The motto of the Republican Convention in Tampa last week was “We Built It.” Speakers repeated the line (sometimes to excess), videos were played on the theme, signs and banners lined the convention center. By the end of the week, nobody present in Tampa could be unaware that during a speech earlier this year, President Obama claimed that small business owners didn’t build their businesses alone.
The GOP highlighted several speakers during the week that had inspiring stories of building small businesses out of nothing, who risked what little they had to build companies that would become employers. One speaker, Sher Valenzuela, appeared in the early evening on Tuesday and set the tone for the rest of the convention. Valenzuela and her husband (a second-generation Mexican-American), devastated by their son’s autism diagnosis, started a business in order to pay for his care.
Democrats are feeling encouraged after last night’s speech from first lady Michelle Obama—and with good reason. She turned in a stirring performance, taking a speech that was well written and delivering it just as well, if not better. But the communications team at the Democratic National Convention should also be left wondering why some of the other speeches of the night fell flat, most notably that of Julian Castro, the San Antonio mayor for whom the unreasonably high expectations turned out to be a burden rather than spring board.
Part of the problem is that when you get compared to Barack Obama in 2004, you better be charismatic, and Castro doesn’t quite have the easy yet confident charm Obama displayed. Castro, like an actor who looks like he’s acting, was visibly working to produce what didn’t come naturally. Another factor was the general tone of the evening: whereas the GOP convention theme was that Obama is a good man but not a good president, last night’s DNC lineup was a particularly nasty string of speakers clawing at Mitt Romney’s character. In 2004, Obama showed an ability to speak above the partisan fray. Last night, Castro was just another participant in a one-sided cafeteria food fight.
The Democrats’ biggest problem this year is the failed economy that Barack Obama gives himself an “incomplete” on after four years in power. Their only way to overcome this is to somehow recapture the “hope and change” messianism that catapulted Obama to the presidency. In 2008, Obama wasn’t merely the Democratic alternative to the Republicans. He was the embodiment of the nation’s hopes for itself. His election was an intrinsic achievement for every voter since it reversed a legacy of racism and conferred a certain honor on everyone who took part in his elevation. More than that, he was a put forward as a near godlike figure that was above partisan politics.
Inevitably, the reality of Barack Obama collided with the messianism. Four years later, there is a noticeable drop in enthusiasm among the young voters and others who created the Obama surge. How could it be otherwise when the president’s conduct in office has been anything but post-partisan? Four years of massive government spending, liberal patent nostrums and business as usual have made his feet of clay all too apparent.