By the time Michelle Obama walked onstage for her prime-time speech, the emerging theme of the convention was being displayed on a hand-held sign near the entrance.
“Don’t Be Afraid to Celebrate!” it read.
Delegates arrived here from around the country Tuesday hoping to recast the presidential campaign and reenergize their party. Instead of focusing on President Obama’s unfulfilled promises or the serious problems facing the country, they spoke mostly about what has been accomplished and what can still be done. After years of negativity and partisan divisiveness, they sought solace in a community of like minds. And after years of merely defending Obama’s policies, they celebrated some of them.
The past three years have exacted a toll on even the most ardent Democrats here. They have spent much of their energy propping up the president amid a declining economy, a flourishing conservative movement and a Congress that remains all but gridlocked.
They came here, some delegates said, to remind each other — and the country — that everything isn’t so bad.
“We need to show the world that we are proud of the things this president has done,” said Mike Golojuch, 68, a delegate from Hawaii. “Has it been perfect? No. But there’s a lot that has gone right. We need to shout about it. We need to own it.”
It is a strategy that comes with risk for Obama’s supporters. By touting the president’s record, they enhance it as a target for opponents. By boasting of his accomplishments, they risk trivializing the problems that remain. Polling shows that more Americans strongly oppose Obama’s health-care law than strongly support it. They give Obama’s stewardship of the economy consistently negative reviews.
Golojuch arrived in Charlotte to find everyone shouting: the carnival barker on the corner selling 62 kinds of Obama buttons; the rock band singing a tribute to the president’s daughter Malia; the Planned Parenthood supporters marching in pink shirts; the Obama impersonator walking on stilts; the man with a megaphone reading a list of every bill Obama has signed into law.
Moments before the first speaker took the stage to pound the gavel and start the convention, delegates broke into spontaneous chants of “Four more years!” and “Fired up, ready to go!”
“Thank goodness,” Golojuch said. “We needed some fun.”
He had flown in a few days earlier from Hawaii, taking a week off from his job in human resources for a county government. It was a good time for a vacation, he said. His county budget had recently been cut by 10 percent, and Golojuch was in charge of looking over a list of job titles to judge which ones might be expendable. He had agreed to take a 5 percent pay cut and then paid more than $6,000 to travel to Charlotte with his wife and son, raising money for the trip by e-mailing friends and family.