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Beyond talking points at the Democratic National Convention

The show on opening night features some of the usual suspects and themes, but First Lady Michelle Obama is the star.

September 05, 2012|By Robert Lloyd, Television Critic
  • Ayesha Walker of Richmond, Calif., is moved by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s speech on opening night of the Democratic National Convention.
Ayesha Walker of Richmond, Calif., is moved by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s… (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles…)

The multi-channel miniseries called "The Democratic National Convention" got underway Tuesday night in Charlotte, N.C. Unlike the comparable Republican miniseries, which was subject to some rescheduling (though not, really, shortening) due to the late-breaking news that was Hurricane Isaac, it has been planned from the start to last only three nights.

In Charlotte, as in Tampa, much of the convention takes place out of view. The networks' disinclination to air more than an hour of it any night seemingly has been justified by the low ratings for last week's GOP meet, though ratings should not be what decides such coverage. And the anchors block the view with their own business — what many people watch cable news for, to be sure — which Tuesday included much talk of the Democratic platform (no Jerusalem, no God) and not quite as much of the Draft Betty White movement.

There is just the barest pretense that Fox News and MSNBC are anything but partisan. CNN gamely tries to steer a middle course, to falling ratings, which seemed encapsulated Tuesday in Wolf Blitzer's comment about the night's headline speaker, Michelle Obama: "He's lucky to have a wife like that; Ann Romney's a wonderful woman as well."

PHOTOS: Democratic National Convention

Clearly memos had gone out on talking points, which many speakers repeated, and on tie color, which tended toward blue. That there were more delegates than in Tampa meant that it all looked and sounded bigger.

Like their opponents, the Democrats brought out veterans, disabled veterans, entrepreneurs. Although much about the two parties' conventions, along with the essential goodwill they bear their nation and its people, looks and sounds the same, a quick glance tells you where you are. Each has its own kind of body language, its own version not only of style, but of the lack of style. As a complex organism might be reconstructed from a fingernail, you need only to glimpse a part to see the whole.

There were rousing speeches from keynote speaker Julian Castro, the young mayor of San Antonio, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and Lilly Ledbetter, the eponymous inspiration for the equal-pay act that was the first thing President Obama signed into law. But the night belonged to Michelle.

PHOTOS: Democratic National Convention

Apart from providing some insight to her husband and wrangling the women's vote, her job was different from that of Ann Romney, who had to make a case for two relatively unknown, some would say unknowable, quantities.

Her speech was full of words like inspired, proud, blessed, honor, privilege, gratitude, humility, fair, patience, wisdom, courage and grace , but also soccer, date night, rusty car and "a coffee table he found in a Dumpster," once Barack's "proudest possession." She spoke of how much she loved him, more now than ever.

Avoiding entirely any mention of Mitt Romney or his party, she addressed its current memes and themes indirectly:

"So many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean" was clearly a swipe at "You built that," just as phrases like "life experiences that make you who you are" were meant to draw a line between these candidates and those other ones.

She is not exactly a firebrand, but she is a practiced public speaker and a fine actress who can embody the feeling she wants to evoke. Her speech went from intimate to grand in a way that continued to feel intimate.

By the end she was the next-next president of the United States.


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