Rahm Emanuel is the current Mayor of Chicago and President Obama's former White House Chief of Staff. I've always liked Emanuel because he's capable of some of the most colorful back room profanity of any serving politician -- and as a master of the colorfully profane myself, I can appreciate that.
Although Emanuel was unlikely to move the election favorability meter (those who love him love him, and those who hate him hate him), he was bound to be a fun watch.
Sadly, Emanuel was neither profane nor inspring. He essentially went down the laundry list of the various Obama administration's claimed accomplishments (health care, auto industry bailout, national security) with a set of shout-outs to battleground states like Ohio.
What was interesting in Emanuel's speech was the difference in tone between the typical GOP convention speech of last week and the Democratic convention. The GOP convention was all about stopping what they call Obamacare, and about how nothing has been done since Obama took office.
The incumbent has something of an advantage, so this convention was structured around the claimed successes of the last four years on the part of the serving president.
Mayor Julian Castro
No matter what they try to do, the Democrats always manage to screw up their signals to mainstream Americans. There's no doubt that San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro is a competent American politician, and I'm sure he'd like a future in national politics.
But, c'mon folks. How hard would it have been to avoid having a man named "Castro" give the keynote speech for the Democrats? Seriously? Doesn't anyone think these things through?
All during Obama's presidency, the Dems have been fighting the misapplied labels of "socialism" and even "communism" -- and then they keynote their convention with a man named Castro.
Think about it. What if a Mayor Gus Hitler stood up to give the Republican keynote? It would be too easy. People would be freaking out in the media for weeks.
We are not our parents, our ancestors, or our last names. But names are powerful and carry strong associations. It would be a shame to see this nice young man denied the opportunity to give an important speech. It would be equally sad to see voters scared away from voting for a candidate, not for a valid reason, but because the opposition decided to harp on how his keynote speech was given by a man named Castro.
Keynote addresses can be breakout events. I remember watching the entirely uninspired Democratic convention in 2004 (when John Kerry was the nominee). I had never heard of an obscure Illinois state senator named Barack Obama, but as a politics junky, I figured I'd sit through yet another boring keynote.
By the time Obama had finished his amazing speech (and you had to admit it was, no matter which party you belonged to), I remember turning to my then-future wife and telling her, "I think we just met a future president." Four years later, Barack Obama, with just two years of U.S. Senate experience, won the presidential election.
I strongly believe it was that keynote that put Obama on the path to the White House. On the other hand, back in 1988, an unknown Bill Clinton gave a keynote speech so bad, and so long, that the crowd applauded and cheered when it was over. Of course, four years after that, Bill Clinton was also on the road to the White House.
Sadly, Julian Castro is no Barack Obama. Oh, the young mayor gave a great speech. I'm sure we'll see more of him. He fed the audience all the red meat they could possibly want -- which, ultimately, is the job of a political speech.
But the difference between the keynote speech for President Obama's reelection convention and the keynote speech given by an unknown state senator named Obama was vast. Back in 2004, the speech Obama gave was powerful, uplifting, inspiring -- and almost completely devoid of red meat.
That Obama was a man who could be a leader of all Americans, not just blue state Americans. That Obama was a man who could see the diversity of the American population and try to unite it. That Obama was a man who could reach across party boundaries for a better future. That Obama was a man who could look forward to change with hope.
That was the Barack Obama of eight years ago.
Today's President Obama is a man more seasoned, more jaded, more worn down by the realities of leadership, not just the promise of hope.
Whether we return this Obama, the older, grayer, wearier Obama to the White House, or give the business executive the key to the ultimate executive suite, will be a direct function of how close most Americans feel President Obama got to the dreams and promises of his younger self.
Next up: Michelle Obama