For Democrats and unaffiliated liberals, the past four years have been a disappointing slog in which Republicans have controlled the political narrative on nearly every major issue.
Healthcare reform became Obamacare, replete with death panels. The debate over the debt ceiling became a criticism of the stimulus package. The recent decision to let states determine welfare work requirements, a proposal that almost sounds Republican, became the dismantling of the American work ethic.
In terms of communication, the Democrats have demonstrated a stunning and stupefying inability to defend themselves against an efficient, ruthless, and effective Republican machine.
These recent losses have created a sizable group of disillusioned Democrats and frustrated independents shocked and dismayed by the party’s incompetence. As a result, many members of the liberal base, from fervent party supporters to liberal centrists, have become politically apathetic.
This is why the Democratic Party could never create a movement parallel to the Tea Party. This is why the Democratic Party could not mobilize the support of the Occupy Movement. And this is why the Democratic Party received a political bludgeoning during the 2010 midterm elections.
If this ineptitude continued, the Democratic Party would cease to matter as a political entity.
Yet, the Democratic National Convention last week showed a party energized, eloquent, and finally ready to rebuff the rhetoric of the Republicans.
It started on Tuesday night with an inspired speech by Massachusetts governor Deval L. Patrick ’78 (Full disclosure: I am currently an intern in the Governor’s press office). In his address, Patrick called for “Democrats to stiffen [their] backbone and stand up for what [they] believe.”
Even better, he actually stated those beliefs in a way that directly countered recent Republican criticisms.
The disillusioned have waited four years for that speech, beginning with the speeches of a certain Presidential candidate whose rhetorical skill seemingly disappeared when he entered the oval office.
The articulation and defense of Democratic ideals then became a major theme of the convention.
President Bill Clinton almost restored the Democratic message singlehandedly, delivering a speech uniquely Clintonian in its length and more substantive on policy than any other in recent memory.
We can criticize the Democratic Party for its message, but we can no longer criticize it for not having one.
However, the restoration of Democratic rhetoric may not change the tone of a campaign marred by deliberately misleading advertisements and blatant distortions of basic facts.
After the Republican nomination of Paul Ryan for vice-president, many pundits proclaimed that the candidates would finally focus on the substantive issues. Unfortunately, that never happened.