The Democratic convention's opening night: 5 highlights

Thanks to Julian Castro and Michelle Obama, Democrats got President Obama's nominating convention off to an unexpectedly rousing start on Tuesday

First Lady Michelle Obama addresses delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 4: "Being president doesn't change who you are," she said. "It reveals who you
(Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Democratic National Convention got off to an enthusiasm-charged start on Tuesday, with a widely praised speech by First Lady Michelle Obama capping an evening of hard-hitting attacks on Republican nominee Mitt Romney, voluble promotion of President Obama's record, a lot of cozying up to women and military personnel, and plenty of focus on hot-button social issues like gay marriage and abortion. Along the way, a few Democrats abruptly raised their national profiles, unofficially starting the clock on the 2016 presidential race. Here, five highlights from Night 1 of the Democratic nominating rally in Charlotte:

1. Michelle Obama nails it

The First Lady was a huge hit with the Democrats in Charlotte and the pundits on TV, and her speech "destroyed Twitter," says Alex Fitzpatrick at Mashable, prompting as many as 28,003 tweets per minute, almost doubling the 14,289 mark from Romney's convention speech. I can see why, says Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast. Michelle Obama delivered a "flawless" speech that any "presidential nominee would be proud to have given." (Watch highlights of her speech below.) It was obviously a winner, says John Dickerson at Slate, and "effective beyond the power of well-delivered rhetoric" because she both defined "Obama's core self and linked it to policy." ("Being president doesn't change who you are," the First Lady said. "It reveals who you are.") Well, I for one found parts of her speech "nakedly political and utterly unpersuasive," says Jonah Goldberg at National Review. But still, "as a political speech it was excellent and did nearly everything she needed it to do." The speech may not convert any Obama skeptics, but it might "win back a few waverers," and it clearly fired up the Democratic base.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

2. Julian Castro shines in his national debut

The young mayor of San Antonio "was one of the least known keynote speakers in modern memory," but it's clear why Team Obama gave him the job, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. The Texas Democrat, 37, expertly showed off his "touching and heartfelt" reverence for his mother and his "effective but not mean-spirirted or overly partisan" attacks on Romney. Castro "very clearly established himself as a national rising star." That may be, but "the first Latino to deliver a keynote convention speech lost some of his historic star power to his 3-year-old daughter, Carina Victoria," says Maria Elena Fernandez at The Daily Beast. The cameras cut to Carina as her father told a sweet story about dropping her off at preschool, but the "pretty little fashionista" paid no heed, instead adorably flipping her hair from side to side, melting hearts and launching an internet sensation.

3. Deval Patrick inspires 2016 chatter

The Democrats trotted out quite a few good speakers, including former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who came out swinging with "the most rankly partisan speech of either convention," says The Washington Post's Cillizza, "but man oh man was it effective." The most unexpected gem, though, was Romney's successor as Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick. Competently dismantling Romney's record of job creation in the Bay State, Patrick lit up the stage "with an address that will almost certainly stoke some chatter about whether he should be in the mix for 2016." Yes, Patrick's "line about Democrats' getting a backbone to stand up for what they believe was an obvious play for 2016," but at least he spoke at length about Obama, says The Daily Beast's Sullivan. In fact, if the Democrats messed anything up Tuesday, it was "having Castro and Patrick in the wrong places. Patrick was terrific, Castro merely fresh and good."

4. Dems promote abortion rights, gay marriage... and ObamaCare

Unsurprisingly, in the wake of the flap over Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin's controversial comments on rape and pregnancy, Democratic speakers on Tuesday spoke a lot about preserving the right to have an abortion. But they also frequently talked up the party's new embrace of same-sex marriage and commitment to gay rights. Most surprising, though, says Ezra Klein at The Washington Post, is that "the Democrats talked about ObamaCare. A lot." After years of treating it like a political stinker, they obviously think the politics have changed. "Indeed, if the first night of the Democratic Convention is to be remembered for anything aside from Michelle Obama's speech, it will probably be remembered as the night that Democrats stood up and began fighting for their health-care law."

5. Liberal enthusiasm seems to trump the GOP's

"Among journalists, one thing was clear about the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night," says Patrick Gavin at Politico: "It was a lot more energetic than anyone expected it to be." For all the reports of disheartened Democrats, the consensus is that, at least as far as the conventions go, all the energy is with Team Obama. We're used to seeing dour "Democrats on TV half-apologizing for Obama and his policies," says Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast. Well, not in Charlotte. Tuesday night's overarching theme was "that the Democrats are ready to fight and are, contrary to conventional wisdom, pretty pumped up." Judging from the conventions, the ballyhooed "enthusiasm gap is quickly morphing into something that Mitt Romney needs to worry about."

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.