Michelle Obama’s speech last night effectively used personal stories about her family and marriage in an effort to rekindle an emotional bond with middle class Americans — and to draw an implicit contrast with the Romneys’ lack of shared experience with them. But what’s particularly notable is how central Obamacare was to her effort — and to the overall goals of the first night of the Dem convention, even though it’s supposedly such a political liability.
In one sense, this isn’t that surprising; conventions are about reviving the passions of the party faithful. But the unabashed touting of Obamacare was about more than pumping the base — it was also an effort to recast the law in the eyes of key swing and undecided voters, such as married women, independent women, and so-called “waitress moms.” From her speech:
When it comes to the health of our families, Barack refused to listen to all those folks who told him to leave health reform for another day, another president.
He didn’t care whether it was the easy thing to do politically — that’s not how he was raised — he cared that it was the right thing to do.
He did it because he believes that here in America, our grandparents should be able to afford their medicine...our kids should be able to see a doctor when they’re sick...and no one in this country should ever go broke because of an accident or illness.
As E.J. Dionne notes, the beauty of Ms. Obama’s speech is that it moved multiple political messages while striking a decidedly apolitical tone, and this passage is no exception. Her references to Obamacare being difficult politically were an appeal to voters to reconsider criticism they’ve heard of the law and rethink it in more accessible and personal terms — what it means to children, victims of accidents, and people with preexisting conditions, and what it says about the President’s willingness to fight to protect them, to his own detriment.
In keeping with the speech’s tone, Ms. Obama did not directly call out Mitt Romney for his vow to repeal Obamacare and the impact that would have on millions of Americans. But other major speakers, such as San Antonio mayor Julian Castro, attacked Romney’s opposition to expanded access to health care as something that would help devastate the middle class. And one of the most emotionally riveting moments of the night came when a mother worried aloud on stage about what Romney’s vow to repeal Obamacare would mean to her daughter, who was born with a congenital heart defect.
The Dem polling firm Democracy Corps argues in a new memo that Democrats should embrace Obamacare and aggressively educate voters on how the law makes health care more affordable and strengthens the safety net. The memo says a message about affordability and protecting the vulnerable resonates with key Dem constituencies, such as unmarried women, Latinos, and young voters. But a strong message about Romney/Ryan’s backward-looking positions on women’s health issues can help Dems gain with swing constituencies like married women and suburban and professional voters, who might otherwise be tempted to see the election as being only about the economy.
If Dems want to draw a sharp contrast between an Obama second term and a Romney first term, Obamacare should play a key role. If Obama wins, a law placing checks on insurance companies and expanding coverage to millions will continue to be implemented and fine-tuned. If Romney wins, the law may be repealed, taking insurance away from millions, returning us to a pre-reform free-for-all and probably setting the stage for yet another series of divisive national battles over health care down the line. Whatever people tell pollsters about Obamacare, they certainly don’t want that to happen. And I’m not talking just about Dem base voters. The true undecided voters who will determine the outcome of the election most assuredly won’t want that either, if the choice is made clear to them.
* Mitt Romney’s dreams of 1980: An important nugget from today’s New York Times story on the “are you better off” question:
Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, speaks often of that election in meetings with donors and other supporters, citing it to reassure those who are alarmed that he has not been able to build a lead against a president burdened with a listless economy, ballooning federal debt and a jobless rate deep in the red zone for an incumbent.
So Romney himself talks about what happened in 1980 to reassure nervous supporters. As I’ve outlined here and here, the comparison between that election and the current one is strained, to put it mildly. Either way, this again suggests that the Romney camp continues to draw this comparison because it needs a theory of the race that explains why he is still not winning yet.
* A sanitized history of the Democratic Party: Glenn Kessler, in his fact check of the Dem convention, is right about this: The party should not be claiming it led the fight for civil rights “for more than 200 years.”
* Cooked up claims about jobs? As Kessler notes in the above link, the ubiquitous Dem claim about 4.5 million jobs created is also very problematic. However, this is an important point:
The end of the recession, June 2009, would be a more logical date from which to start counting jobs created; that would reduce the total to 3.4 million (for private sector jobs) or 2.3 million (for all jobs).
The Romney campaign is widely claiming that jobs were destroyed on Obama’s watch, by citing a bogus “net job loss” figure that has already been widely debunked. But millions of jobs were created under Obama if you start the clock after his policies kicked in. Any news org that quotes Romney’s “net” jobs metric without explaining it is helping Romney mislead its readers and viewers.
* No bump among independents from GOP convention: A new Post/ABC poll finds that the convention helped Romney recover some ground on the favorability front — but it was mostly driven by Republican enthusiasm. This is key:
While positive views of Romney ticked up among all Americans, there was no significant movement among registered voters...Nor did Romney get a clear bump among political independents, who as a group have been downbeat on the Republican nominee all year long. Half of all independents currently have an unfavorable impression of Romney, while a third are favorable, with both sides of the equation essentially unmoved from a week ago.
* How specific will Obama get in convention speech? Dan Balz reports that Obama advisers are promising that Obama will outline a very detailed picture of what his second term will look like. I hope so; a very sharp forward-looking contrast between an Obama second term and a Romney presidency is imperative in order to prevent the election from being only a referendum on the economy under Obama.
* Obama was right to grade himself “incomplete”: Rahm Emanuel gets it right: Obama’s self-grade of incomplete was an accurate assessment of his own performance and the amount of work that lies ahead on the economy.
Republicans jumped on this quote; we’ll see how this plays out, but I’d be very surprised if swing voters hold it against Obama. They want candor about the state of the economy.
* The key to Michelle Obama’s speech: James Downie says it well: She connected personal stories to Obama’s policies, and to the larger single animating idea that this election should be all about.
* And the reality check of the day: Jim Tankersley:
The middle class in America today is not better off than it was four years ago, not better off than it was at the end of the Great Recession in 2009, not even better off than when President Clinton left office in 2001. This is the truth that Democrats must confront as they anchor their national convention theme in Charlotte on vows of support for American workers: The middle class has been declining for more than a decade, including through the Obama recovery.
Another reminder that Obama will have to persuade voters to take the long view.