CHARLOTTE, NC - Day one of the Democratic National Convention was a tale of two events. Throughout the early evening session -- prior to the major primetime hour -- the proceedings featured angry attacks on Mitt Romney and Republicans, an unshakeable fixation on trivial, minor issues (other than jobs and the economy), and a disquieting, heavy emphasis on abortion and divisive social issues. Especially unpleasant were the patriotism-questioning shout-fest from former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland ("If Mitt Romney were Santa, he'd fire the Reindeer and outsource the elves!") and the pro-abortion screed from the president of NARAL, a hardcore pro-abortion organization. Rare highlights included a strong speech from wounded warrior Tammy Duckworth, who is running for Congress in Illinois, and an energetic performance from Newark Mayor Cory Booker. In primetime, Democrats shelved most -- though not all -- of the bitter edginess and Left-wing social issues bravado. For what it's worth, here are my quick-take grades for the main speakers:
Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland: D. For a guy who's rumored to be in the 2016 mix, O'Malley was terrible. His delivery would have won gold in the "trying too hard" speech Olympics, his criticisms of Mitt Romney were as unoriginal and shrill as they were misleading, and he didn't offer a single memorable line. Stick to budgets in Maryland, governor.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro: B-. Castro has been billed as both the 'Hispanic Barack Obama' and the Democrats' answer to Sen. Marco Rubio. Based on tonight's keynote address, he is neither. His speech was fine and included some moving tributes to his family, his smile was broad and inviting, and his little daughter was adorable. But he was first elected mayor in 2009, and offered little insight into what he's actually accomplished. As he launched into his requisite attacks on Mitt Romney, I could imagine average viewers asking, "wait, who is this guy?" In short, Castro seems pleasant and fairly promising, but his resume is very thin -- and unlike Obama in 2004, his speech wasn't nearly captivating enough to compensate for that.
Michelle Obama: A. The First Lady turned in a masterful showing, delivering a subtlely yet distinctly political speech without seeming to do so. She looked confident and in command throughout -- she's gotten used to this. Her message: I love my husband. He's the same man I fell in love with. He understands real struggle and the help we give each other (subtexts: dig at Romney, rebuttal to you didn't build that), and he really cares about the pain too many Americans are experiencing. This was the first time all night that anyone on stage even came close to conveying the nation's bleak economic picture. She didn't try to claim that her husband had all the answers or that he's fixed everything -- she simply said that he feels the challenges acutely and is determined to make things better. It remains to be seen whether her uber-personal reintroduction of "Barack" will sway too many viewers, but I think she did everything she could on her husband's behalf. The issue the Obama campaign may encounter is that the president's personal likeability and personal qualities *aren't* his problem. His problem is the 23 million Americans who are out of work, under-employed, or have given up looking. It's the $16 Trillion national debt. It's the slowing growth. It's the soaring poverty, and dropping household incomes. Will "he's a great guy, who gets it and really cares" be enough?
Other notes: It was remarkable to hear one speaker after another inveigh against "the failed policies of the past" (as if Obama's policies have been the antidote), before ceding the convention floor to a message from...Jimmy Carter. It was equally remarkable to watch a convention overtly geared toward hyping "women's issues" loudly cheer a tribute to...Ted Kennedy. It was also interesting to hear from three Democrat Governors (O'Malley, Quinn, and Patrick) who have unapologetically raised taxes and whose states are fiscal basketcases -- and another (Perdue) whose approval rating is so far under-water in North Carolina that she chose not to run for another term. Patrick went after Mitt Romney's record in Massachusetts, misleading on the debt, lying on job growth, and eliding Romney's final unemployment rate (4.7 percent, versus Patrick's 6.1 percent today). It was frustrating, but not the least bit surprising, to hear nearly every speaker misstate facts or straight-up lie about Romney's alleged "outsourcing," his (bipartisan, shhh) Medicare plan and his "middle class tax hikes." Will our intrepid MSM fact-checkers hold them accountable? Finally, it's fascinating how deeply invested Democrats are in the "equal pay" smoke-and-mirrors act they recycled constantly throughout the evening. I'm reminded of something candidate Obama said in 2008:
This is a big election. Tonight -- and indeed the entire Obama re-election campaign -- was about small things.