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Democratic National Convention Recap: From President Obama to President Clinton's Speech and Julian Castro


This past week, the Democrats finished their party convention in Charlotte, NC. In case you missed the action, here are five themes from the DNC:

1.  Democrats Really, Really, Really, Really, Support Abortion Reproductive Rights.

The Democratic National Convention saw 25 speakers reference the party's support for legal abortion, an average of eight speakers a night in what was the biggest emphasis on the issue since at least the 1992 convention. Speakers, though, rarely mentioned the word "abortion," preferring phrases or words such as "reproductive rights" and "choice."

The Democratic Party's platform theoretically contains no limit on access to abortion, including the gruesome partial birth ones. In another historical switch, the Democratic platform is now the more radical.

It was a big change from recent Democratic conventions in which the party tried to downplay the issue. The 2004 Democratic nominee, John Kerry, didn't even reference abortion in his acceptance speech, and Obama, in his 2008 acceptance speech, mentioned "abortion" but only in the context that the two sides should work together to reduce the "the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country."

But 2012 is much different. The Democrats’ message this time is that Mitt Romney and the Republicans are waging a war on women, or at least a concerted effort to limit access to contraception and abortion. The goal is to expand the gender-voting gap to the Democratic Party's advantage. And also to turn out the base -- reviving the liberal coalition that put Barack Obama in office in 2008.

One of the most notable of these 25 speakers was Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, who became a hero to the Left after being shut out of a Congressional hearing on contraception and being called a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh because she feels entitled that her insurance provider pay for her birth control pills.

She fired up the crowd by painting a picture or a Romney Presidency that would deprive women of their reproductive rights, leaving “pregnant women to die preventable deaths in emergency rooms”.

Sorry DNC, this is not a message that resonates with most people or even women as being one of the nation’s most pressing issues. Last time I checked Roe v. Wade made abortion legal and contraceptives are available everywhere and are relatively inexpensive.

2.  “It Could Have Been Worse”

This idea was reinforced by many of the speakers at the DNC in order to justify why President Obama deserves a second term, despite a sluggish economy.

Time and time again, speakers reminded the audience of the perilous situation that President Obama inherited from George W. Bush.

Seizing upon this mantra, Jon Stewart's team lampooned the DNC message and cooked up a  silly embellishment-- at least we didn't have a zombie apocalypse.

The spot, narrated by Larry David, sums it up by saying, "“Are you better off than you were four years ago? Of course not, but think of how f***ed you could have been."

As David notes, the earth avoided being hit by an asteroid...so that's a plus. "As a president he’s been pretty, pretty...not as bad as he could have been," David says.

3. Looking Forward To the Past

Even though the Dallas Cowboys beat the New York Giants in Wednesday night's NFL season opener, it was former president Bill Clinton who garnered the most attention on Facebook. According to data provided by Facebook, Bill Clinton got more mentions on the site than the terms "Cowboys," "Giants," "football," and "Romo," the Cowboy's starting quarterback.

And that was good for President Obama, because President Clinton’s speech knocked the ball out of the park and did more to help his cause than any other speaker. Clinton, whose presidency saw a booming economy with balanced budgets, brought some credibility that President Obama was handling the economy as well as possible.

“No president, not me or any of my predecessors, could have repaired all the damage in just four years," Clinton said in a rapturously received speech that capped the second night of the Democratic National Convention.

"But conditions are improving, and if you'll renew the president's contract you will feel it," he said, jabbing the air with a finger for emphasis. "You will feel it."

His speech inspired heart, but also stimulated the mind, making his speech so different than most other speakers at the DNC and RNC.  To a degree unusual in political rhetoric, his 48-minute speech was about arithmetic. About math. About budgets.  It was, in a sense, the speech that I expected Paul Ryan to give last week.

The moral of Clinton’s story—Mitt Romney’s budget numbers do not add up.

Clinton’s role was wonk-in-chief, as he was trying to persuade the public of an old idea: That the best way to understand this election is to simply do the arithmetic. And so, for 48 minutes, that’s pretty much what he did. The question now is whether the Romney campaign can persuade voters that there’s a mistake in Clinton’s math.

4.  The DNC, like the RNC Did Last Week, Woos the Coveted Hispanic Vote.

Republicans highlighted their rising Hispanic stars last week, Senator Marco Rubio and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez.

Democrats countered by spending the first day of the DNC trying to paint itself as the big tent party.

Julian Castro, the San Antonio mayor and rising star in the Democratic Party, illustrated that diversity as the first Latino to deliver a keynote address at the convention. Young, successful, and a third generation Hispanic immigrant, Castro appeals to key voting blocks.

The Obama campaign didn't waste any time hyping the Texas politician and Stanford grad whose young career has drawn comparisons to the meteoric rise of Barack Obama after his speech at the 2004 DNC.

Castro’s speech played the happy partisan warrior, making biting attacks at Romney’s record, much to the delight of the enthusiastic crowd.

Another Texan eloquently spoke on Obama’s behalf.  Actress and Obama for America Chair Eva Longoria gave an articulate defense of Obama’s record.

“I’ve been on a lot of stages, but none as important as this one,” said Longoria. The Mexican-American actress spoke of her modest childhood in Texas with her mother, father, and sisters, one of whom had special needs. Longoria said she made it through college with loans and many jobs, including working at Wendy’s. Longoria accused the Romney administration of having the wrong priorities.

“The Eva Longoria who worked at Wendy’s flipping burgers — she needed a tax break. But the Eva Longoria who works on movie sets does not,” she said to wide applause.

5.  Playing “Prevent Defense”, President Obama’s Speech Underwhelms

Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton set up the president perfectly, says Molly Ball at The Atlantic. All he had to do was "articulate a forward-looking vision for the future," but he managed only to offer up thin gruel ("investing in education! renewable energy!")

All of this perfectly teed up what was to be the high point of the convention: the acceptance address by Barack Obama. What delegates longed for was the soaring lyricism of candidate Obama in conventions past; what they got was Obama the President, seemingly weighed down by the burdens of the Office.

There were flashes of inspiration but overall, he was tempered and more cautious. Make no mistake: It was a strong, well-delivered speech --"presidential," as they say. It just didn't sweep people off their feet the way Obama once did.

He clearly thinks he's ahead, and felt no need to go big with bold new ideas and lots of specifics, like Clinton did.  That’s why it seems like he is playing “prevent defense”.  He is hoping the clock will run out and he can get by the slightest margin without taking any risks. That's a horrible missed opportunity.

When he tried to make attacks at Romney I thought they were trite and even hypocritical. He accused Romney for outsourcing jobs while working for Bain Capital and his willingness to give corporation tax breaks at the voter’s expense.

This attack is really disingenuous because President’s Obama’s job czar is GE CEO Jeffery Immelt, who has closed many of his factories in the USA and outsourced them to places like Brazil.  Oh, and GE paid 0% in corporate taxes last year largely due to the generous political donations GE made to the Obama campaign over the last few years.

In his defense, the president offered up a series of goals for his second term but even they seemed small and lacking ambition. His biggest jobs promise was to create 1 million manufacturing jobs over the next four years. Why is that impressive? The economy has already cranked out 500,000 new manufacturing jobs over the past 2½ years, so we wouldn't be picking up the pace much. And even with an extra million, the country will still be 500,000 short of the 2 million lost in the recession. That hardly makes the heart pound.

Contact Erik Uliasz at euliasz@philly2philly.com

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