DNC Wrap-up: Day One a Waste

The first night of the Democratic National Convention is (mercifully) over, and even for a political junkie, this was difficult to watch. The after show reviews are coming in and a consensus appears to be building that this was a wasted night. CNN’s David Gergen was the first to remark on this around 9 PM Eastern.

“We’re two hours into this and so far, nothing of substance, nothing memorable.”

That came after the tribute to Jimmy Carter and a brief appearance on the podium from the man from Plains. Carter did not speak. Earlier, Nancy Pelosi gaveled the convention to order with a speech that she must have deliberately written to take all the air out of the room. Unbelievably, her delivery was worse than her words, and it was all down hill from there.

The night was supposed to showcase a unified party rallying around the theme “One America.” It was also supposed to belong to Michelle Obama, who addressed the convention in the prime speaking slot. But one man who was curiously absent from the festivities, even from his wife’s speech, was the man for whom all of this grand production is supposed to have been planned: the actual nominee, Barack Obama.Soon after Gergen’s lament, Caroline Kennedy appeared to introduce a video tribute to Sen. Edward Kennedy. Her speech and the video were not much to write home about. But Sen. Kennedy wowed the assembled delegates when he came out and gave a very good, classic Kennedy speech full of vim and vigor. He pledged to the delegates that he would be in the Senate in January when President [McCain] is sworn in. Kennedy would become the star of the night.

We pause here for a little reflection. Whatever one thinks of Ted Kennedy, of his politics, his partisanship, and his character after Chappaquiddick; his speech, certainly his last to a Democratic convention, was a nice moment. We are all human before we are partisans, and we should be able to acknowledge those on the other side when they display great courage in the face of our common mortality.

Between Kennedy and Michelle Obama, however, the convention was turned over to a parade of dullards. Former Iowa Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA) gave a very long, very boring speech on the great societal debates in American history. Somehow, the Civil War, the New Deal, the nuclear age, and the Reagan revolution have all combined to bring us to Barack Obama. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s three very nice looking children came out to introduce their mother. The two girls flanked their brother, who did all the talking. So much for women’s lib. McCaskill herself kept talking about the view from Missouri and gave an otherwise uninspired speech. She mentioned, oddly that Barack Obama has “fought for equal pay for women,” forgetting that the women on his own Senate staff are paid less than their male counterparts.

Last to speak was Michelle Obama. After a brief video introduction, and a short spoken one from her brother, Obama came out to thunderous applause and proceeded to begin talking about: herself, her family, her mother, her father, her kids, her job, her leaving her job, her hopes for the future, her policy proposals, her love for the country, her, her, her. Sen. Obama, the nominee, was almost nowhere present in this speech, except for when his wife was making it quite clear that he has a lot to live up to in her dad, or when she was dragging him along for the ride on her litany of beliefs. There were a lot of “I’s” and not nearly enough “he’s.”

Halfway through the speech, one wondered just who is running for president, Michelle or Barack. Her line, “I love this country,” received the greatest applause, a fact that should give Democrats pause. If you get a rousing standing ovation simply for declaring your love of country, something must be wrong. When she finished, Sen. Obama finally appeared, by video from Kansas City, although Carl Cameron later noted that at first he said he was in St. Louis.

At the end, the critics were left largely unimpressed. Juan Williams was overcome by the symbolism of it all. A female African-American on stage giving that speech, and the model black family that appeared afterwards drove him almost to tears. Bill Kristol remarked that Michelle Obama did not do a good job of introducing America to her husband. Nina Easton said the speech as too liberal. Fred Barnes, however, said that she was there to sell herself, not her husband, and she certainly accomplished that. Chris Wallace declared the first night “wasted.” James Carville and David Gergen agreed. Karl Rove called it “a missed opportunity.” He said that Michelle Obama gave a stump speech, and not a particularly good one. He correctly pointed out that viewers are not interested in Michelle Obama’s favored policy positions. She isn’t on the ticket. She was supposed to humanize her husband in the way only a wife can, and she failed to do that. Rove said that no one learned anything new about Barack Obama from his wife’s speech, and that there was no feeling of warmth between the two of them that came through. That was her primary job, and she didn’t deliver.

The next two nights of the convention do not promise much more exposure for Obama. Hillary Clinton speaks tomorrow, and Bill Clinton speaks on Wednesday. The Clinton’s are not exactly known for their proclivity to share the spotlight. With tonight’s performance leaving even Barack Obama himself wondering just where he was, Obama may have to get to Denver early just to get a little face time from his own convention.

Cross posted at Mark on the Right.