CHARLOTTE, N.C. – First lady Michelle Obama said her husband remains anchored by the same values he brought to the White House nearly four years ago, on a night devoted as much to tearing down Republican nominee Mitt Romney, as building up President Barack Obama and his record.
In an emotional speech, First Lady Michelle Obama says President Barack Obama remains anchored by the same values he brought to the White House nearly four years ago.
Democrats’ message on Tuesday, the first day of the Democratic National Convention, was two-pronged and crystal clear. The evening’s speeches both sought to extol the president’s accomplishments and cast him as empathetic, while at the same time looking to deconstruct Romney and cast him as an impossibly worse choice for president.
The evening’s top-billed speakers embodied the dual purposes of Tuesday’s programming. Michelle Obama said her husband was the “same man” he was before the White House, in a speech designed to put a softer edge on the president’s case for re-election. And keynote speaker Julian Castro said Romney would diminish opportunities for voters if elected, in a speech that also weaved in the personal story of the San Antonio mayor, whom party leaders regard as a rising star.
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First lady Michelle Obama speaks on stage during day one of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 4, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
"I have seen firsthand that being president doesn’t change who you are – no, it reveals who you are," Michelle Obama said in her prime-time speech. "So in the end, for Barack, these issues aren’t political – they’re personal. Because Barack knows what it means when a family struggles ... Barack knows the American Dream because he's lived it."
And the first lady brought the crowd to their feet in closing: "I know from experience that if I truly want to leave a better world for my daughters, and all our sons and daughters ... then we must work like never before, and we must once again come together and stand together for the man we can trust to keep moving this great country forward…my husband, our president, President Barack Obama."
Mrs. Obama's speech capped hours’ worth of speeches in Charlotte, but stood in contrast against most of the day’s earlier speakers, many of whom offered sharp criticism of Romney. So strong were the attacks on the Republican nominee, that it seemed as though many of the efforts to build up Obama were secondary to disparaging Romney.
A spokeswoman for the GOP presidential nominee, Andrea Saul, said late Tueseday evening in response: "On the first night of President Obama’s convention, not a single speaker uttered the words ‘Americans are better off than they were four years ago.’ Instead, there was a night full of tributes to government as the solution to every problem, even going as far as to say that ‘government is the only thing that we all belong to."
Though much of his speech focused on overcoming the difficulties associated with being a poor Latino in Texas as a child, the middle of Castro’s speech took aim at Romney in a way that was similar to those addresses.
"Republicans tell us that if the most prosperous among us do even better, that somehow the rest of us will too. Folks, we’ve heard that before. First they called it 'trickle-down.' Then they called it 'supply-side.' Now it’s 'Romney-Ryan.' Or is it 'Ryan-Romney'?" Castro said. "Either way, their theory's been tested. It failed. Our economy failed. The middle class paid the price. Your family paid the price. Mitt Romney just doesn’t get it.”
As if to clarify the evening's theme, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said: "We understand that progress is a choice. Job creation is a choice. Whether we move forward or back, this too is a choice. And that is what this election is all about."
Other attacks on Romney sought to exploit Obama’s current advantages over his Republican opponents among women and Latinos, two crucial voting blocs which could sway the outcome of the election.
Texas Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said Romney had “embraced the racial profiling policies of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Sheriff Joe Arpaio” by way of praising Arizona’s controversial immigration law as a “model.”
And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who has clashed publicly with the Bain Capital co-founder by contending that there were years in which Romney paid no taxes, excoriated the GOP nominee as opaque and undeserving of trust.
(Reid's charge prompted a response from Romney spokesman Ryan Williams: "Harry Reid has once again shown that he is completely detached from reality. Senator Reid’s comments tonight are absolutely false and are another attempt to distract from President Obama’s abysmal economic record.")
David Goldman / AP
Democrats gather in Charlotte, N.C., to officially nominate President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as the party's candidates for the 2012 presidential election.
The tone of the first night of the Democratic convention seemed more aggressively negative toward Romney than much of the Republican-led criticism of Obama last week in Tampa. It was an emphasis in keeping with Democrats’ effort to turn the election into a choice – in which they try to make Romney seem like a worse pick than Romney – rather than a referendum on Obama’s record after almost four years in office.
The first day of the Democratic convention was also an exercise in energizing the party’s core constituencies. Among the speakers on Tuesday were the leaders of the AFL-CIO and SEIU, two of the nation’s largest labor groups, the president of the pro-abortion rights group NARAL, and speakers like openly gay Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, who praised Obama’s actions to expand gay rights.
Those strides toward building up Obama were certainly part of the programming on Tuesday night, and the achievements most frequently emphasized included the president’s signature health care overhaul law and the bailout of the auto industry in particular.
“Facts are facts: No president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the Great Depression inherited a worse economy, bigger job losses or deeper problems from his predecessor,” said O’Malley, the first prime-time speaker of the evening. “But President Obama is moving America forward, not back.”
On Wednesday, Democrats will formally name Obama their candidate re-election after a highly-anticipated nominating speech by former President Bill Clinton.
Obama himself will travel to Charlotte on Wednesday, joining Vice President Joe Biden who made it to the convention city this afternoon. Both men will speak outdoors on Thursday at Charlotte’s Bank of America stadium, the home of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and a potentially raucous atmosphere the president’s campaign hopes will recapture the imagery of Obama’s 2008 outdoor acceptance speech in Denver.