In assessing last week’s Democratic National Convention, I want to be as fair as possible to my friends across the aisle. I concede that the Democrats presented a peppy and compelling production — at least in some respects.
The Democrats’ platform, on the other hand, should raise a red flag with the American people. Although individual speakers were often inspiring, the overall message of the convention was tired, divisive and angry. Speaker after speaker engaged in cheap populist ranting against the values that Mitt Romney embodies and that have made America great: entrepreneurship, enterprise, personal responsibility and innovation. Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland only made themselves and their party look smaller and more insecure as they frothed at the mouth with spiteful attacks.
The president’s speech was also disappointing. Barack Obama has delivered primetime addresses at the last three Democratic National Conventions. This was easily his worst. That’s not saying much considering the man’s talent for oratory, but his remarks were uninspiring, stale and flat. I found myself reminded of Jimmy Carter’s infamous “malaise” speech, as a liberal president once again squirmed under the reality of his own failed leadership. As I have before, I pose this question to my Democratic friends: Name for me one concrete initiative that Obama would introduce in a second term. I haven’t heard such substance from him during this entire campaign, and we certainly didn’t hear it Thursday night.
Similarly, Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks fell flat. Biden, whom I admire greatly as a person, fell into his old habit of rambling through his speech. I genuinely fear for his dignity when he faces Paul Ryan in next month’s vice presidential debate.
The convention was not without some extraordinary and endearing moments. I challenge anyone to not swell with emotion after watching former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords lead the pledge of allegiance with bravery and grace. Heroism was similarly espoused in Tammy Duckworth, the Democratic nominee and all-but-certain victor in the 8th Congressional District of Illinois. Duckworth lost both her legs and full function of one arm in a helicopter firefight in Iraq. I may disagree with Duckworth on many issues, but she is the very best our country has to offer, and I am eager to see her at work on Capitol Hill.
The keynote address from San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro was also impressive, rightfully eliciting comparisons to the one delivered by Barack Obama in 2004. Castro was eloquent and personable, but don’t expect an Obama-esque trajectory: Obama’s virtually unopposed Senate candidacy in deep-blue Illinois was one thing; being a liberal with statewide ambitions in conservative Texas is quite another. Instead, expect big things from the mayor’s identical twin, State Rep. Joaquín Castro, who is all but certain to win a U.S. House of Representatives seat in November. Joaquín will be an immediate star on Capitol Hill, and his prospects for congressional leadership are strong, as most of the current Democratic leaders are well into their 70s.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) delivered a fiery address, much as he did in 2008. With that in mind, I can’t help but wonder whether Kerry would be president today had this side of the senator been on display in 2004. His line, “Ask Osama bin Laden if he’s better off now than he was four years ago” was perhaps my favorite rhetorical jab of either convention.
Former President Bill Clinton (SFS ’68) emerged from the convention as the most lauded speaker. That’s fair — his remarks were an appealing combination of folksy and wonky. I’d expect nothing less from him. But I believe it represents a serious challenge for the Democratic Party moving forward that its convention’s biggest standout was a 66-year-old former president who was first elected 20 years ago.
Overall, the Democratic Party should be ashamed of the way it handled its platform. The deliberate exclusion of references to God and the initial incomprehensible refusal to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital were serious errors for the party — though they will prove gifts for the GOP. Attempts to remedy these “oversights” proved even more disastrous — presiding Los Angeles Mayor AntonioVillaraigosa ultimately rammed through the additions to the platform over raucous opposition.
This emerging image of the Democratic Party deeply disturbs me. Democrats apparently have abandoned Bill Clinton’s Third Way and instead have chosen to spew angry, left-wing populist claptrap. Perhaps it’s not their fault: If my record of failed leadership were as disgraceful as President Obama’s, I wouldn’t want to talk about policy proposals either.
Sam Dulik is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.