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President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden clearly sought to take advantage of the fact that the Democratic National Convention followed the Republicans' this year by casting the Romney-Ryan option as really no alternative for middle-class and working-class Americans.
They played all rhetorical angles. They closed ranks with the nation's military and its missions amid a clear effort to sound tougher than the GOP. They played offense on Romney's privileged background and image, attacked the Republican assaults on the Obama administration's health care plan as threatening inferior "voucher-care” for vulnerable seniors, and took the Paul Ryan budget proposal as an opening to cast doubt on which citizens' side the Republicans are really on.
For the past two days here, Democratic Rep. Charles Schumer of New York has exemplified some of the strategic thinking in the party by saying that they may not get a big bounce in the polls from this convention but the speeches would set the table for defining real differences between the major parties' approach -- and that Romney's biggest sin is one of being too narrow. Obama discussed the future, he noted, while Clinton handled the past and wife Michelle spoke of the man himself.
There were various references in their presentations clearly aimed at such crucial areas as Pennsylvania (Biden's roots), Michigan (the auto industry), and Florida (ex-Gov. Charlie Crist's speech).
From here to Nov. 6, the ad wars will intensify in those swing states, which you won't necessarily see in New York – regarded by both sides as Obama territory – and where if Romney surges ahead the Democrats might as well start packing their bags.
Here is the play-by-play from the final day of the Democratic National Convention, as it happened.
"I never said this journey would be easy," says Obama. "We keep our eyes on that distant horizon knowing that providence is with us," and thus comes the president's windup which ends, "...and God bless these United States."
Time for some Springsteen sound: "We Take Care of Our Own”.
Obama turns and wife Michelle is behind him, with the girls, and it seems to surprise him. There are many hugs on the stage among the White House families.
In a bit, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the New York Archdiocese, who battled the Obama administration over a contraceptive requirement in health care regulations, will give a benediction just as he did at the Republican convention in Tampa.
Obama takes another tack in defense of his record: He says he's not just a candidate, but the president.
This gets a lot of cheers, but he then quotes Lincoln saying "I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go." He mentions the Long Island girl [Samantha Garvey] who succeeded at science while living in a homeless shelter as one sign of hope. And he speaks of other individuals' stories as inspiring hope. He speaks of the inspiration of a wounded warrior.
They remind him of Scripture that ours is a future filled with hope.
Obama tells the assembled Democrats that the election four years ago was "about you."
"You were the change. You are the reason” for improved health care coverage, Obama says. You are the reason a young immigrant who grew up here won't be deported, why soldiers won't be kicked out of the military over who they love. "You did that," he says.
If you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for is impossible, Obama says, "change will not happen."
He cites the lobbyists, the big checks ... not that he's so alienated from all the donors and lobbyists so much.
Obama answers the "foes of success” rap by saying we honor the strivers but that "we also believe in citizenship." People should be able to afford the cars they build and the chance to keep their homes and be educated.
There will be no handouts for people who won't help themselves or bailouts for banks that break the rules, he says.
Government isn't to blame for all our troubles, or immigrants, unions, or gays, he says. "We, the people, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights."
The president quotes ex-President Bill Cinton on "you do the arithmetic” in picking apart the "millionaire's tax cut” plans of his opponents, and cites a litany of aid programs that would suffer as a result. "I will never turn Medicare into a voucher," he says.
Reduce health care costs, Obama says, not billing seniors more, and don't turn Social Security over to Wall Street.
Fact-checkers should and will have at all of this in the coming days.
Obama whacks Romney for insulting the British on an Olympic trip, for comments on Iraq, for his Cold-War-era view of Russia.
If he left that alone, he'd have sounded hawkish, so he then pivots toward talking about using the dividends of peace to fill that big deficit.
He says we're out of Iraq, the terrorists are on the run, the tower is rising at Ground Zero. We've strengthened old alliances and pushed for human rights overseas. "Our commitment to Israel's security must not waver and neither must our pursuit of peace."
There's his very very general response to the Jerusalem-as-capital kerfuffle.
Obama makes broad remarks on education linked to the future. The government has a role but teachers, principals, students must work. Calls for help in recruiting science and math teachers, using community colleges for job training, "that's our future," he says.
"More droughts and wildfires are not a joke," Obama says in a knock at the Romney statements that came just short of denying global warming.
He cites the auto industry coming back. He says trade agreements that he signed are sending new customers goods stamped "Made in America." Chants of "USA” follow in the hall.
In the last two and a half years, he adds, half a million manufacturing jobs were added.
Incumbents always cherry-pick the signs of success -- even in a capitalist private economy. Obama says we're less dependent on foreign oil than any time in the last two decades.
He defends his energy record and whacks the oil companies' tax breaks or environmental damage. He talks of wind and solar -- but of course skips over the Solyndra fiasco.
"I will not let the oil and gas companies write the energy policy of this country," he says.
Obama invokes FDR but says not every problem can be solved with another government program. He asks for achievable plans for jobs and energy and the deficit.
"That's what we can do for the next four years and that is why I am running for a second term."
For Obama, the Republican cure-all is "take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations and call us in the morning," he says.
He said he doesn't think tax breaks for millionaires will help, nor would rolling back regulations. "We've been there, we've tried that, and we are not going back. We are moving forward, America."
Sounds almost identical to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, way earlier in the day.
Obama is still describing where we've been but not yet where he thinks we're going.
Obama starts with the hope thing. Eight years after his first convention address, the hope has been tested, not only by finances and war but also by political gridlock. He says campaigns can get silly and distracting, with big-money ads.
When all is said and done, though, "you will face the biggest choice in a generation." The choice will be between two "fundamentally different visions."
In case you didn't hear that last point in the first gazillion speeches of the day here.
Obama's famous "thank YOO” is followed by him saying what a lucky man he is, to have Michelle, and their daughters ... he's so proud of them, but, yes, they have to go to school in the morning. He calls Biden "the best vice president I could ever have hoped for," and thanks him for being "a strong, loyal friend."
Obama officially accepts the nomination.
Michelle Obama stands out now and introduces the love of her life, father of their two girls, and the president, Barack Obama. He lopes in and they hug.
Could anyone at the nomination of Adlai Stevenson anticipate this kind of video orientation? Now here's a poignant black-and-white still photo in the video of Obama at Ground Zero memorial, post-bin Laden. Just one more political use of the place for the road.
They're playing the Obama infomercial in the convention hall now. It began, "We've been through a lot together." Cut to a slow-mo of the president walking, hands in pockets, in a suit. We gaze at auto workers on the assembly line, Bill Clinton and Michelle as talking heads. And Biden.
Michelle says that Barack doesn't back out because something sounds unpopular.
Anticipation builds for Mr. Main Event, as the Chicago connection, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, takes the stage and gives a gravel-voiced recollection of Obama putting his hand on the Bible and looking out on a financially-threatened America. It is improving, he says, unsurprisingly.
He says the message of the Dems is we are in this together; the GOP, that we are in this alone.
He counters the Ryan story about the closed auto plant with a success story in his state. Durbin defends health care and says Romney thought it was a good idea for Massachusetts. He talks about the Dream Act.
Biden promises a withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"Tonight . . . tonight . . . tonight . . . I want to acknowledge . . . want to acknowledge..." Biden says, voice faltering, the fallen angels and the wounded "who will need care for the rest of their lives.
He's on the verge of tears, choking up, "We now find ourselves on the hinge of history. It has been a truly great honor to serve you and serve with Barack for the last four years... I know this man. Yes, the work of recovery is not yet complete -- but we are on our way!"
He is shouting in answer to the idea that "hope and change” has failed. And he departs the stage with Earth Wind and Fire's "September”.
Biden reinforces the idea that basic human needs must take precedence. He says "the culture of dependency” complaint perplexes him. He says all that men and women are asking for is a chance, not a handout; the chance to live independent lives with dignity. "And it literally amazes me they don't understand that."
Biden says American people "never quit on America and you deserve a president who will never quit on you."
The guts-and-grit stuff is laid on quite thickly here. He tells Romney: "It's never been a good bet to bet against the American people! ... America is coming back and we're not going back! And we have no intention of downsizing the American dream! ... We see a future..."
Whatever all that means to you.
Now Biden is saying that the Republicans are for "voucher-care” and won't tell you their plans. "They rejected every plan put forward by us, by the bipartisan commission they referenced..." and "they're not prepared to do anything about the debt if it contained one cent of new taxes for millionaires." That, he says, is not courage.
"Bravery resides in the heart of Barack Obama," who has compassion and "a spine of steel” and because of him and the workers and the special forces, "OSAMA BIN LADEN IS DEAD AND GENERAL MOTORS IS ALIVE!"
If this were a Republican speech the Democrats would be calling him scary, the way they did with Zell Miller a few years back.
Biden goes into the commander-in-chief stuff. He said getting bin Laden was about sending the message that "if you attack innocent Americans we will follow you to the end of the Earth." This inspires "USA” chants.
This is, once again, rhetorical compensation for the supposed militancy gap. He praises "the finest warriors” in the world. Obama "said 'do it', and justice was done."
In 2007, he says, it was not worth moving heaven and earth to catch just one person. "America's heart had to be healed," he said.
Of Romney, "I don't think he understood what saving the automobile industry meant to the automobile industry. I think he saw it the Bain way," which is about the highest profits, which is not the way to lead the country.
In contrast, Obama thought this was about restoring America's pride and employment and the message it would have sent if the U.S. gave up on an industry "that helped put America on the map in the first place."
"Conviction, resolve, Barack Obama. That's what saved the automobile industry."
Biden says that in the first days of the administration, the car companies were on the verge of collapse. They talked about risks and uncertain outcomes. "The president ... understood that this wasn't just about cars, it was about the people who build those cars... "
Biden's dad, he says, was selling American cars to American people. "I know for certain," he says, "he'd be fighting like heck for the president” and "would have respected Barack Obama had he been around." A couple of stumbles.
Biden says Obama always asks in meetings "How is this going to affect people's lives? ... That's what's inside this man. That's who he is."
And, he says, "America has turned the corner..."
Republicans will ask, if that's true, what threat stands around said corner.
Biden now gives testimony to Obama's grit for staring down challenges with "awesome” results. He speaks of Obama's "profound concern for the average American."
They've been through a lot, he says, and Biden says he learned the bigness of Obama's heart and "I think he learned the depth of my loyalty to him." He goes back again to relating to average families' struggles. He talks of Obama as a young man facing medical costs as his mother was critically ill.
Biden, who seems loose of tongue even in this context, corrects himself in hailing Michelle Obama's speech from "last night” when it was Monday night. No harm no foul, but it sounds like he's speaking extemporaneously, which for him can be interesting.
In a financial crisis, he says, "This generation of Americans has proved itself as worthy as any generation before us." Again, he's going not for the jugular but for the avuncular. And he talks of "a mission we will complete."
"I accept your nomination," Biden says.
Last week ex-Mayor Giuliani called Biden unbalanced and accused him of disgraceful race appeals. He praises wife and daughter from the stage, including work for veterans, which makes him appear avuncular and not loopy. Or at least that seems to be the intent.
The president is on the video praising Biden to the skies for his contribution to the White House and the nation. Not forgetting where he came from: Scranton Pa. and Delaware, the video tells us.
We're looking at a schmaltzy infomercial - and it is a long one. Got that king of poignant music with stings and horns that sounds like the movie Apollo 13.
Finally, Biden steps out.
Jill Biden notes the loss of her husband's first wife and child in auto accident when he was younger. He "found the strength to get back up. That's Joe."
This reminds us of his life struggles after all the yak months ago about dumping him from the ticket for someone not so Leslie Nielsen-ish.
Now comes the video introduction of the VP himself. Biden says in it that the middle class is the idea that everyone who works at it can own a home, live in a safe neighborhood, and be self-reliant.
Dr. Jill Biden, teacher, goes out there for populist appeal. She's a full-time English professor at Northern Virginia Community College.
"For me being a teacher isn't just what I do," she says, "it's who I am." She says the VP is optimistic and "always works to give people” who have struggled with serious problems "a sense of hope." She cites his efforts on domestic violence.
The tribute has Adm. Nathman pointing to the diversity of people in uniform. "Please stand with me in saying thank you," he says. A chant goes up of "USA”.
Admiral John B. Nathman, U.S. Navy, retired, steps out as part of the concern-about-veterans motif that started with Kerry and was followed by a film on the topic.
Even after the past four years, you get the sense that the Democrats are compensating for the domination of miltary-terrorism issues by the Republicans during the Bush years, when war dissent was frequently attacked by the talking heads as the moral equivalent of treason.
Just an aside: CNN is now asking Mark Kelly, husband of shooting victim and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who moved the audience by struggling to get out on stage and lead the Pledge of Allegiance, about the impact on their lives.
There is no attention span left even for the orchestrated show of a predestined nomination. Norman Mailer said late in his life, "Interruption is making us stupid."
Kerry says Romney's trip abroad was a blooper reel, not a policy mission. He's "blurted out the preposterous notion” that Russia is our number-one foe. He says Palin said she could see Russia from her house but Romney sounds like he's only seen Russia in Rocky IV.
He leaves with "thank you and God bless America."
A windy bluster by John Kerry at a national convention. Seen that, heard that.
It's the second reference in the hour, by Kerry now, to the killing of bin Laden. "Ask Osama bin Laden if he's better off than he was four years ago."
Kerry cites Obama on the Middle East. He quotes Netanyahu, whose word he'll take "over Mitt Romney any day."
Kerry inveighs the false choice of "force without diplomacy and diplomacy without force." Khadafi's gone too, he notes. And then Kerry says that the Romney-Ryan ticket is bereft of judgment on foreign policy and Romney's been "for it before you were against it" -- the rap against Kerry in '04 from the Republicans on Iraq.
Kerry does more foreign-policy boosterism for Obama, with references to Iraq and Afghanistan and claiming that it took Obama to "restore our moral authority..." Our heroes in Afghanistan are coming home.
Did he? Are they?
Kerry says "this is not the time to outsource the job of commander-in-chief” and that Romney is surrounded by "neocons."
The big hands are waving around all over the place. "Despite what you heard in Tampa, an exceptional country does care about the rise of the oceans and the future of the planet. That is a responsibility from the Scriptures...and a responsibility of the leader of the free world."
The Democrats are still responding to Tampa.
Now Sen. John Kerry, loser of 2004, reports for duty.
Perhaps it is more valuable for "swing states” to have someone who admits readily that he doesn't agree with everything Obama says and does but nevertheless endorses him.
Charlie Crist says it was Reagan who inspired him as he explains that he did not leave the Republican Party but rather the party left him. He says this is the reverse.
He quotes Jeb Bush as saying Reagan would have been too moderate for today's Republican Party. This is useful for those willing to be convinced that the GOP has become extreme or as Crist puts it, "allergic to the very idea of compromise... Ronald Reagan would not have stood for that. Barack Obama does not stand for that."
Political partisans love to trot out defectors from the other side. They are like prosecution witnesses, bringing stories from inside the targeted opposition into the light of day, usually because they fell out of the fold.
Charlie Crist, former Republican Florida governor, is no exception. He's stepping onstage at the DNC here after endorsing Obama during the RNC's week in his home state.