By a conservative estimate, there were at least eight “USA!” chants. American flags were distributed for waving at the appropriate time, there were copious tributes to the country’s troops and (especially) veterans, and a country song with the chorus “Only in America, dreaming in red, white and blue” played out the end of the night.
At many points on Thursday evening, it would have been easy to mistake what was happening inside Charlotte’s arena for a gathering of Republicans. Except the Republicans neglected to do this sort of stuff the week prior at their national convention, which was sort of the point.
Epitomized by Mitt Romney’s much-noted failure to mention U.S. men and women overseas while accepting his party’s presidential nomination, the GOP has for now shifted away from the sort of muscular patriotism that has helped it win elections past. That’s opened a door for the Democrats – and on the final night of their convention, they went bursting through it.
Major decisions by President Barack Obama – from authorizing the killing of Osama bin Laden, which was mentioned countless times, to bailing out auto companies – were presented as signs of his deep love of (and faith in) his country. The Republicans’ unwillingness to embrace some of those decisions, and the generally grim tone at their convention last week, were painted as a lack of the same. And so too, of course, were Mr. Romney’s offshore banking habits and the allegedly cutthroat tactics of his company, Bain Capital – a running theme through the week.
It all added up to a fairly straightforward message, targeted to pivotal swing states like Michigan and Ohio: Democrats are now the ones who speak for the heartland, while Republicans would rather just sit around doubting and criticizing.
Nobody was blunter on Thursday than Vice-President Joe Biden, who performed the warm-up act for Mr. Obama’s convention-closing speech. “America is not in decline,” he shouted, red-faced, shortly before becoming choked up about the sacrifice made by U.S. soldiers killed in combat. “I’ve got news for Governor Romney and (running mate) Paul Ryan: It has never, never, ever, been a good bet to bet against the American people.”
Mr. Obama, seeking the high road, was subtler. Still, he managed to work in a dig about how “our friends at the Republican convention were more than happy to talk about everything they think is wrong with America.” And he essentially built a case that Mr. Romney is negative about the country’s prospects and its role in the world, while he himself believes in it and see its potential.
And, yes, Mr. Obama did what Mr. Romney failed to do, praising “the Americans who still serve in harm’s way,” and praising “a generation whose sacrifice has made this country safer and more respected.”
Perhaps most tellingly, there was Senator John Kerry visibly enjoying himself as he delivered a blistering attack on Mr. Romney’s foreign-policy credentials. “The only thing exceptional about today’s Republicans is that, almost without exception, they oppose everything that has made America exceptional in the first place,” he said.
Mr. Kerry knows this line of attack well, because it was viciously and dubiously used against him by the Republicans when he ran for president eight years ago. The Democrats, at the least, are trying to make sure that never happens again; more than that, it seems they’re trying to turn the tables.