All eyes are looking ahead to tonight's Clinton speech, but I thought I'd use the wait to comment on the other two major speakers from last night, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. Again, it's hard to calculate how much impact, if any, these "down-card" speeches make, but they were both as brilliant, in their own ways, as Mrs. Obama's. Governor Patrick buttressed a pillar of the Obama campaign's case against Romney that he was a weak governor of Massachusetts. This argument hasn't gained much, if any traction, but Patrick made a persuasive case on the statistics. But more importantly, he made that argument within a theme repeated later by Castro: The Romney-Ryan ticket doesn't understand the central tenet of the American dream — that government has a role in helping create opportunities.
Castro was razor sharp on this point, delivering what may have been the most cutting line of either convention so far. He recounted Mitt Romney telling a group of college students that they ought to consider starting a business. Where might these potential entrepreneurs find the seed money? According to Castro's account, Romney suggested, "borrow money from your parents if you have to." Castro paused, and said, "Gee, why didn't I think of that." The mayor went on to say that Romney is a good guy; he just has "no idea how good he's had it."
Beyond these great lines, Castro powerfully elaborated on the central theme that so divides this year's presidential candidates: the proper role of government. What is special, he said, is not his family's story of achievement in the face of long odds; what's special is that America made it possible. (Castro could have made the same point about the families of Michelle Obama, Paul Ryan and millions of other Americans who relied on some form of a hand-up.)
The mayor went on to say that America does this by actively creating opportunities for people. As Castro put it, opportunity today (investment in education, infrastructure, etc) has always been essential to prosperity tomorrow. If we sever that link, as Romney-Ryan would, we become a very different and poorer country. The Democrats are off to a strong start, indeed.