Diversity alive and well at DNC as Michelle Obama, Julian Castro star


Everything the Republicans did last week, the Democrats appear to be doing better than their counterparts in just about every way this week.

From day one, the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina seemed to have a different energy and look. The convention floor was filled with people who looked like America. Asian-spotting was no strain on the neck or eyes here. Asian Americans were in the cutaways, multiple times, as well as on the podium. Diversity showed up in such a big way with the Democrats, the GOP looked pallid and ghostly by comparison.

In Charlotte, there were blacks, Latinos, and Asians everywhere the camera could see. Gay people were waving rainbow flags and mentioned in speeches. There were Sikhs in turbans. How many turbans did you see in Tampa? When music played, there was better looking poster dancing in the DNC crowd. Was it the rhythm? And when the speeches were given, every one of them seemed to communicate gold. Even the possible Eastwood wildcard, Kal Penn, of “Harold and Kumar” fame, was straight and on message. His mission was to inspire the youth demo, which he did using a four-letter word: vote.

And when you didn’t think it could get any better, it did.

If there were any doubts how Michelle Obama has grown immensely in her role as First Lady of the United States, they were all erased last night. She seemed definitely ready not just for a second term, but perhaps even more. From FLOTUS to POTUS? She has become perhaps the most popular political figure in the land.

Mrs. Obama, stunning in a sleeveless dress, made the case for her husband Barack’s second term with a graceful, yet forceful, speech spoken from the heart. She linked policy with the personal, painting the president in a powerfully appealing way: as a family man who tackles the issues of the country as if he were fighting for his own family.

“For Barack, these issues aren’t political–they’re personal, because Barack knows what it means when a family struggles,” said Mrs. Obama. “Barack knows the American Dream because he’s lived it…and he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love.”

“And he believes that when you’ve worked hard and done well and walked through the doorway of opportunity…you do not slam it shut behind you…you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”

The passage was just one of many that drew big, long 15-second cheers. It conveyed the president’s motivations to work hard with the same values he had when she first met him.

“He’s the same man who started his career by turning down high paying jobs and instead working in struggling neighborhoods,” Mrs. Obama said. “Because for Barack, success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”

More cheers.

Mrs. Obama’s speech was better than Ann and Mitt Romney’s put together. Mitt Romney only wishes he could have given the kind of speech Mrs. Obama did. But then he wouldn’t be a privileged white guy with a Cayman Island bank account.

Sure, Mitt Romney’s bit about the rose his father gave his mother was a nice touch. But Mrs. Obama talked of her father with MS and his sacrifices for his kids. And she talked of the president’s single mom and grandmother and their sacrifices. Mrs. Obama gave the rebuttal to the “He’s a nice guy, but he failed so let’s give another guy a chance” argument.

Why Obama? Because he’s going to fight for our sons and daughters, and give them a “sense of limitless possibility–that belief that here in America, there is always something better out there if you’re willing to work for it.”

That passage led to the speech’s rousing ending, urging one and all to “come together and stand for the man we can trust to keep moving this great country forward.”

There was that motto again. Forward. Didn’t make sense to me until I saw the RNC last week. But after that, it’s clear. And with Mrs. Obama’s overwhelmingly good speech setting a standard, the momentum keeps building for the Dems this week with the best speakers yet to come.


Mrs. Obama was the star on Day One, but there were a couple of close seconds. Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts was both a dynamic and effective speaker. But the black vote is locked up for Obama; the Latino vote isn’t quite yet. So while the GOP likes to talk up Sen. Marco Rubio as its Latino magnet, at the DNC the Democrats unleashed Rubio’s equal, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.

Castro, a Harvard Law-trained son of Mexican immigrants, was surprisingly good. Articulate, touching, and in full command, he was so good that by the end, some were dreaming of the diverse possibilities of Castro as the next Obama, maybe paired with the First Lady in 2016? 2020?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Castro has a purpose now. He connected with people as he told his immigrant story, including the part where his grandmother paid for the delivery of his birth by winning a menudo cook-off and paying the hospital bill with the $300 prize.

And then he became the gentle attack dog, as he showcased the Obama record and declared how Romney “doesn’t get it.”

Castro merely pointed out all the things that Obama has done for the middle class, women’s rights, gay rights–and how “Mitt Romney says, ‘No.‘” That is, except for health care: “Actually, Mitt Romney said, ‘Yes,’ and now he says, ‘No.‘”

“Governor Romney has undergone an extreme makeover, and it ain’t pretty,” said Castro. “So here’s what we’re going to say to Mitt Romney. We’re going to say, ‘No.‘”

It was an effective hook without being too negative. And it made one realize just how much had been done in four years. The president might give himself an “incomplete.” But how many of you had forgotten the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Act on equal pay? (You wouldn’t have last night. Not after hearing from Lilly Ledbetter herself, of Ledbetter vs. Goodyear, with her blonde hair and Kentucky twang.)

All of it was articulated through a personal framework that connects with all voters.

And when Castro made the case, the focus was Latino voters.

The minority vote is almost the surefire way President Obama can get to the needed 270 electoral votes. Analysts say if Obama can wrap up 80 percent of the minority vote, he can beat Romney handily in November.

Obama already has virtually all of the black vote and 63 percent of the Latino vote. Castro should help Obama add to his lead there.

Now what about that Asian American vote? People seem to have forgotten that as many as 31 percent of us in key battleground states like Virginia and Nevada are undecided.

As rousing as the first day was, and even though Asian Americans weren’t invisible, Asian Americans were still somewhat marginalized. Obama Administration member Tammy Duckworth, who is running for Congress in Illinois and a disabled vet, has always been a favorite of mine. Good thing she’s a favorite of Obama. She got some play. So did the president’s sister Maya Soetero-Ng. As did the aforementioned Kal Penn.

But on a night with mayors from Charlotte and Minneapolis, nothing for San Francisco’s Ed Lee? Oakland mayor Jean Quan? Are our highest ranking Asian Americans not ready for prime time?

Rep. Judy Chu, Cabinet Secretary Eric Shinseki, and California Attorney General Kamala Harris are Day 2 speakers. But as you look on the roster and see the future for blacks and Latinos in the party embodied in Deval Patrick and Julian and Joaquin Castro, the absence of Asian American leaders on the level of a young Norm Mineta or Mike Honda was noticeable.

Young Asian Americans are making their way up, young pols like the president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, David Chiu. Still, it was a minor disappointment on what was overall a very, very good night.

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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