Compare the Democratic National Convention, now in progress in Charlotte, North Carolina, with the recently concluded Republican show in Tampa, Florida, and you find a world of instructive difference.
The Republicans, on the whole, were pinched and wary. The speakers did not develop or explain policy. Instead, they promoted themselves individually and massaged various GOP constituencies: Condoleezza Rice stroked the establishment; John McCain riled up the old coots and the warmongers; New Jersey Governor Chris Christie played to the self-satisfied and overweening; Clint Eastwood, well, we're not sure what that was all about; and then there was vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who maintained the GOP tradition of distorting the national debate with lies both big and small. All in all, it was a soulless exercise, rather like watching an insect struggle to escape a puddle of water; not uninteresting, but hardly satisfying.
The Democrats, however, have been energized, focused, and upbeat. The message is clear to the delegates in the hall and — more importantly — to the television audience: We know who we are and we know what we want to do. The Democrats are cheerfully and enthusiastically committed to: preserving and implementing the historic national health-care plan recently ruled constitutional by the US Supreme Court; promoting same-sex marriage; maintaining the social safety net for families in distress; better educating youth in order to ensure a prosperous future; and watching out for the wellbeing of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who returned physically wounded or psychologically scarred. They're also dedicated to protecting women's right to manage their own reproductive decisions — delivering them from the vile embraces of Republican Congressman Todd Akin and his sidekick, Paul Ryan, who seek to enfranchise the fetus, criminalize abortion, and outlaw many forms of birth control.
But most important of all for November's elections, the Democrats have made clear that they are champions of the middle class (those working and those unemployed), advocates for the working poor, and protectors of the indigent.
Drawing on her own experience as a cash-strapped newlywed saddled with student debt, First Lady Michelle Obama said of her husband, "In the end, for Barack, these issues are not political, they are personal. Because Barack knows what it means when a family struggles."
These are the "big-tent" politics typified by Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, Harry Truman's Fair Deal, John Kennedy's New Frontier, and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. They offer vision and hope, and they stand in marked relief to Republican Mitt Romney's essentially American Chamber of Commerce vision, which holds that if you favor those who live off inherited wealth, unemployed Americans will feel better about themselves as they wait in unemployment lines.
The Republicans proffer a potent, but narrow and punishing philosophy of American life. The Democrats propose a plan of action, a blueprint for the future.
THROW MOMMA UNDER THE BUS
Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan appear to have set a historic record for the number of outright lies and dubious misrepresentations contained in their convention speeches.
Romney's biggest lie, however, has not received the attention it deserves. In his moving and heartfelt tribute to his mother, Romney spoke of her efforts to break into politics, something his father, George, a Michigan governor and one-time Republican presidential aspirant, managed much more successfully.