First Lady Michelle Obama addresses the first night of the Democratic National Convention.
CHARLOTTE — The official theme of the first night of the Democratic National Convention may have been "Americans Coming Together," but anyone listening to the speeches and watching the videos heard little more than a litany of grievances from the swamps of identity politics.
Delegates and visitors alike since Monday have been dodging heavy downpours in Uptown Charlotte. And they didn't get much relief from the gloom when they settled in to witness the activities at Time Warner Cable Arena.
The vast majority of Americans who watched the convention did so in the 10 p.m. hour (Eastern time) when the broadcast networks aired the events. So most viewers missed nearly three hours of fiery talks advocating tax-funded abortions and contraception, higher taxes on the rich, a doubling down on Obamacare, protectionism, student loans, forced unionism, renewable energy boondoggles, more bailouts of U.S. manufacturing companies, and same-sex marriage.
The lengthy agenda of unfinished business made it seem as if Barack Obama were the challenger rather than the incumbent. Nor did anyone emphasize that Democrats had huge majorities in Congress during the first half of the president's term.
There's little role for the private sector in accomplishing these objectives. Many require federal programs or taxpayer intervention from a government drowning in debt. In fact, a video prepared for the convention included the provocative line, "Government is the only thing we all belong to."
Alexis de Tocqueville's civil society and Edmund Burke's little platoons, R.I.P.
Even that affirmation of statism was too much for the Obama team, which disavowed the video during the evening, saying it was produced by the convention's host committee, not the Democratic Party or the president's campaign.
Indeed, before San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and First Lady Michelle Obama took the stage, viewers may have heard more addresses that night dedicated to the culture wars than Republicans uttered on social and cultural issues during their three days last week in Tampa. (By my recollection, the true red-meat speeches on cultural issues at the Republican National Convention came from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.)
On the day the U.S. debt held by the public surpassed $16 trillion, speakers offered defensiveness and diversion about President Obama's record on the economy, while giving effusive praise to his handling of racial and cultural issues.
Democrats also took plenty of shots at the Republican ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. It is a partisan convention, after all.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, echoed a recurring sentiment among prominent Democrats (including the president) that, by refusing to release multiple years of tax returns, Romney's main reason for seeking the presidency is to make himself richer.
"Today’s Republican Party believes in two sets of rules: one for millionaires and billionaires, and another for the middle class. And this year, they’ve nominated the strongest proponent — and clearest beneficiary — of this rigged game: Mitt Romney," Reid said.
"Mitt Romney says we should take his word that he paid his fair share [of taxes]," Reid added. "His word? His word? Trust comes from transparency, and Mitt Romney comes up short on both. ... If we don’t know how Mitt Romney would benefit from the policies he proposes, how can we know if he’s looking out for us or just himself?"
Meantime, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, shouting as if the amplifiers in the arena had shorted out, questioned Romney's patriotism and religiosity.
"Mitt Romney has so little economic patriotism that even his money needs a passport," Strickland yelled. "It summers on the beaches of the Cayman Islands and winters on the slopes of the Swiss Alps. In Matthew, chapter 6, verse 21, the scriptures teach us that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. My friends, any man who aspires to be our president should keep both his treasure and his heart in the United States of America."
Tonight, former President Bill Clinton headlines the event. We'll see if he can bring a little sunshine to a convention that's been almost as foreboding as the storms that have raged outside Time Warner Cable Arena.
Rick Henderson is managing editor of Carolina Journal.