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Five Most Surprising Things About the Democratic Convention Five Most Surprising Things About the Democratic Convention

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ELECTION ANALYSIS

Five Most Surprising Things About the Democratic Convention

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(AP Photo)

1. President Obama didn’t give the best speech of the week. Michelle Obama owned the prime-time hour on opening night with an emotional ode to her father, her husband, her marriage, her country, and the values at the heart of all four. It was a tough act to follow, but Bill Clinton had no problem topping her with his folksy-professor defense of Obama and, not incidentally, his own legacy. The current occupant of the office has risen to numerous occasions with thoughtful eloquence -- from his breakthrough 2004 convention keynote to his 2008 meditation on race to his moving 2011 speech after the Tucson shootings. He didn’t quite reach his own high bar in kicking off his final political campaign. There were no sweeping calls to action or requests for sacrifice, no soaring goals akin to putting a man on the moon. Ironically, Obama’s speech resembled one of Clinton’s granular, laundry-list State of the Union addresses that critics loved to pan. It should be noted, however, that the public liked them.

2. The Democrats got into as much trouble as the Republicans over their platform. These documents are supposed to be boring compilations that nobody notices, much less reads. Instead, Republicans found their no-exceptions ban on abortion in the media glare after the Todd Akin debacle, and drew attention as well for removing an assurance to protect the home mortgage deduction. Democrats cleared the social issues hurdle, smoothly adopting a new plank in support of gay marriage, but somehow neglected to mention God or their support for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. After Obama directed that that God and Jerusalem be restored, delegates erupted in discord before finally agreeing to amend the platform. Bottom line: Dumb unforced error that handed Republicans countless ways to capitalize, from expressing indignation to publicizing the disarray to -- already -- using it in campaign ads.

 

3. The onstage proceedings never strayed far from war and the military, illuminating what has not always been at the forefront during the past four years of economic angst: Obama has been a wartime president. Many videos and speeches highlighted the killing of Osama bin Laden, the repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell," the work of Michelle Obama and Jill Biden to ease the lives of military families, and the stories of individual troops and veterans. The president came close to tears describing the inspiring recovery of a soldier who had lost a leg, and was direct -- even mocking -- about opponent Mitt Romney’s approach to war and the world. The daily drumbeat went way beyond what was needed to draw a contrast with Romney’s failure last week to mention Iraq, Afghanistan and U.S. troops, and it played to one of Obama’s surprising strengths. Still, the last time a Democratic nominee took this tack -- Vietnam veteran John Kerry in 2004 -- it backfired.

4. Obamacare, officially the Affordable Care Act, is no longer stashed in a dark corner of the attic. On the opening night themed around Hard Choices, and intermittently throughout the convention, the health law that helped spawn the tea party was treated as an achievement instead of an albatross. There were videos and speeches featuring tearful people affected by the law. It figured prominently in a video tribute to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and in Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s inside account of the administration. It got a whole speech to itself from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Obamacare is a badge of honor,” she said. Those are fighting words rarely if ever heard before from a Democrat, much less in such a high-profile setting. Obama glossed over the act in his convention speech, but he makes clear these days that he’s proud of it. As Republicans batter the regulation-heavy law as an affront to freedom and vow daily to repeal it, many Democrats have concluded there’s no point in trying to ignore it, and in fact they may as well embrace it.

5. Amid the touching segments about troops and students and people grateful for Obamacare, the accolades from business people who said that yes, they built it, but that government investment, infrastructure and rules of the road had helped them succeed, the convention had some surprisingly shrill moments. Red meat is fine -- former governors Ted Strickland of Ohio and Jennifer Granholm of Michigan offered plenty of it -- but their edgiest lines were also hilarious. By contrast, the Democrats may have overplayed their hand on reproductive rights, capped by Sandra Fluke’s vision of a Republican-run country as something out of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. And then there was Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren. For all she’s already done to help consumers, her polarizing rhetoric about a rigged system underscored the intensity of her personality and could turn off some voters -- even if they agree with what she said.

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