was, as could be expected, mixed depending on the political persuasion of the speaker. Joe Scarborough’s assessment may have been the funniest from a Republican: “The President said nothing in his speech tonight. But he said it so much better than Mitt Romney when he said nothing in Tampa.”
Yet there was a huge difference between both conventions beyond the positive energy of one and the negative lethargy of the other. Their speeches showed opposite paths between the two political parties. The GOP said over and over that it wants to strip the country of all the progress and go back into a mythical place; the Democrats said continually that despite the obstructionism of the Republicans that we have come a long way in the last four years and we should keep going forward.