Hope Springs Eternal

By Chez Pazienza: I do my best not to be overtly partisan, certainly not to the exclusion of all other points of view. Yes, my politics lean left and I’ve made it abundantly clear that I find it very difficult to side with the GOP on almost anything these days simply because the mainstream of the party has embraced the fringe in a way that’s positively shameful and which should embarrass any old school Republican. I don’t dismiss out of hand the opinions of conservatives but it’s tough to take the modern conservative mentality seriously when it’s allowed itself to become so inextricably linked to extremism and anti-intellectualism; I have no doubt that William F. Buckley is spinning so fast in his grave at what his beloved party and political affiliation have become that he looks like the Tasmanian Devil.

With all of this in mind I’d like to be insouciant and claim that last night’s kick-off of the Democratic National Convention — which I expected to be another exercise in stiff and scripted political Kabuki and potential Democratic flailing, the kind of thing not likely to penetrate the barbed-wire defenses made of pure hostility and cynicism wrapped tightly around my cold heart — wasn’t really anything all that special. I’d like to — but I can’t. The reality is that the Democrats, love their politics or hate them, hit it pretty well out of the park over and over again, culminating in what honestly had to be the very best speech I’ve heard at either convention so far: Michelle Obama’s stunning, eloquent, passionate and personal keynote address. The evening was so impressive, particularly the First Lady’s part in it, that I admit to being somewhat taken aback at what I was witnessing.

Certainly, the incumbent party and candidate in a presidential race often have the wind at their backs; there’s a natural cohesion and excitement among their ranks that the challengers can rarely muster. But for years, with the exception of the Clinton era — when a supernaturally charismatic president and a booming economy created a perfect storm that swept away everything in its path — the Republicans have been the ones able to stay on message, sound that message loudly and proudly and, quite honestly, play the game better than their adversaries. We’re used to seeing the GOP not just grabbing the mantle of patriotism and milking it for all it’s worth, but we’ve come to expect them to put on a better show than the Democrats. Sure, that show was often a lot of smoke and mirrors, but it worked — and best of all, it seemed more “American” in that the GOP was so focused that it could present itself as being the sole arbiter of a unique and necessary vision for this country and make it seem like destiny. Put simply, the party was the more competent when it came to politics.

But something’s changing. It shouldn’t be really, given that the economy is still in bad shape and a very legitimate argument can be made that Barack Obama — while certainly deserving far more credit than he’s gotten from both edges of the political spectrum — doesn’t have the kind of overpowering legislative success rate to tout that would allow him to stand head and shoulders above his opponents politically. Things are definitely improving, but it isn’t exactly morning in America just yet. And yet the Democrats went out there last night and looked like a party on top of the world. They were focused, energized, determined — and at the same time they seemed as if they were offering the truly American vision that their political adversaries seemed to have a monopoly on for so long.

Maybe it’s the changing face of our country and the fact that the Democrats actually embrace it rather than paying lip service to it through what looks like a phone call made to Central Casting while in reality demonizing anyone not either straight, Christian, male and white or in thrall to that demographic. Maybe it’s the mean-spiritedness and intolerance of the Republicans’ platform and their rhetoric. Maybe it’s the infighting that the Tea Party insurgents and the Ron Paul zombies have wrought. Maybe it’s simply the fact that Mitt Romney is a lousy candidate — the worst possible person to represent the Republican party or any political party at this moment in our history and a cringe-inducingly awkward dud personally — and the guy he picked as his running mate is a pathological liar. Maybe it’s all of this and more, but the end result is the same: the Democrats have a fire in their belly and a newfound spine in their backs that translates into the kind of optics the GOP just can’t seem to muster right now. Whether it’ll ultimately translate into votes is anyone’s guess, but the right kind of show in Charlotte can reset the debate and push things entirely in Barack Obama’s favor in a way that the Republican National Convention couldn’t for Romney.

Last night, Michelle Obama spent 25 minutes weaving a poignant story about her husband and her family’s place in the American dream and in doing so brought to my mind a word that I haven’t associated with Barack Obama in a very long time, something I’d kind of forgotten amidst all the governing, politicking and the sound and fury of the resistance from the right. That word is hope. It would be a huge surprise if the Democrats and the president himself could somehow make that a resonant theme again as the 2012 campaign builds to a crescendo, but they’re off to a pretty good start.

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