Election 2014  
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Obama's Big Finale at the DNC -- Dems Are More Agressive, United Than We've Seen in Years

Progressives had much to savor this week in Charlotte.

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We expected him to thrill the base, at times, and he did that too, with a full-throated attack on Republicans' trickle-down theory – their belief that tax-cuts skewed toward the top is a one-size-fits-all solution to every problem – and with his emphasis on kitchen table issues. He said to the crowd: "You are my hope."

“If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void,” he said. “Lobbyists and special interests; the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election and those who are making it harder for you to vote; Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry, or control health care choices that women should make for themselves.”

We've also come to expect Obama to frustrate his base at times, and he did that as well. He talked about “clean coal” – a nonexistent product fabricated by the Big Coal's PR gurus – and promised to “take the responsible steps to strengthen Social Security,” which has never meant genuinely progressive fixes. He elicited groans from liberals across the country by assuring America that he was “still eager to reach an agreement based on the principles of my bipartisan debt commission.”

We expected him to lay out some specific goals for a second term and he obliged, promising to create a million manufacturing jobs over the next four years, cut oil imports in half by 2020 – which is every bit as significant as cutting Pez dispenser imports – and slowing the growth of college tuition by half.

But while Obama's talk offered few surprises, the convention did – and not just for the fact that (by my reckoning) he gave only the fourth best speech of the three-day event. Whereas twelve years ago, many progressives rightly saw little difference between the two parties, today that is only remotely true of 'national security' policy, broadly defined. On the domestic side -- on the economy, and a host of social issues -- the differences have become stark. This was the first time a major party adopted a plank calling for marriage equality. It was the first convention addressed by an undocumented immigrant. Despite the stupidity with the platform language about Israel, Democrats seemed more comfortable in being Democrats than they have in the recent past.

Perhaps as a result, there was far more excitement in Charlotte than there had been in Tampa, and that was visible from the first day. The best speeches offered unabashed defenses of a woman's right to control her body and full-throated populist attacks on the GOP's creepy cult of wealth. Several speakers talked of liberal policy ideas as a manifestation of “economic patriotism,” suggesting in less-than-subtle terms that their opponents care less about the republic than they do. We saw real diversity not just on the podium, as was the case in Tampa, but in the audience. There was a sense that while the Democrats were certainly reaching out toward “swing” voters, they were also unafraid of what the dopes at Fox News would say about their party.

In part, that's a reflection of the growth of an independent progressive movement that was largely nonexistent during the 1990s, when the hangover of Mondale's 1984 thrashing was still fresh and triangulation was all the rage. But it's also a reaction to the GOP's growing extremism – according to Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker, since 1975, “Senate Republicans moved roughly twice as far to the right as Senate Democrats moved to the left” and “House Republicans moved roughly six times as far to the right as House Democrats moved to the left.”

 
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