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.
In an evening designed to “fire-up-the-base” and remind voter why they liked Barack Obama in 2008, San Antonio Mayor, Julián 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.
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.