Democrats Got a Backbone at National Convention

The party's convention showed Democrats are on the right side of history when it comes to healthcare, foreign policy, and civil rights.

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Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts speaks to delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012.

OK, so maybe Democrats are being vastly outspent in the super PAC battles, and maybe they'll also be outraised in donations to the party and campaign. And sure, the economy is still struggling and they have a lot of tough Senate seats to protect—enough that even with Missouri GOP candidate Todd Akin's absurd comments, Republicans are in a decent position to take back control of the chamber.

But the party, at long last, seems to have grown a spine.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

At its national convention last week, Democrats were remarkably not on the defensive. They embraced the term "Obamacare," taking the sting out of the derisiveness employed by the law's opponents who coined the term. They slammed Mitt Romney directly (see: Ted Strickland, suggesting that if Romney were Santa Claus, he'd fire the reindeer and outsource the elves) and indirectly (Michelle Obama's observation that her husband understood the American dream because he had lived it was a not-so-subtle comparison to the charmed childhood Romney experienced).

They hit hard on foreign policy, with Sen. John Kerry delivering what was one of the best speeches of his career. He was confident; he was unafraid and he was authoritative. And he had no problem asking the cold but effective question, "Ask Osama bin Laden if he's better off than he was four years ago." It might be worth asking where this forceful and captivating Kerry was in 2004, but no matter: He said what his party needed to say.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Was the Democratic National Convention a Success for Barack Obama?]

Rep. John Lewis delivered a powerful and moving speech about civil rights, talking about a man who had beaten him during a racial conflict later coming to his office to apologize—a scene that ended with the two men hugging. That was a potent reminder to voters that while the GOP may be (or was once) the party of Lincoln, it is the Democrats who are continuing civil rights goals. And when many looked at Julian Castro, a heretofore unknown mayor of San Antonio, and thought "Why'd they pick this obscure guy to talk?" that skepticism evaporated when Castro talked about his own immigrant journey. As soon as he talked about how his grandmother held a mop so he could hold that microphone that evening, he reminded voters of the difference between the two parties on immigration reform.

Backbone—which Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick unapologetically demanded his compatriots to develop—is back in the party. It may not be enough to keep either the presidency or the Senate. But with the fight clearly in them, the Democrats have a much better fighting chance.

  • Read Mary Kate Cary: Barack Obama Didn't Make the Sale at the Democratic Convention
  • Photos: Mitt Romney Accepts GOP Nomination
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