Election 2014  
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Kerry, Granholm and Giffords Light Up Crowd on Final Night of Dem Convention

But after sensational speeches from the first lady and Bill Clinton, the president's speech was something of a letdown.

Photo Credit: demconvention.com


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Despite tropical humidity, buckets of rain, a last-minute venue change, wacko anti-choicers shouting on every corner, and lots of disappointed ticket-holders, the Dems got done what they came to do in Charlotte. They revved up the base and possibly picked up a few male working-class voters with pugnacious appeals to patriotism and a focus on manufacturing jobs.

Michelle Obama’s speech was so thrilling, and Bill Clinton’s such a barnburner, that I feared anything that followed – including the President’s address – would be anti-climactic. And so it was Thursday night in the Time Warner Arena.

It was never going to be 2008 again. Obama is now an incumbent and has been battling a maniacally obstructive GOP for nearly four years. His approval rating was a few points into the negative zone, according to Gallup, when the convention started. He looked humbled – and possibly a touch chastened? – as he spoke to the American people about his record. But he is still considered a likable figure and reaps benefits from the stark contrast to his rivals – a pair of snake-oil salesmen with a mean vision of America where the rich rule and women’s bodies are thrown under the bus in order to convince lower-income social conservatives to vote against their economic interests.

Thursday evening’s highs including a rousing defense of the auto bailout from the feisty Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan and Current TV host, and a star-studded celebrity line-up including Mary J. Blige, Kerry Washington, Scarlett Johansson and Eva Longoria.  Former Florida governor and political cross-dresser Charlie Crist, a man who worships Ronald Reagan, drew applause with the line,  “I didn’t leave the Republican party, the Republican party left me,” and seemed more enthusiastic about protecting Social Security and Medicare than many of the long-term Dems.

John Kerry served up a homerun with his zinger: “Ask Osama Bin Laden if his life is better now than four years ago!” Kerry delievered a scathing assesment of the profit-obsessed Romney as a man unfit to run a country.

The most emotional part of the night was Gabby Gifford's leading the Pledge of Allegiance, her halting steps a reminder of the horror of gun violence. I burst into tears, as did several folks around me.

Then, finally, the moment came. It was late, and folks were tired, and an awful lot had already been said -- several times over by that point.

I have always felt that Obama’s reputed oratory prowess is overrated. After the illiteracy of George W. Bush, his rhetorical competence and the obvious intelligence on display in his speeches were a breath of fresh air. But for me, at least, there was often something wanting in his ability to emotionally connect and to deliver truly memorable material.  He has a tendency to go long on empty assurances and short on details. At his best, he is able to inspire with lofty musings on broad themes, as he did in his famous race speech.

But last night Obama did not bring his "A" game. His somewhat flat delivery and the dissonance created by populist language that sounded hollow given some of the bank-centric policies of his administration were unsettling.

There was hopeful talk, but a paucity of specifics. We’re going to bring back manufacturing jobs, he suggested, but he didn’t say how they could support a middle class in the absence of strong unions. There were ominous hints of a so-called "Grand Bargain" on Medicare and Social Security as the president signaled his belief in the false logic of deficit hawks.