Obama looks to a former president to help him reach out
Even Michelle Obama had to address the disappointment of some in her husband’s tenure
PRESIDENT BARACK Obama will present his best case for his own re-election tonight when he accepts the Democratic party nomination at the close of a three-day convention.
Like the party’s expectations after more than three years of economic crisis and partisan warfare, the venue for the president’s speech had to be scaled down. The convention committee moved tonight’s event from a 74,000 seat open-air stadium to an indoor arena seating half that number because of “severe weather forecasts”.
Mr Obama will argue that, contrary to allegations by the Romney-Ryan campaign, Americans are better off than when he took office.
Joe Biden, the vice-president, sums it up with a bumper sticker slogan: “Bin Laden is dead and GM [General Motors] is alive.”
Mr Obama will emphasise his achievement in extending healthcare to tens of millions of previously uninsured Americans and enabling more youths to attend university on government grants. He’ll probably denounce his Republican rival’s plans to reduce taxes and regulation as “the same old trickle-down snake oil”. In many ways, Mr Obama is competing with his inspirational, Messiah-like self of four years ago.
Michelle Obama addressed the disappointment of some in her address to the convention on Tuesday night, quoting her husband: “Change is hard, and change is slow, and it never happens all at once.”
Mr Obama burst on to the political scene eight years ago at the Democratic convention in Boston, preaching that “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America – there’s the United States of America.”
That view might look naïve now, but his adviser Valerie Jarrett said yesterday he would not change: “He has reached out. He will continue to reach out.”
Mr Obama asked former president Bill Clinton to make the official nominating speech last night. Though their relationship was tense following the bitter rivalry between Mr Obama and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primaries, those wounds have healed. Mr Obama needs Mr Clinton’s easy-to-understand arguments and his rapport with white, male working class voters.
The Romney campaign mocked Mr Clinton’s speech yesterday before it was even delivered. “Don’t be fooled,” former governor John Sununu, a Romney surrogate, wrote in the New Hampshire Union Leader. “Barack Obama is no Bill Clinton. The blast from the past . . . simply cannot compensate for nor distract from President Obama’s failed ideology and poor stewardship over his first term in the White House.” The convention opened Tuesday night in a chaotic but celebratory mood. Mid-way through the evening, the arena looked more like a discotheque, as delegates danced while the African-American musician Ledisi sang.
Michelle Obama walked onto the stage in a form-fitting hot pink and gold dress and high-heeled pink shoes to the tune of Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered. For more than half an hour, she walked America through her own and her husband’s lives, and into the White House.
Mrs Obama said her most important title was still “mom-in-chief”. She did not mention the causes she has espoused as first lady: fighting childhood obesity and better conditions for military veterans.
Although Mrs Obama did not mention them by name, many of her remarks were calculated to highlight the contrast between the Obamas and the Romneys. “You see, Barack and I were both raised by families who didn’t have much in the way of money or material possessions,” she said, alluding to the fact that the Romneys grew up in affluent homes. Later, when they first married, the Obamas’ student loan bills were higher than their mortgage. “We were so young, so in love, and so in debt,” she said to laughter.
Addressing the Romney-Ryan campaign’s accusations of Democratic “class warfare”, Mrs Obama said their families “didn’t begrudge anyone else’s success or care that others had much more than they did . . . in fact, they admired it.” Her husband had turned down high-paying jobs to work in poor neighbourhoods, “Because for Barack, success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”
Mrs Obama said she initially feared the presidency might change her husband. “Today, after so many struggles and triumphs and moments that have tested in ways I never could have imagined, I have seen first-hand that being president doesn’t change who you are – it reveals who you are.”
The first lady described the solitude of the Oval Office, the difficulty of taking a decision “where no amount of data or numbers will get you to the right answer . . . the judgment calls.” She spoke of watching her husband “in those quiet moments late at night, hunched over his desk, poring over the letters people have sent him”.
In a speech calculated to consolidate her husband’s lead over Mr Romney among women voters, Mrs Obama cited legislation he pushed through to guarantee equal pay and access to healthcare. “He didn’t care whether it was the easy thing to do politically... he cared that it was the right thing to do.”
The keynote address, delivered by Julian Castro, the 37-year-old mayor of San Antonio, Texas, was geared to the Hispanic community in the same way the first lady appealed to women. Mr Castro was introduced by his twin brother, Joaquin, a state assemblyman who is standing for Congress. Until Tuesday night, he was virtually unknown. Suddenly, the handsome, articulate young politician is spoken of as a revelation and a new hope of the Democratic party.
In Obamaesque tones, Mr Castro recounted how his grandmother immigrated from Mexico to work as a maid, cook and babysitter to raise her daughter.
“My family’s story isn’t special,” he said. “What’s special is the America that makes our story possible. Ours is a nation like no other, a place where great journeys can be made in a single generation.”
Mr Castro mocked Mr Romney for telling students who wanted to start a business to borrow money from their parents.
“We know that in our free economy some will prosper more than others. What we don’t accept is the idea that some folks won’t even get a chance. Mitt Romney and the Republican party are perfectly comfortable with that America. In fact, that’s exactly what they’re promising us.”
Follow LARA MARLOWE's latest reports online from the Democratic convention including Bill Clinton's speech