Michelle Obama’s speech was almost exactly twice as good as Mitt Romney’s, at least according to Twitter. It’s possible that points to a difference in the media habits of people who watch the DNC and the RNC, respectively, but I’m going to say it’s because she was twice as good. Lots of people agree with me, even if Charles Krauthammer issued a formal bah, humbug. “And the brilliance of it is this,” he said: “It drained Obama of any, either, ideological motivation, or any having to do with self-interest or ambition, which I think is sort of a more plausible explanation.” You saw through it, Krauthammer: the president is ambitious.
So first of all, Cure, why didn’t you write that speech about how Michelle always knew Barack would grow up to be the President of the United States or a major snack food company or at least very rich? Rookie mistake. Second, that is the first time in history Charles Krauthammer has come out against self-interest. Everyone gets a little crazy during election season, though. Witness Ross “The Boss While Mom is Away” Douthat, who lamented “the impression that the Democratic Party has a past and a present, but not much of a future.”
His argument is that, in contrast to the party of Chris Christie and Marco Rubio, the Democrats do not have a lot of rising stars. It is a reasonable claim in that context, but from any broader perspective, it is absurd.
To cast doubt on the future of the Democrats is to willfully ignore the problems of the party that has staked this and all future elections on the white vote. It is to forget that central planks of the Democratic platform, including gay marriage and abortion rights, are overwhelmingly popular with young voters—just as cutting Pell grants and education funding and every other function of government to save Medicare is a naked play for the old. It is to forget the country bear jamboree that was the GOP primary.
Mostly, though, it is to indulge in the kind of thinking that yields a sentence like this:
Their president is running for re-election on an agenda that’s longer on criticisms of the Republicans than on positive promises of what his party wants to do next.
Hey, kettle: which campaign has made its central proposition “the economy is bad,” closely followed by “we should repeal this one law?” Which party has mustered its whole congressional delegation to spend four years blocking legislation? Obviously, these are complex issues that cannot be reduced to dualities. But no reasonable person could look at the last four years of American politics and say that of the two parties, the Democrats are the ones who are obstinately negative and short on new ideas.
I disagree with him often, but Douthat is a reasonable person. His abdication of whatever resembles sense in this case is a testament to the mind-warping artifice of election season. Just as Krauthammer watched the DNC last night and realized, to his horror, that the president is competitive and driven, it is hard to watch either party’s convention and not find something from which to recoil.
The whole thing is fake—either show, in Tampa or in Carolina. Back when the party conventions served some functional purpose in the selection of candidates for office, they were real events with a lot of bullshit surrounding them. Now they are pure performances. The Democratic National Convention is not strictly necessary except as a work of public relations. They were gonna pick Obama. The rest is salesmanship, and unless you went in there hoping to buy, nobody likes a salesman.
So yes, sending Michelle up there to talk about how she and her husband were once young and in love/crippling debt is a cynical ploy. It’s no Clint Eastwood scolding a chair, but still—watch it and try not to become cynical yourself.
Seriously: try really hard. Do not become cynical about politics, even in a cynical time, because ultimately the cynic is about the work of excusing himself. That’s why Krauthammer found it unbelievable that Barack Obama ever wanted to help people. If he did, then what would CK have to conclude about his own motivations? It’s why Douthat sees the Democrats as the party of empty opposition. Otherwise, he would have to advance his own positions beyond the desire to return to his parents’ childhood.
Don’t think like that. By all means, take your salt with the first lady’s speech about a young black couple trying to get from very little to the White House. But don’t write it off as just another piece of political theatre—lest you refuse to believe the same story could be possible for yourself, or for anybody else.