There's nothing like convention season to remind you of how ridiculous politics can be. The Republican gathering frightened me. (Though admittedly, I got a fair amount of my coverage of the Tampa goings on from the Daily Show.) It felt staged, weird, rabid. They wore goofy hats.
And last night, the Democrats got a little embarrassing, too. Scripted call and response, as in Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's "forward-not-back" number, is just not my kind of thing. I don't like sing-alongs much either. Waving pre-printed signs embarrasses me, too. So does ending a speech with the obligatory "God Bless America."
Watching the Democrats last night reminded me that, if American politics necessarily contain a certain amount of hooey, I'll take the Democratic kind of hooey any day.
I started getting excited around Deval Patrick's speech. When he began with that heavy-handed, old "American dream" talk, I rolled my eyes and got ready to scoff some more. But by about a minute in, when he was calling Republicans on the fact that their government-shrinking approach was what got us into the recession, I was pumping my fist.
Clearly, some of this is about content. I agree with what this man said. It was deeply satisfying to hear someone for once unapologetically--and a teensy bit angrily--to say what the Democrats are for. It was especially heartening that he, along with most of the night's other speakers, included gay marriage and women's right to end an unwanted pregnancy right up there with the party's priorities. (Those were his words, by the way--"a woman's decision whether to keep an unwanted pregnancy," as opposed to the daintier and more roundabout "choice.")
But as I was hooting and strutting in my living room, I started thinking that my excitement was about more than the Democratic platform. The convention left me feeling less alone, and more hopeful. I was relating to Patrick. The Republican delegates I saw interviewed creeped me out. They were dressed in costume, espoused extreme views, and didn't seem to understand the impact of the policies their party espouses.
But when the cameras panned the Charlotte audience, I found myself awash in a visceral sentiment. These are my people!
Of course, many Republicans probably feel the same recognition when they encounter their kinsfolk. It makes me think about that icky research that there's a genetic basis for political allegiance. Are we destined for eternal tribal political warfare, with the blue and red clans forever fighting across a sea of alienation?
Luckily, just as I was contemplating this depressing thought, Michelle Obama took the stage and assuaged my fears. Why do I relate more to Democrats like her and her husband? Because, as she explained, they have lived in the world that I--and most of the people I know -- inhabit. They've experienced the problems we have. They also understand that their lives have been shaped by their own--and, critically, their parents'--struggles.
Seeing Julian Castro talk about his grandmother, who worked cleaning houses, it was apparent he truly understands that he has her to thank for his success. The Obamas clearly "get it" on this level, too--both because their parents worked hard so their children could succeed and because, as parents, they seem grounded by the same priorities.
Coming from families that struggle the way most do makes Barak and Michelle Obama seem as much like normal people as a president and his wife can.
Not all Democrats come from humble beginnings, of course. Many--including, sometimes, the President--disappoint me. And some are creepy in their own right. But, more than Republicans, they value equality. They see the need to make sure that Americans who need help get it.
Hearing Michelle give the personal side of these values left me hopeful. With so many Americans now needing help, and the Republican party moving ever further to the right, how can voters not connect with basic humanity that came through in Charlotte last night? Even with all the hoopla, the convention shows them to be the more humane--and far less creepy--choice.