Commentary: The Democrats and their Long-Awaited Backbone

Democrats are taking control of their message and are starting to run with it.

Posted: 09/06/2012 10:07 AM EDT
Gov. Deval Patrick Speaks at the Democratic National Convention

Gov. Deval Patrick (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

REPORTING FROM CHARLOTTE — In his remarkable speech Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick provided what was by far the most significant declaration, one whose message permeated the entire tone of the party’s gathering.

“If we want to win elections in November and keep our country moving forward, if we want to earn the privilege to lead, my message is this: It's time for Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe,” Patrick said to a roar from the crowd.

Backbone, indeed. 

Amid the speeches here in Charlotte, including the spellbinding, amazing words of Michelle Obama and the strong and heartwarming address by San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and the brilliant, masterful presentation of Bill Clinton, there is a theme that has emerged forcefully here: Barack Obama has produced some astounding results that have improved the lives of Americans. It is the beginning of some badly needed backbone development.

For much of his presidency, the Democratic base has ceded a good deal of the public relations ground to the Republicans, who have been only too happy to define Obama on their own terms. They have infected the public perception of the Obama presidency as a wretched grab for big government and higher taxes. And those are only the more respectable Republican portrayals.

Below that level of Republican condemnation have been critiques of Obama — from the Tea Party and “birther” fringes of the party — that have been the most hostile and vile in presidential history. Those portrayals have been left virtually unchecked by the administration.

Charlotte seems to be changing the public relations game in a mighty way. It is clear that many Democrats here agree that it is time to develop a backbone, to highlight the work of the president with pride and excitement rather than timidity and apology.

That a backbone is developing is palpably clear each time the president’s health care reform is mentioned here. The Republicans have spent years condemning the initiative, derisively calling it “Obamacare.” Here in Charlotte, “Obamacare” has become a badge of honor and pride. The Democrats, in this convention, have successfully humanized the need for health care, connecting the issue with real human beings and their needs.

Backbone is a theme in virtually every speech here, such as Newark Mayor Cory Booker taking on critics of the richest Americans paying a higher percentage of taxes. “When your country is in a costly war, and our nation is facing a debt crisis at home,” Booker proclaimed, “being asked to pay your fair share isn’t class war. It’s patriotism.”

It was a case made pointedly by former President Clinton: “Are we better off because President Obama fought for health care?” Clinton asked. “You bet we are.”

The excitement among the delegates and Democratic supporters here reflects the feeling that their party is now — at long last and with some of the most compelling voices — telling the story of the president’s accomplishments.  

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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