Friday, September 28, 2012

The 4 qualities of a great president

Michael Beschloss knows more about America's 44 presidents than perhaps anyone on earth. Beschloss, an author and historian, regaled a crowd in Charlotte Thursday night with stories about those presidents, including some off-color lines from LBJ (keep reading).

Beschloss, speaking at UNC Charlotte's uptown campus, spelled out the four qualities that he thinks define a great president. They might come in handy as you decide between President Obama and Mitt Romney. (Or they might not; neither man scores well on all four of these.)

Quality No. 1: Presidential courage. Being willing to do the right thing even if it's unpopular.
Quality No. 2: Strong oratorical skills to persuade Americans to go along with unpopular decisions.
Quality No. 3: A sense of history. Presidents are forced to deal with unanticipated problems. Having a sense of history gives a president context and comfort that other people have been in tough situations before.
Quality No. 4: An ability to work with the other side. This is more than just Democrats working with Republicans or vice versa. It's having the imagination to truly understand and appreciate how someone could think differently from you.

Beschloss would say that you should vote in November for whichever candidate you think scores better overall on those four.

Beschloss told a lot of stories, many of them about LBJ. One LBJ line, from when he was bored by an economist: "Did you ever think that making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg? It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else."

-- Taylor Batten

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The truth behind the Cam Newton cartoon

In the words of Sergeant Hulka in Stripes: Lighten up, Francis.

The NFL pundits are all atwitter, analyzing to death the Observer's editorial cartoon on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. What was cartoonist Kevin Siers saying? Is Charlotte jumping off the Camwagon? What does this say about race in the Bible Belt?

Puh-leeze. Maybe Stephen A. Smith thinks such breathlessness makes for good TV. Apparently ESPN's Smith and Skip Bayless and so many other NFL talking heads find it easier to speculate than to go to the source and ask.

So here's the big secret, fellas: It was just a joke, no more, no less. Siers likes to poke fun at the absurd. And in his eyes, showboating after a 1-yard run when you're getting your brains beaten in is the definition of absurd. Thus the "Hello Kitty" t-shirt for Cam's Superman pose.

Sometimes, Siers thinks it's important to send a deep, thought-provoking message on public issues of the day. Other times, like this one, he just has a little fun.

What's more disturbing than a light-hearted cartoon is grown men so in awe of a football player that they ridicule any criticism of him, even when he touts his greatness on the way to a 36-7 loss. For my money, I'll take someone who calls it like he sees it.

Siers isn't a huge NFL fan, but he likes Cam Newton. And you can bet he's rooting for him to return to Superman  form.

-- Editorial Page Editor Taylor Batten

Here is Stephen A. Smith's commentary:

Will Planned Parenthood flap hurt Race for the Cure?

Charlotte's Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure is next week, and organizers hope to dodge a recent trend. Other cities have taken big hits with their Race for the Cure this year following the national flap over Komen's ending (and quickly restoring) funding for Planned Parenthood. Raleigh and Winston-Salem, for example, were each down 35 to 40 percent, Komen officials in Charlotte say.

That has Komen officials in Charlotte working overtime to avoid the same fate. The Charlotte affiliate raised about $1.6 million with last year's race, which was about two-thirds of its total revenue for the year. So any backlash could undercut Komen's ability to make grants for free mammograms and other services related to fighting breast cancer.

Lori Vaccaro, the executive director of Komen in Charlotte, said she has heard from folks with opposite viewpoints who have stopped supporting Komen because of the Planned Parenthood episode. Even so, race registrations so far are on track to meet last year. "Flat is the new up," Vaccaro says.

In February, Komen's national office waded into politics and sparked a furor by announcing it would stop making grants to Planned Parenthood. Anti-abortion advocates were thrilled, but an outcry from Planned Parenthood supporters, including among Komen affiliates, prompted Komen to reverse its decision. The whole affair ended up alienating some people on both sides of the abortion issue.

Vaccaro emphasized to the Observer editorial board this week that Komen and its Charlotte affiliate are focused on a singular mission: Fighting breast cancer. "We're not pro-life or pro-choice, we're not Democrat or Republican." She said it was a mistake to let Komen's mission to battle breast cancer become politicized.

It was indeed, and it would be a shame if it took a bite out of the Charlotte affiliate. The group says it spends 16 to 18 percent of its revenue on local administrative costs. The rest goes to community health grants ($1.4 million last year) and breast cancer research ($550,000).  Its work saves lives, and with one in eight women being diagnosed with breast cancer, one misstep by the national office shouldn't distract from that vital work.

The race, which last year attracted 17,000 people, is next Saturday, Oct. 6, starting in Marshall Park uptown. For more information, go to

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Prez debates a game changer? Historically, no

Politicians, their supporters and the pundits tell us the presidential debates between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney - which start next Wednesday - could be a "game changer." That's something a lot of Romney backers are eagerly anticipating, given his rough couple of weeks on the campaign trail and a widening gap between him and Obama in several election polls.

But aside from the legendary 1960 debate between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy, the first televised presidential debate, where Nixon seemed to sweat away pounds and looked uncomfortable while Kennedy came off as poised and in control, do presidential debates really change things? Kennedy by the way moved ahead in the polls after that debate and won a narrow victory. Today is the anniversary of that Kennedy-Nixon debate.

Most future televised debates had no clear winner and no discernible impact on the election. There have been a few hiccups that seemed to matter though. Karen E. Crummy and Chuck Murphy of the Denver Post take note of a couple in a recent article. Said the two journalists: "While politicians and pundits like to characterize presidential debates as election game-changers, years of polling data show that they have mattered only a handful of times over the past 50 years. One was in 1980 when President Jimmy Carter said he consulted 12-year-old daughter Amy on her concerns about nuclear proliferation, helping swing the race 6 points overnight. (Ronald Reagan won in a landslide.) Another was in 2000 when Al Gore persistently interrupted George W. Bush, sighed and appeared agitated - and an 8-point lead in the polls evaporated in the roll of his eyes."

Even in those instances, however, the so-called debate effect was not considered the sole determining factor in the elections. ( Indeed, Gore won the popular vote over Bush)."

And I'll add that if there had been a different U.S. Supreme Court, Gore might have won. As you recall, it was the Supremes who stopped the vote recount in Florida where the vote returns were in dispute.

There have been others where televised debates seemed to matter. In 1976, the race between President Gerald Ford (who took over after Nixon resigned) and Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter was a dead heat until the second debate between the two. Ford reportedly had already cut into Carter's large lead in the polls, and was generally viewed as having won the first debate on domestic policy. Polls released after this first debate indicated the race was even. However, in the second debate on foreign policy, Ford made what was widely viewed as a major blunder when he said "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration." After this, Ford's momentum stalled, and Carter won a very close election.

A recent Washinington Monthly article cites two studies by academics that are unequivocal that presidential debates change little. Political scientist James Stimson, author of "Tides of Consent: How Public Opinion Shapes American Politics," did a comprehensive study and concluded: "There is no case where we can trace a substantial shift to the debates.” Political scientists Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien did an even more comprehensive study that includes every publicly available poll from the presidential elections between 1952 and 2008. They found that excluding the 1976 election, which saw Carter’s lead drop steadily throughout the fall, “the best prediction from the debates is the initial verdict before the debates” - meaning that in the average election year you could tell the winner by where things stood before the debates.

Vice presidential debates seem to matter even less though there have been some memorable zingers. Remember Democratic vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen taking on Republican vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle, whose inexperience showed? In the 1988 debate, Quayle attempted to ease fears by saying he had as much experience as John Kennedy did when he ran for President in 1960. Bentsen shot back: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." Of course, the comment also highlighted the fact that Bentsen was quite elderly.

In any case, this year, experts do acknowledge that a lot of other factors are affecting the campaigns, not the least of which is a slew of TV ads from both the candidates and outside groups supporting them.

 Most people are said to have already made up their minds about who they'll vote for so the debates and debate answers are aimed at a small sliver of the populace who say they are undecided.

So unless there's some major gaffe, you might be disappointed if you're tuning into the debates hoping for a game changer. You can hope for entertainment. Over the years, that's been a better bet.

Posted by Fannie Flono

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Romney camp on polls: They're wrong

About all those recent polls showing Mitt Romney slipping nationally and in battlegrounds? Don't trust them, the campaign says.

The Hill reports this morning that frustrated Republicans, including Romney officials, say that most of the polls are built on a faulty assumption - that Hispanics, blacks and young voters are going to turn out with the same enthusiasm as they did for Barack Obama in 2008.

Said Romney pollster Neil Newhouse: “I don’t think [the polls] reflect the composition of what 2012 is going to look like.”

Those who follow the polling business know that turnout estimates are the proverbial thumb on the scale for pollsters. Estimate a higher turnout of a Democrat-friendly demographic, and that's going to bump up the polling numbers of the Democrat running for office. To that end, one website,, is re-weighting mainstream presidential polls with a nod to the demographic assumptions of Rasmussen Reports, which is widely regarded as a conservative pollster. The result: Romney leads in them all by 3 to 11 percentage points.


A new poll from the conservative Civitas Institute finds the ticket of Obama-Joe Biden leading the Romney-Paul Ryan ticket 49-45. It's the first poll to include the vice presidential candidates. It's also the first Civitas Poll since February that shows Obama leading, although the July poll was a virtual tie (Romney 49-48).

Of the 11 battleground states, North Carolina has been considered Romney's strongest, thanks to a persistently high unemployment rate and Republican-friendly military bloc in the east. A caveat: The poll of 600 registered voters was conducted Sept. 18 and 19 - in the immediate aftermath of Romney's 47 percent video. So we might be seeing a bit of a corresponding polling thud.

Interestingly, Romney didn't seem to lose independents in the wake of the furor, gaining five points among them (44 to 49 percent) from the July Civitas poll. But he did lose both registered Republicans (87 to 81 percent) and Democrats (24 to 16 percent). 

Peter St. Onge

Monday, September 24, 2012

ASC, dropouts and a cure for cancer of the spirit

If you think it’s hopeless boosting the graduation rate or making sure disengaged, academically struggling kids living in poverty achieve and become productive citizens, talk to Bill Strickland. The philanthropist, author and MacArthur “Genius” grant awardee was one of those kids. He says it not only can happen, it is happening. He sees it in the five cities where his arts and technology centers operate. And he sees it happening here when such a center opens next month.

Strickland was in Charlotte Monday as the Arts & Science Council prepared to launch the innovative free out-of-school program for students in grades 9-12 in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Already 90 students at 17 different schools have expressed interest. The program will focus on digital photography and digital media art. It is a collaborative public/private partnership involving CMS, the county and other partners and participants. Mecklenburg County is investing $350,000 this fiscal year through its Community Services Grant Program and the ASC is raising money from private donors. Students from West Charlotte High, a Project L.I.F.T. school will have spots in the program. Judges in the juvenile court system also saw the program’s potential, and some clients will participate. 

The ASC has been working for six years to launch this effort. The program is modeled on Strickland’s work across the country through the Manchester Bidwell Corporation’s (Strickland is CEO) National Center for Arts & Technology. The program uses the arts – photography, pottery, etc. – and partnerships with local industries to get kids motivated and provide skills they can use. It’s that kind of work that earned Strickland his prestigious “genius” grant in 1996. Strickland who preaches the virtues of environment and motivated, committed adults in changing the lives of kids jokes that he got the grant for “figuring out the cure for cancer of the spirit.” It’s “flowers,” he said. “A beautiful environment, superior facility and motivated faculty” are key ingredients in saving the lives of “emotionally damaged kids,” he said, and that’s what most of the kids who need these programs are.

“Don’t give up on poor kids. They might end up being your commencement speaker,” he said. Strickland should know. That’s what he did.

“The only thing wrong with poor people is they don’t have money,” he said. “That is a curable condition.”

Strickland said people have to change the conversation about these kids and use innovative learning techniques to reach them. That’s what’s happening in the five cities – Grand Rapids, Cleveland, New Haven, San Francisco and Cincinnati – where these arts and technology centers are operating. The programs have waiting lists and have a more than 85 percent placement rate in jobs while in the program. An average of 96 percent graduated from high school, and 89 percent moved on to higher education.

Charlotte’s program will be in two contemporary studios at Spirit Square and provide students with community, workplace and higher education experiences. Strickland says it bodes well that “you have 90 kids signed up for something that doesn’t exist yet. That should tell you something about the pent up demand.” He also said we’ve got to start building schools that kids want to go to. It’s “commonsense,” he said. “In places of hope, kids have hope.” Simple and true.

Posted by Fannie Flono

Who won the 60 Minutes interviews?

Did Sunday's '60 Minutes' interviews with President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney help voters - the few who remain undecided - figure out who to push the button or pull the lever for in the November election? Unlikely. But it did give pundits another opportunity to chime in on who's winning the battle of the rhetoric.

Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, who writes the conservative Right Turn blog, slams Obama:
"Once is a bad day, but twice in a row should worry Democrats. President Obama followed his gaffe-ridden Univision interview with an outing on Sunday on “60 Minutes” that is destined to wind up in a series of Mitt Romney ads."

The worst part of the interview was this, she said:

STEVE KROFT: “You don’t feel any pressure from Prime Minister Netanyahu in the middle of a campaign to try and get you to change your policy and draw a line in the sand? You don’t feel any pressure?”

OBAMA: “When it comes to our national security decisions — any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out — any noise that’s out there.” "Calling Netanyahu’s concern about an existential threat 'noise' is another in a long string of insults, snubs and gaffes about Israel. This remark immediately raised red flags in the foreign press.The Iranians were happy, though."

Amanda Terkel and Sam Stein of the Huffington Post took Romney to task, saying the former Massachussetts governor suggested that emergency room care suffices as a substitute for the uninsured.

"Well, we do provide care for people who don't have insurance," he said in an interview with Scott Pelley of CBS's "60 Minutes" that aired Sunday night. "If someone has a heart attack, they don't sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care."

"This constitutes a dramatic reversal in position for Romney, who passed a universal health care law in Massachusetts, in part, to eliminate the costs incurred when the uninsured show up in emergency rooms for care," the HuffPost said. Indeed, the HuffPost dug up an old interview Romney had with Glenn Beck where Romney decried such emergency room care as a "form of socialism." Said Romney in 2007:  "So my plan (the Massachusetts health-care reform) did something quite different. It said, you know what? If people can afford to buy insurance ... or if they can pay their own way, then they either buy that insurance or pay their own way, but they no longer look to government to hand out free care. And that, in my opinion, is ultimate conservativism."

See the complete 60 Minute interviews  here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Disrespect violence - senseless but not rare

A month ago when I wrote about a 16-year-old killing a 13-year-old, I had no clue I would be writing so soon about another teen killed, this time with five teen suspects charged in his death. But I can't say I was caught off guard by the reason given in the death, though it's still shocking nonetheless.

Police say 17-year-old Kydaryune Curry was shot to death while he worked on a car in his yard because over the weekend he had shown disrespect to one of the suspects in front of a girl. The incident was so trivial to Curry, described as a fun-loving, good kid who attended a private Christian academy, that he didn't tell his family about it.

Sadly, the notion of "disrespect" has been at the core of far too many harmful incidents that have escalated to preposterous proportions and tragic consequences. The manic reaction in the Middle East to an amateurish video insulting the Prophet Muhammad is a global example.

But the teen violence in this country, in our neighborhoods - most often among black and Latino youth, primarily young males - that spawns from such trivial disagreements feels even more maddening. These kids live here among us.

David Jacobs, associate medical director of the F.H. "Sammy" Ross Trauma Institute at Carolinas Medical Center, enlightened me several years ago that much of the violence that ends up in the emergency rooms where he works - and too often the morgues - is the result of just such trivial "disrespect" issues: "Most of the time, it's very stupid stuff. Somebody took somebody's lunch or something." Yes. Or something.

Jacobs keeps pounding the gavel for all of us to get more aggressive about tackling this issue. It's hard to know where to start. But Jacobs made an apt observation: "All kids," he said, "have a propensity toward violence." And unfortunately, they now live in a society saturated with it - on TV and other media, and for some in their communities. "Many have become very comfortable with violence."

Breaking those connections and that comfortableness won't be easy. But all of us - parents, ministers, educators, community activists - must keep trying.. "Resilience factors" help most kids - two parents in the home, being on sports teams. These kinds of things counterbalance violence tendencies, Jacobs said.

"It's a crazy, senseless thing," middle school principal Mike Dunn said of Curry's death.
Crazy and senseless for the kid who lost his life - crazy and senseless for the kids charged, who if guilty, will for all intents and purposes lose theirs.

Posted by Fannie Flono

Mitt Romney needs a, uh, posse?

Mitt Romney's 15 minutes of infamy over a four-month old video continues as conservatives weighed in with some criticism of their own over the Republican presidential candidate's comments. The Weekly Standard, the conservative Bible to some on the right (along with the Wall Street Journal's editorial page) offered these assessments:

From blogger John McCormack: "I was a severely conservative Republican governor," Mitt Romney told the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 2012. Who says such a thing, McCormack asked. "The answer: The same kind of person who says, 'I'm not concerned about the very poor.' ...The same kind of person who says, 'Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect.... So my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.'

"These appear to be the words of somebody who doesn't understand American conservatism and its relationship to the American idea," McCormack continues. "Conservatives don't believe in economic determinism. Conservatives know--and explain why--their economic policies will help the poor, as well as senior citizens, working families, and our troops who pay no income taxes... The likely problem is that Mitt Romney is not a conservative - or at least wasn't a conservative until late in life - but he is running for president as the nominee of the conservative party on a conservative platform. So he has trouble defending conservative ideas. And when he sells himself to conservatives, he sometimes comes across as a right-wing caricature..."


From Bill Kristol, editor of the Standard: "It's worth recalling that a good chunk of the 47 percent who don't pay income taxes are Romney supporters — especially of course seniors (who might well 'believe they are entitled to heath care,' a position Romney agrees with), as well as many lower-income Americans (including men and women serving in the military) who think conservative policies are better for the country even if they're not getting a tax cut under the Romney plan. So Romney seems to have contempt not just for the Democrats who oppose him, but for tens of millions who intend to vote for him.

 "It remains important for the country that Romney wins in November (unless he chooses to step down and we get the Ryan-Rubio ticket we deserve!). But that shouldn't blind us to the fact that Romney's comments, like those of Obama four years ago (about some Americans being bitter and clinging to their guns and religion), are stupid and arrogant."

From blogger Stephen Hayes: "Romney here seems to be articulating a deeply pessimistic view of America and what makes it great... Romney seems to believe that those who are sucking at the public teat are forever destined to do so. 'My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.'

"He is not saying that he’ll never convince these people that they should vote for him. He says, without qualification, that he’ll never convince them to take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

"If Romney truly believes that, then he shouldn’t be running for president."

Not all conservatives agree with these three. Many have come out swinging in defense of Romney and his assertion about a shiftless 47 percent. But these three join long-time conservative columnist Peggy Noonan, whose Tuesday column sums up conservative anxiety and frustration about Romney.

 "This is not how big leaders talk, it’s how shallow campaign operatives talk: They slice and dice the electorate like that, they see everything as determined by this interest or that," Noonan said.

Her prescription to "right the ship" - her words: "Be serious and fight.If you’re gonna lose, lose honorably. If you’re gonna win do it with meaning.

 "Romney always seems alone out there, a guy with a mic pacing an empty stage. All by himself, removed from the other humans. It’s sad-looking. It’s not working. Time for the party to step up. Romney should go out there every day surrounded with the most persuasive, interesting and articulate members of his party, the old ones, and I say this with pain as they’re my age, like Mitch Daniels and Jeb Bush, and the young ones, like Susana Martinez and Chris Christie and Marco Rubio—and even Paul Ryan. I don’t mean one of them should travel with him next Thursday, I mean he should be surrounded by a posse of them every day. Their presence will say, 'This isn’t about one man, this is about a whole world of meaning, this is about a conservative political philosophy that can turn things around and make our country better.' "

Posted by Fannie Flono

Monday, September 17, 2012

Right call: Thorp to step down as UNC chancellor

Holden Thorp will step down as the chancellor at UNC Chapel Hill at the end of the current academic year, the university announced today.

The Observer's editorial board on Sunday criticized Thorp's handling of several situations over the past two years and called on the UNC Board of Governors and system President Tom Ross to consider whether Thorp was the best person to lead the campus. Later that day, Thorp went to Ross to offer his resignation.

Ross said he accepted "with considerable sadness."

As we said in our editorial, Thorp is likable and intelligent, and has some important achievements to his credit in his four years as chancellor. But he has mishandled athletic, academic and administrative scandals, severely damaging the university's reputation. His decision to step down is in the best interests of the university.

By all accounts, Thorp is a terrific chemistry professor and UNC will benefit from his return to that role.

-- Taylor Batten

Friday, September 14, 2012

N.C.'s new voters: Overwhelmingly minority and independent

North Carolina's registered voters are becoming significantly more independent as well as more racially and ethnically diverse.

Rob Schofield at the Progressive Pulse blog picked up on some interesting voter registration trends that he spotted on a Pope-Civitas website called Carolina Transparency. Since Obama took office, North Carolina has netted 115,000 new voters. Schofield points out two trends, one that seemingly helps Republicans and one that seemingly helps Democrats.

The first: The net 115,000 gain results from a loss of 110,000 Democrats, a loss of 8,000 Republicans, a gain of 222,000 unaffiliated voters and a gain of 11,000 Libertarians. That large shift from Democrat to unaffiliated would appear to be good news for Republicans.

The second: The net 115,000 gain comes almost entirely from minority voters. The voter rolls today have 9,000 new white voters, 53,000 new black voters and 53,000 new "other" voters, including Latino, Asian and other minorities. That would appear to be good news for Democrats.

This might not have a huge effect on election results this November. The 115,000 net new voters are only 1.8 percent of all N.C. voters. But it's fascinating to see such clear trend lines.

-- Taylor Batten

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Is the deck stacked against Mary Wilson?

Mary Wilson, who was abruptly fired as Mecklenburg County's DSS director last week, says she can't get a fair appeal because the man who fired her also has final say over her appeal.

In a letter today to Mecklenburg County commissioners, Wilson asks commissioners to intervene. She says County Manager Harry Jones, who terminated her, also has the final word on any appeal.

"I am requesting that you consider how we can have a fair, transparent resolution to this situation," Wilson wrote to commissioners. "Perhaps a representative sub-set of the BOCC can serve as a review panel."

Wilson said her termination came as a complete surprise, that her last review was in October 2011 and that she hadn't been confronted about poor job performance.

Wilson raises an intriguing point that has bothered us from the moment her firing was announced: County commissioners were not notified of her termination until after it happened, even though they are ultimately responsible for DSS's performance.

Wilson oversaw the county's largest department, with more than 1,000 employees and a $161 million budget. Her tenure was marked in part by controversies over her spending and hiring practices.

This story surely has two or more sides to it. The county has not said specifically why Wilson was terminated. But it does seem Wilson would have a hard time getting an impartial review of her appeal if the county manager who fired her has the final say on it.

Here's Wilson's letter to commissioners (click to enlarge).

-- Taylor Batten

Blunt words for CMS

Steve Perry, the CNN contributor and principal of a Hartford, Conn., magnet school that successfully sends mostly poor, black kids to college, had some blunt words for Charlotte this morning.

He called "unconscionable" the quality of education black males in particular are getting in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. And he said CMS and the community can't let poverty be an excuse.

"You can't catch a 4-year-old up? Then you suck at your job," Perry told about 350 educators and community leaders at MeckEd's annual community breakfast.

Perry said only 39 percent of black males graduate from CMS, though that appears to be a figure from 2007-08, and rates have improved significantly since then. "That's not just an achievement gap," Perry said, "it's almost two different school systems."

The solution, he said, is for all parents and community members to insist that every school is as strong as the school they want to send their children to. And that means outstanding teachers in every classroom setting high expectations for all students.

And one other thing is crucial, Perry said: Love.

"A child who's loved will go through fire for you," Perry said. "All these kids want is love, and when they feel like they're not loved, they do really bad things."

Perry's Capital Preparatory Magnet School sends 100 percent of its graduates to four-year colleges and universities despite having a generally poor and minority student body.

That experience tells him that poverty can be overcome. The poverty that's truly debilitating, he said, is "the poverty of low expectations."

Perry didn't give CMS enough credit for all the progress it has made in narrowing the achievement gap over the past five years or so. And he offered very few specifics on precisely how to ensure every classroom has a great teacher. We doubt CMS is turning away great applicants in favor of weak ones.

Even so, it was an important message for Charlotte to hear. The achievement gap is still there, and black males still lag behind most. And Perry raises an intriguing question: Would CMS's lower-quality schools be allowed to persist if the community's movers and shakers had to send their kids to them? We know the answer to that.

-- Taylor Batten

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hug the President. Get boycotted.

You knew this was coming. Scott Van Duzer, the Florida pizza parlor owner and profilic blood donater who hugged and lifted President Barack Obama, now says his pizza shop is getting boycotted by Republicans.

Van Duzer, a registered Republican who voted for Obama in 2008, got some homepage play across the country for his reaction to the president, who made an unscheduled visit Sunday to Big Apple Pizza and Pasta in Fort Pierce. The president said he stopped by because of Van Duzer's commitment to donating blood and raising awareness of blood shortages.

Van Duzer's response? He bear-hugged Obama and lifted the 176-pound president off the floor.

But now, he tells Politico that people are talking bad about his restaurant. Sure enough, a partisan battle broke out on Big Apple Pizza and Pasta's Yelp page, with a sudden flurry of reviewers giving him one-star reviews from far-flung states, followed by presumed Obama supporters lavishing five-star reviews from equally remote locales.

As for the boycotters, they certainly can spend their money in whatever fashion makes them feel better about themselves. But as we've said before about a certain chicken sandwich chain, do we really want to live in a country where people don't want to do business with people who don't share their beliefs? It seems no longer enough to make our arguments; now we make one-dimensional those who don’t share them.

We'll leave the last word to the pizza man:

“There’s no middle line anymore," he says, "and that’s exactly what’s wrong with our country right now.”

Peter St. Onge

Friday, September 7, 2012

Barack Obama's acceptance speech, graded

How did President Barack Obama do last night? The members of the editorial board offered our immediate thoughts after the speech. Now, our popular political communications professor, Wake Forest's Allan Louden, is back with his class to critique both of Thursday's major speeches.

Louden, a national champion debate coach who has worked with politicians such as Elizabeth Dole, provided insightful analysis of speeches and debate performances for us in 2008. We're glad he's back - with company.

On Obama, here's Louden:

Four years ago Barack Obama stood in Denver’s Invesco stadium to deliver the most important speech of his young political career, acceptance of the Democrat nomination for the Presidency. The speech did not match the earlier campaign’s exultant rhetoric but intentionally sought to manage the soring enthusiasm, lower expectations of a campaign that risked becoming too sizzling.

In Charlotte the president’s task was not to tamp down uninhibited fervor but to evoke the magic of 2008. It was a moment that would welcome a transcendent moment that Obama has proven capable of delivering. That did not happen Thursday night; the delegates cheered a competent speech, politically astute, with flashes that inspired, but generally witnessed an address more akin to a State-of-the-Union, listing goals and programs, or a stump speech in Ohio, than discourse that would rally a nation.

The speech remained largely political but in the last half sought to cement the party’s distinctions. He tipped his hat to values that Republican’s present as their monopoly, individualism, boot-straps, but also strongly advanced the case for government. The rare moment of something new in the speech ironically evoked an earlier era, “We also believe in something called citizenship - a word at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy; the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations.

At the conclusion of Obama’s address, for an elongated cameo, he stood alone. He was slowly joined by his family, but never shared the typically crowded stage of party royalty, rallying in solidarity--the lone warrior, the sole crusader. This seemed to stand in contrast with the more powerful elements of his speech.

Obama has long had the ability to evoke the humble even as he boasted accomplishment. In this speech he also shared the responsibility for success with the American people. These devices marked the high points of his address while also blunted criticism of “promises keep” and unmet expectations.

Obama confessed, “And while I'm proud of what we've achieved together, I'm far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, "I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go."

The responsibility was not just his, but shared by an American vision. “I'm hopeful because of you . . . the election four years ago wasn't about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens - you were the change. You're the reason there's a little girl with a heart disorder in Phoenix who'll get the surgery she needs because an insurance company can't limit her coverage. You did that.

These lines remind one of Obama’s eloquence, a power to invite adherence. The speech however was much more about being commanding, sturdy, and fearless. Electorally that may be a reality, arguably what we think a president must be, but a cost was to contravene the speeches uniqueness, to appear visibly political.

In the end, on that stage he stood alone.

Grade: B

On Obama, Louden's students:

Entering the final night of the convention, it was clear that the president needed to address his past four years and make clear that he has, in fact, accomplished something. Additionally, he needed to explain, in greater detail than his opponent, his actual plan for the next four years. Most importantly, however, was the need to re-inspire and energize the base, reminding them to have hope again in their leader.

Obama did exactly what was expected of him during this speech at the 2012 DNC. The president attacked Romney and the Republican Party for old and irrelevant tactics while emphasizing his commitment to moving America forward with innovative and pertinent ideas. The president discussed getting back to the basics and getting in touch with what the American dream once meant for Americans by developing an economy where most products are not imported but made in America with better quality and wages. He also focused on many of the achievements in oil and gas consumption. He offered a solid path for economic growth through manufacturing jobs and natural gas. He made strong appeals to the working class by addressing the movement of jobs overseas, and addressed students by stating his efforts toward student loan improvements and tuition costs.

Veterans were also addressed due to issues of health care access and the president ensuring that veterans will receive the care they need upon returning home. He briefly touched on foreign policy, while emphasizing the weakness of his opponent in this area; Romney’s gaffes recently provided Obama the opportunity to question his opponent’s qualifications compared to his own four years of experience.

If Mitt Romney has been positioned by the media and his opposition as a man of privilege, unable to relate to the average American, then Barack Obama has tried very hard to position himself the embodiment of the American Dream, a young man who was able to pull himself up and forged his own path to success. Little of the president’s speech focused on his opponent and their differences directly, but implications abounded.

Throughout the speech, the emphasis was on buzzwords and popular language about returning to a strong, independent America, where education is a right, not a luxury afforded by some and at too great an expense for others, and where individuals are free to marry and build a life with whomever they fall in love with, regardless of gender.

President Obama sought to appeal to the working and middle class, focusing on issues that are relevant to their day-to-day life. By appealing to the base, those frustrated by the economy, and encouraging turn out, Obama used the convention to ask, repeatedly, for like-minded voters to turn out in November. His final minutes were full of stories of Americans who inspire him and give him hope as he continued to try to inspire some within voters. It was inspiring at times - yet a regurgitation of the same ideas.

Overall Speech: B+/A-

(Students contributing were April Walsh, Morgen Olson, Sheriah Phelps, Chloe Potash, Philip Rohrer, Grant Shambley and Jessica Pic.)

Students on Vice President Joe Biden:

Inside a jam-packed Time Warner Cable Arena Vice President Joe Biden addressed a very enthusiastic crowd Thursday night in Charlotte. Sharing personal experiences (“Barack and I have been through a lot together”) that he has witnessed over the last four years, using personal experiences from his life, and explaining why Mitt Romney is not the answer for the American people. Biden reiterated why President Obama is the right man to run the United States of America.

Biden provided a great contrast of vision and values between Obama and Romney. He preached the character of leadership of Obama, and puts a dim light over those of Romney. He said that Obama is willing to take risks that others don’t understand

Biden eloquently expressed his feelings towards Romney in regards to the automobile industry bailout. “Romney saw it the Bain way, in terms of balance sheets and write offs. The Bain way may lead to higher profits, but it is not the way to lead our country from the highest office.” Once again, the view of Romney being machine-like came to mind. A man who is all about results, who forgets about the compassion one should show another. The argument plays to the middle class and this kind of argument seems to be the bread and butter for the Obama/Biden campaign.

Without a doubt, Biden and Obama have had to face a financial crisis that is often compared to the great depression. Times have been difficult for people. “If you took responsibility you’d get a fair shot at a better life, and the values behind that bargain were the values that shaped the both of us, and many of you. Today, those are Barack’s guiding stars.” If only this were true.

Biden’s mission, however, was clear in contrasting the characters of Obama and Romney. Biden provided the audience in Charlotte with a personal, inside perspective of president Obama and his “profound concern for the American people.” He assured the people that President Obama has made very “gutsy decisions” while in office and that his heart is in the right place for the United States.

(John Mcleod, Sam Swank, Ryan Heuler, Nate Jones)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Warren got AIDS talk a seat at DNC, RNC

When President Bill Clinton mentioned in his nominating speech Wednesday night President George W. Bush's support for AIDS initiatives, it was a reminder of how HIV/AIDS has been pretty much been nonexistent in the presidential campaign and general election-year discussions.

The issue did make the Democratic Party's Platform released this week. The platform also acknowledges Bush's role in the AIDS battle noting that President Obama has "made unprecedented progress in the global fight against HIV/AIDS... building on the strong foundation created during the previous administration."

The platform continues: "With his latest budget, the President [Obama] is fulfilling his historic commitment to request $4 billion over three years for the Global Fund, and the President remains committed to robust funding for PEPFAR and the Global Fund in the future. And President Obama lifted the 25-year ban that prevented non-citizens living with HIV from entering the United States, allowing the world's largest group of HIV/AIDS researchers, policymakers, medical professionals, and advocates to convene in Washington to continue their efforts to improve prevention and treatment."

But it took Charlotte's own Debbie Warren to give a presence to HIV/AIDS at the Democratic National Convention this week (and at the Republican National Convention last week). On Wednesday I ran into Warren at a DNC event. Warren founded and heads RAIN - the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network that for 20 years has been helping and educating people about HIV/AIDS.

A while back, Warren called to query national officials about whether there would be be discussions of HIV/AIDS and policies during the national conventions, and suggest that there should be. Officials said they hadn't thought about it. But they found it a good suggestion, and with that planning got under way.

On Tuesday, there was capacity seating for the "Turn the Tide of HIV/AIDS in the U.S." event at the First United Methodist Church uptown. It aimed to educate the community about the importance of health care access and Medicaid expansion for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Discussions about HIV/AIDS at a convention in the South seems particularly appropriate. The South has the greatest number of people living and dying from HIV/AIDS. Four out of ten (40%) Americans living with AIDS reside in the South. Here in Mecklenburg County (Charlotte), seven new cases of HIV were reported on average every week.

Attendees at Tuesday's discussions included members of Congress including California Congresswoman Barbara Jackson Lee, chairman of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, who spoke. Jeffrey Crowley, who served as the Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy and Senior Advisor on Disability Policy for President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2011 was also a speaker. As the President's chief HIV/AIDS advisor, Crowley developed the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States, focused on lowering the number of new HIV infections, increasing access to care, and reducing HIV-related health disparities. Physicians and other health officials, DNC delegates, activists and community leaders and people living with HIV/AIDS were on hand to discuss the state of national HIV/AIDS legislation and policy, and issues related to access to care and treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Before the conventions got under way, Ronald Johnson, AIDS United Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, gave an apt rationale for putting these talks into the political arena. He said that the political conventions "provided and opportunity to remind people that we have the tools to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this country, if we choose to exercise our political will to do it... We must ensure that candidates both commit to and are held accountable for ensuring that people living with HIV in the United States get the life-saving treatment and care they need, and that people who don't have HIV remain HIV-free."

Posted by Fannie Flono

Obama explains his risky move

President Barack Obama just hung up with 65,000 people who had their hopes dashed and won't be seeing his acceptance speech in Charlotte tonight.

"I just want to begin by saying how much I regret that we're not all gathering in one place," Obama said.

His campaign wanted to maximize people's participation in the convention and his campaign, he said. "That's why we wanted to take a chance" by having the final night at the outdoor Bank of America Stadium. Democrats announced Wednesday they would move tonight's events to Time Warner Cable Arena.

"The problem," Obama said, "was a safety issue. I could not ask you (and authorities) to subject themselves to the risk of severe thunderstorms. You can imagine with all the nagging and security issues involved, getting 70,000 people into a place ... and getting them out of there (in case of storms) is even tougher. If we started seeing severe thunderstorms and lightning in particular, it would have been a problem.

"I know it's disappointing. ... My main message is, you can't let a little thunder and lightning get us down. We're going to have to roll with it." forecasts clear skies with zero percent chance of rain at 10 p.m. tonight. Forecasters say there's a 10 to 30 percent chance of rain and isolated storms in the afternoon and early evening hours.

Obama did not take questions. He said his campaign would try to set up events where people who got left out by the switch will get to see him.

The whole episode is an unnecessary misstep for the campaign. The weather is expected to be gorgeous tonight. Organizers knew there was a chance of rain in Charlotte in late summer when they announced months ago the event would be at the stadium. If anything, the weather tonight is expected to be nicer than you would have baked into your calculations when the original plan was drawn up.

We doubt many voters will switch their vote or stay home based on the Obama campaign's overabundance of caution. But in a state that you won by less than one-half of one-percent in 2008, doing anything to dampen voter enthusiasm is an extremely risky move.

Taylor Batten

Elizabeth Warren and Bill Clinton, graded

We're pleased to welcome Wake Forest political communications professor Allan Louden back to the O - and we're happy he's brought some help with him. Louden, a national champion debate coach who has worked with politicians such as Elizabeth Dole, graded speeches and debate performances for us in 2008. This week, he and his political communications class will cast their critical eyes on key DNC speeches, offering a letter grade to each.

On Tuesday, they examined keynote speaker Julian Castro and First Lady Michelle Obama. Today it's Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senate candidate in Massachusetts, and President Bill Clinton.

First off, Elizabeth Warren:

In mid-July President Obama told supporters in Roanoke, Va.: “If you’ve got a business, you did not build that – somebody else made that happen.” You would have thought the political world was asunder as opponents pounced, generating dozens of political spots and speeches. The reality of Obama’s gaffe was no more a crime than an inarticulate parroting of Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren’s powerful defense of government’s role.

The Warren convention speech attempted to right that gaffe Wednesday, through the originator’s voice. But a convention speech is different than a YouTube gone-viral video, rising on an edgy authenticity.

In her speech, Warren mercilessly attacked the Republican Party, accusing them of “chipp[ing], squeeze[ing], and hammer[ing]” the middle class on an already uneven playing field. Brimming with passionate energy, Warren unflinchingly refuted Mitt Romney’s big business focus by stating that “corporations are not people [because] people have hearts.” By displaying Romney as a cold, heartless, impersonal machine, Warren very effectively asked her audience to choose sides.

If she positioned the Republican Party the oppressor, she positioned Obama as the knight in shining armor, the hero of the masses, and the defender of the people. Here she lay on the humanistic appeal and the call to unity. Harkening back to an earlier speech, Warren painted a picture of an America that we “root it in fairness, grow it in opportunity, and we build it together.

The theme was a hit on the convention floor but failed to assess reality from a critical standpoint, offering up sound bites in lieu of concrete examples. Despite claims of “running the country for people and not corporations”—an almost inflammatory remark considering the last trillion dollars worth of bailouts went to American corporations and not the taxpayers—Warren seemed effete and preachy; a little fish in a big pond full of like-minded people who don’t make as much money.

Warren ended the speech to a roaring crowd of like-minded, but may have threatened more voters with a too concentrated enshrining of government. The moments of unique insight- those outside the expected political balderdash, were too few. She is often better when her progressive Teddy Roosevelt heart is exposed, but not when replaced by compliance with the convention script.

Grade: B

Bill Clinton:

Who can doubt that Bill Clinton’s political skills elevate above his peers (and who can doubt that he spoke too long – nearly an hour). His big-voice version of political realities resonated through the hall in Charlotte, and with a little media amplification may resound through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

It is easy to dismiss Clinton’s skills, especially those who cannot forgive former appetites, but he does move audiences with a clarity enjoyed by few. True, the speech after the first few minutes was unashamedly political, but other factors trump. A more interesting question is why is his speaking effective? A few reasons suggest themselves.

Clinton is direct. There is no doubt what the take away is when, in plain language, Clinton makes a point. “I want Barack Obama to be the next President of the United States and I proudly nominate him as the standard bearer of the Democratic Party.” Game on . . .

He dissected the Republican platform with poise, relentlessly. Prefacing his attack on the Romney campaign’s budget proposal and its implications for entitlements with a long list of bi-partisan accomplishments gave the former president a rare measure of ethos in today’s political world. He never came across as mean; instead he seemed disappointed that the programs he had once worked with Republicans to strengthen had become issues of such acrimonious debate today; unsolvable, unwinnable.

Clinton uses argument. After more evidence than others would dare to put in a speech, he offered a position that exceeds slogans, concluding on one refrain: “It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics, because discrimination, poverty and ignorance restrict growth, while investments in education, infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase it.”

One of Clinton’s most effective rhetorical strategies was the running tally he kept of jobs created under Democratic and Republican administrations over the past 52 years. In that time, Republican administrations have created 24 million jobs; the Democrats, 42. “So what’s the job score?” asked the president. “Republicans: 24 million. Democrats: 42.”

This segued into a comparison of President Obama’s job creation as compared to the jobs Congressional Republicans have created since 2008—Obama: 4.5 million. Republicans: 0 — and a comparison of the jobs saved in the auto-bailouts compared to the number of jobs that would have been saved under the Mitt Romney plan of allowing the companies to fold—Obama: 250,000; Romney: 0.

In this way, Mr. Clinton diagrammed the party’s history of job creation and the President’s own record when tested against his two biggest adversaries these past four years in Mitt Romney and the U.S. Congress. Whether or not party or presidential platforms were directly responsible for every job created in Clinton’s analysis was irrelevant last night, all that mattered was the score.

Clinton did not disappoint during his speech. Using a combination of humor, facts, and anecdotes, he captured the crowd with his charismatic rhetoric “I want to nominate a man cool on the outside but burning for America on the inside. . . I want a man for president who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama.” There were echoes of an emblazoned Ted Kennedy of conventions former, but in a voice that invited rather than instructed.

Grade: A+

Student participants: Joe Perretta, Lillis Hendrickson.

DNC Day 3: The Good and Bad (and Ugly)

The Democratic Party's biggest star took the microphone Wednesday - and wouldn't let it go. Guess who's among the winners and losers of the day?

The Good:

Bill Clinton: At 11:03 Wednesday night, President Bill Clinton grabbed the stack of papers that was supposed to be his speech but was really only a guide, and said: "That brings me to health care." By then, his speech already had gone over the time allotment.

At 11:14, he said, "Let's talk about the debt."

Backstage, President Barack Obama probably didn't mind at all.

There will be no better endorsement offered to Obama this election. Clinton was his usual mesmerizing self and more. He methodically tackled the Republicans position by position - from health care to jobs to welfare. He was thorough and passionate, scholarly and charming. "Y'all need to listen," he said more than once. On Paul Ryan attacking Obama on Medicare: "It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did."

Yes, we all remember Clinton's failings. But on this night, to this crowd and beyond, he was a perfect complement to Obama in personality and style. Both of the presidents, like all great speechmakers, can make the big point in simple ways that resonate. But Wednesday, Democrats needed Clinton also to be the sensibility to Obama's soar. Forty-eight minutes later, he'd done just that.

The Bad:

So, we checked the weather forecast this morning - you know, just in case anyone was thinking of making some evening plans. Nothing's changed - 30 percent chance of rain all evening, 20 percent by the time Obama takes the stage. In other words, September in Charlotte.

We've already said we think Democrats blew it Wednesday by moving the president's speech from Bank of America stadium to the arena. We get the concern about lightning, and we understand the worry about optics if everyone decides to avoid a potential storm and show up at 9, clogging the lines and leaving seats empty. All of which were considerations - or should have been - months ago.

Democrats, of course, don't want to go around disappointing 65,000 people, so they'll offer the suddenly ticketless a conference call with Obama this afternoon. That pales with the history of seeing the president accept the nomination, so there understandably was some dismay Wednesday from those who volunteered or stood in line for the opportunity.

There also was some thoughtfulness. Said Teresa Meyers of Waxhaw, who had waited in line for tickets for nearly eight hours: “I may not be in the arena, but I will be there in spirit.”

And the Ugly:

We thought we'd already covered this: No Nazi references, people. Direct or indirect. On Monday, it was the chair of the California Democratic Party linking Republicans to Joseph Goebbels. On Tuesday, it was a Kansas delegate linking Republicans to Hitler.

And now, South Carolina Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian compared S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley to Hitler's mistress. Harpootlian, commenting on Haley appearing at an RNC news conference in the basement of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, told S.C. Democrats that Haley "was down in the bunker a la Eva Braun."

Harpootlain declined to apologize later, instead blaming Haley for having "some hurt feelings."

Peter St. Onge

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Duke Energy feels heat of protesters

Helmeted police on bicycles outnumbered the protesters in front of the Knight Theater Wednesday but the group demonstrating against Duke Energy still managed to put the Charlotte utility in an uncomfortable spotlight again.

Duke is still reeling from a public shellacking in North Carolina for how it handled its merger with Progress Energy. It fired Progress CEO Bill Johnson, who was set to head the merged company, barely twenty minutes after the merger became official this summer. N.C. regulators who had to approve the merger felt deceived by the action.
Wednesday's protests were more political in nature. Duke is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC. It bills itself as nonpartisan but has endorsed and been providing state legislatures and lawmakers with a template of conservative policies, some of them quite controversial such as "Stand Your Ground" gun laws and voter ID legislation which some view as voter suppression schemes. That has prompted a lot of activists to call on companies to drop their membership.

Duke Energy is a prime target, especially during the Democratic National Convention this week. Duke's chief executive Jim Rogers played a big role in getting the DNC here and Duke has underwritten some of the convention and provided the DNC with a huge line of credit.

So it was no surprise that activists cornered Rogers this week and reportedly tried to get him to pledge that Duke would drop its membership. Rogers reportedly told Whit Jones of the Energy Action Coalition that "he'd be listening," when Jones asked if he'd listen to the 100,000 who've allegedly signed petitions for Duke to drop its ALEC ties. When pressed for a firm commitment to drop ALEC Rogers reportedly said "I'm not going to give you [a commitment right now] but you can trust that I'm paying attention to what you're saying, and you'll know in due time."

The activists are putting on a full court press, getting Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer to say he would urge Duke to “get out of ALEC ASAP.”

Other members of Congress apparently are urging the same. Duke is in an embarrassing spot. The activists gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Knight Theater made sure they felt the heat Wednesday.

Clinton tries to spark another first

Monica Who? Ancient history for Democrats.

Former President Bill Clinton basked in his party’s adulation tonight, then stood with surprise guest President Obama and hoped his uncanny popularity was rubbing off in living rooms around the nation.

The two of them hugging on stage would have been considered an unlikely sight four years ago when Obama was in a bruising fight with Clinton’s wife for the nomination.

But that, too, was a distant memory tonight. Clinton avoided potential pitfalls throughout his 50-minute speech. He took shots at Mitt Romney, but didn’t settle for just that. Clinton also overcame his tendency to withhold full-throated endorsements of his peers, backing Obama without reservation as the man to return America to prosperity. And he managed to remind voters of the muscular economy he presided over in the 1990s without sullying Obama with the comparison.

Some voters still remember Clinton more for his moral failings than for leading the nation during a time of great economic strength. But not many. His approval ratings – 69 percent in a USA Today/Gallup poll last month - are higher than they were on his inauguration day in 1993. Almost two of three independents and even almost half of Republicans give him high marks.

So he was an obvious choice to be the opening act, even if there was a risk of overshadowing the main event.

Obama "stopped the slide into depression and put us on the long road to recovery, knowing all the while that no matter how many jobs were created and saved, there were still millions more waiting, trying to feed their children," Clinton said.

It is testament to Clinton’s political skills that he looked the American public in the eye and lied in 1998, and yet Democrats found him utterly believable Wednesday night.

A president has never won reelection in an economy this bad. But Clinton’s climb from impeachment to widespread popularity was a first. Now with Clinton’s help, Obama might pull off another.

Taylor Batten

The professor is back, grading DNC speeches

The Professor is back - with his class this time. We're happy today to re-introduce Allan Louden, a political communications professor from Wake Forest who was one of the most popular features of the Observer's 2008 election blog, The Ballot.

Louden, a national champion debate coach who has worked with politicians such as Elizabeth Dole, graded speeches and debate performances for us in 2008. This week, he and his political communications class will cast their critical eyes on key DNC speeches. Each speech gets a letter grade.

First off is Tuesday's keynote speaker and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, followed by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Julian Castro:

In an evening designed to “fire-up-the-base” and remind voter why they liked Barack Obama in 2008, San Antonio Mayor, Juli├ín Castro filled both bills in what was an old fashioned Keynote speech. He electrified the convention hall and by inference those constituencies who must rally for a Democrat victory in November.

The speech will inevitably be compared to Obama 2004, offering a narrative of single mothers raising promising sons, but it was not so much about Castro as it was a full throttled endorsement of Obama’s vision. Castro’s speech argued it is individual achievement the builds the country yet only in the context “It Takes a Village.” Government was defended as necessary for there to be Opportunity; the Horatio Alger “rags to riches” retold boldly with a Democrat twist; a not so subtle defense of Obama’s awkward “builds a business” comments.

Castro began the speech armed with a powerful personal story about his family’s generational struggle to make it in America, a pitch-perfect narrative for a Democratic Party seeking to strengthen its economic message. Born to a second generation Mexican-American single mother, he focused largely on the importance of investing in education to promote prosperity and maintain the American Dream. “In the end, the American dream is not a sprint or even a marathon, but a relay,” said Castro, referencing the constant support his mother gave to him and his twin brother Joaquin.

Throughout the speech, Castro sought to draw a sharp contrast between President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, both in terms of their experience seeking success and the policies they would implement if they won. In a particularly biting remark against the controversial budget plan crafted by Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, Castro argued we don’t “accept the idea [that] some folks won’t even get a chance. And the thing is, Mitt Romney and the Republican Party are perfectly comfortable with that.”

Mentioning the budget comes with risks, highlighting Democrat’s shortcomings in proposing their own plan to address the deficit.
The speech may have also lacked the policy specificity desired by those who think the country needs a clear road map to economic prosperity rather than lofty overtures to the American Dream, especially when said overtures lack strong references to immigration and voter ID laws, two issues Democrats often play up as impediments to equal opportunity.

Regardless, convention speeches generally check detailed policy at the door in favor of allowing potential up-and-comers to show their party why they should be a household name. Indeed, Julian Castro may be on the tongues of many left-leaning Americans in the coming days.
If his keynote address was any indication of what’s to come when President Obama formally accepts the party nomination on Thursday night, Democrats may just leave Charlotte with enough inspiration to carry them through November.

Grade: A-

Michelle Obama:

Michelle Obama told a love story that evoked Camelot in perfection, yet grounded in the nitty-gritty of overcoming hard times, sustained by enduring values. The story was compelling, an authentic call to the romantic in all of us. Yet it also was a designed political speech.

If voters feel in love with Obama in 2008, drawn to his optimism, they were reminded that he has not changed at all. The “President” is the same guy she met 23 years ago, the embodiment of the American Dream, the call to the better angel in all of us.

She loved him more now that when they met, more than when be assumed office; and so can you. She eloquently touched basis on every major hot topic during this campaign season, all while paint the picture of her husband as the kind of man America wants running this country.

Still, the Obamas may have suffered economic hardship at times in their life, but in the current economy, their circumstances are far removed from those of the struggling working class, not to mention the unemployed.

But the speech had political weight, touching on Barack Obama’s economic, foreign, and social policies through her perspective as a woman, wife and mother. An example: Citing the hard times she went through in her younger years, Mrs. Obama celebrated Mr. Obama’s legislation to provide equal pay for women and lower financial aid for college students.

Time after time, the contrast was subtly drawn between the her struggles, the President’s struggles and a privileged Mitt Romney, all done without ever openly saying so. “Like so many American families, our families weren’t asking for much.”

Grade: A-

Student Contributors: Taylor Harvey, James Harris, Cameron Goguen, Ryan Bauder, Maeve Coyle, Taylor Barlow, Richard Min, Niko Spezial, Kerrigan O' Malley, Brandon Ng, Delon Lowe.