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Michelle Obama and a big opening night at the Democratic National Convention
The most progressive side of the Democratic Party was on full display.
The most progressive side of the Democratic Party was on full display.

The big difference between the Republican and Democratic national conventions is that, while the Republicans -- especially Ann and Mitt Romney -- tried to relate to working-class Americans by telling tales of struggle they had heard on the campaign trail, the Democrats -- especially Michelle Obama and keynote speaker Julian Castro -- spoke movingly and in detail about their own families' struggles.

"For Barack, these issues aren't political, they're personal," Michelle Obama said, "because Barack knows what it means when a family struggles."

Michelle's fantastic speech drew a stark, though unstated, contrast with the Romneys.

The image of Barack picking her up for a date in his rusted-out car, of her hard-working parents, who filled their tiny house with laughter when she and her brother were kids, blew the Republicans out of the water.

Just before prime time, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick delivered a barn-burner on the same themes.

"In times like these, we should turn to each other, not on each other," Patrick declared in his speech.

"It's time for the Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe," Patrick said, as delegates got to their feet with a deafening cheer.

Of Obama, Patrick said: "I, for one, will not stand by and let him be bullied out of office, and neither should you."

Julian Castro, the keynote speaker, also brought down the house with his defense of working America and his tale of immigrant struggle. "Borrow money from your parents?" he said with irony, echoing Romney's line on getting started in life. "Gee, why didn't I think of that?"

The most progressive side of the Democratic Party was on full display (after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel left the stage). Gay marriage featured in every prime time speech, mostly as "the right to marry the person you love," and, along with it, women's right to privacy in their reproductive choices.

A full-throated defense of labor and of keeping American jobs at home was also a rousing theme, with many, many references to Obama's rescue of the auto industry.

Castro posed the choice between the two parties as "the choice between a politician who ships jobs overseas and a leader who keeps jobs here."

Reality, of course, is a little more complicated.

On fast-track trade deals, on Emanuel's preposterous claim that, thanks to Obama, Wall Street banks will never again be bailed out by taxpayers, on the Obama administration's flirtation with budget balancing through entitlement reform, and other issues, the Democrats have not always held to their progressive core values.

Patrick closed his truly great, passionate oration, in which he urged Democrats to get a backbone and stand up for what they believe, with an ode to Orchard Gardens Elementary School. This failing public school in Roxbury, Massachusetts, was "turned around in less than a year," thanks to community effort and the Obama Administration's support for higher teaching standards, Patrick said.

Teachers in Boston tell a different story. In order to conform to Race To The Top, the Obama administration's school reform plan which defenders of public education call "No Child Left Behind on steroids," the Massachusetts Legislature rushed through major changes in school policy. One of these called for the firing of at least half the staff of any school whose test scores sink to a certain level.

"A prime example of how blame has unfairly been laid on the steps of union teachers is Orchard Gardens K-8," according to the Boston Teachers Union:

This school was designated a Level 4 school based on its extremely low test scores. It has had six principals since it opened seven years ago. [emphasis in original] Clearly there was a failure of leadership here over an extended period of time. Yet it was 50% of the teachers and paraprofessionals who were forced out of the school.

Some education commentators tried to assert that teachers who were evicted had received poor evaluations. This is blatantly untrue. Some of these individuals have never been evaluated. Some had been evaluated and received excellent annual reviews.

On school "reform," as on deficits, entitlements, and trade, the Democrats and the Obama administration in particular, have adopted Republican talking points and policy positions that are too close for comfort to the Ryan/Romney vision.

These examples pop up here and there in the convention.

But rhetorically, they are overwhelmed by the roar of progressive populism that is music to the ears of delegates -- and to anyone who holds a more hopeful, progressive vision of America than the Romneys.

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