On the first night of the Democratic National Convention allies of Barack Obama made an impassioned case that the embattled president deserves four more years after a first term filled with historic accomplishments including signing the Lilly Ledbetter fair pair act, ending the Iraq War, killing Osama bin Laden, and being the first president in American history to support gay rights. Democrats were implored by Mass. Gov. Duval Patrick to "grow a backbone" and be unapologetic in their support for gay marriage, legal abortion, universal healthcare, immigration amnesty, and gender equality in the workforce. Nor did they run away from the largely unpopular Affordable Care Act which speakers such as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro all touted as the fulfillment of one of the greatest, and most elusive, Democratic dreams of the last century.
The first night of the convention got off to a slow start despite the dramatic entrance of Illinois congressional hopeful Maj. Tammy Duckworth, a former helicopter pilot who lost both her legs after being shot down over Iraq. Watching the double amputee Dukeworth walk across the stage with only the aid of a cane was one of the most inspiring moments of the convention. While her oratory skills still leave much to desired their is no denying that her speech pierced the first major bullet in Gov. Romney's presidential hopes when she pointed out how the GOP candidate failed to mention the words Iraq or Afghanistan once in his highly watched acceptance speech at the RNC. For someone looking to be the Commander-in-Chief I believe this was a grave error that we will only hear more about as the election unfolds.
After Duckworth, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland came out blazing with a highly partisan speech that contained instant classics one liners such as "to Romney American workers are just numbers on a spreadsheet" and "If Romney was Santa Claus he would fire the reindeer and outsource the elves." That said, Gov. Strickland's clownish speech did little to cater to independents or Republicans who are not satisfied with Gov. Romney. Listening to the outlandish tone of speech one would have thought Gov. Strickland was giving the benediction of Barack Obama's early induction onto Mount Rushmore rather than a stump speech for a unpopular incumbent president facing an extremely close and contentious reelection campaign.
The speeches continued with remarks from the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, who testified towards Obama's uncommon leadership capacity by recounting several conversations he had shared with the president during his time as Barack Obama's chief of staff. Emanuel spewed off the accomplishments of Barack Obama, especially highlighting the creation of 4.5 million private sector jobs during the past 29 months (a figure that while widely repeated by other speakers last night has been slammed by the Washington Post's Fact Checker). He talked about how Obama came to office facing a myriad of 'once in a generation' problems all at once - the collapse of the financial markets, failure of the American auto industry, the ongoing struggles of two wars, etc - all of which on their own would have doomed the presidency of a lesser man. But in his mind the evidence is overwhelming that Barack Obama overcame these hardships because he is "a once in a generation President."
From that point on, Rahm's trainwreck of a speech just got progressively worse. He began listing off Obama's accomplishments each time followed by this awful refrain of "That was a change we believed in. That was the change we fought for. That was the change President Obama delivered." As a Chicagoan it was actually embarressing to watch. The Chicago Tribune's John Kass put it best in his article detailing Team Obama's decision to remove its national campaign chairman from the DNC so he could host a pizza party for interns in the Chicago HQ.
Who wrote this childlike stuff? It sounds more like the perpetually cheery Kenneth character on "30 Rock" than the realistic and ruthless mayor of Chicago. And that's scary, thinking of Kenneth as White House chief of staff. No wonder Vladimir Putin became so bold.
Despite Emanuel's appeal to Democrats that Obama is a sort of American political messiah, I thought Emanuel's speech was actually extremely ineffective. Blaming the circumstances inherited by the previous regime for Obama's shortcomings four years later seemed to undercut the unconvincing argument that Obama is "once in a generation president." It is safe to say that the best part of Rahm Emanuel's lousy speech was the fact it was slotted so early in the night that most people probably didn't see it.
If you had told me before last night that it would take a speech from a female Alabama factory worker to bailout Rahm's uninspired effort I would have asked you where you were getting your bath salts. However Lilly Ledbetter stepped up big time and delivered a momentum changing speech that in my opinion set the table for the more powerful remarks of Julian Castro, Duval Patrick, and Michele Obama that came later. The Obama camp used Ledbetter's speech both to attack Mitt Romney for being out of touch with average Americans and being hostile to women achieving equality in the workplace. Most damning was her charge that women continue to make only 77 cents to every $1 men get paid for the same job.
Maybe 23 cents doesn't sound like a lot to someone with a Swiss bank account, Cayman Island Investments and an IRA worth tens of millions of dollars. But Governor Romney, when we lose 23 cents every hour, every day, every paycheck, every job, over our entire lives, what we lose can't just be measured in dollars.
Lilly Ledbetter's story is stirring (if you haven't heard it watch her speech below) and I believe it did a lot to help cement Barack Obama's crediblity with women.
All in all I would have to give the DNC Day One Undercard a C-. While they did a decent job highlighting the President's positions on Gay Rights, Abortion, and Equal Pay for Women, they failed to mention almost anything about the two issues Americans care about the most this election - national debt and the economy. The DNC undercard also spent too much time attacking Mitt Romney for his success and probably goes overboard in praising government as the most effective engine to propel lower and working class Americans into the middle class.
Check back later this afternoon for my take on the speeches of Gov. Duval Patrick, Gov. Martin O'Malley, Mayor Julian Castro, and First Lady Michele Obama.