CHARLOTTE - Wet weather outside the Time Warner Cable Arena didn't prevent Democrats gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina, from enthusiastically celebrating the first night of their National Convention. Rising to their feet time and time again, the audience members cheered and waved American flags - or teddy bears decorated with colorful political buttons - and some even danced. Participants proudly displayed "Arab American Democrat" and "We love our president" signs, while a girl wearing a vest scribbled with "women for Obama" chanted "Forward, not backward!"
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter addressed the Convention in a video message. The 87-year-old said that in two months he intends to cast his vote for Obama, claiming the current president "restored the United States' reputation of overseas" by making dialogue possible again. "America needs a president who shares your dreams. We have such a leader in the White House," Carter said, mentioning among other things the "historic healthcare reform that I called for it in this convention 36 years ago."
Republicans rejected the comment, saying claiming Obama's record is "even worse" than Carter's.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is busy this week preparing for the debates, but he appeared at the Democratic National Convention in a video, which was splashed over a huge screen.
The video depicted Romney during his failed campaign for a Massachusetts Senate seat. Excerpts from a 1994 debate between Romney and the late Senator Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy were shown.
Then, there was Obama with Kennedy, and mentions of his achievements fulfilling Senator Kennedy's vision on healthcare, women rights and gay rights.
Former Congressman Robert Wexler provided a long and detailed description of Obama's commitment to Israel's security, presenting various examples - from his visit to Sderot to funding the Iron Dome. Wexler, who served as a Democratic Member of Congress for seven terms, representing Florida's 19th district in the U.S. House of Representatives before retiring in 2010 to become president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, called on Mitt Romney, who said Obama has thrown Israel under the bus, "to listen to those who know best."
Wexler, who is also a member of Obama's National Security Advisory Committee for the 2012 re-election campaign, was referring to Israeli leaders who have thanked Obama for his support. His remark was met with applause, but it seemed mildly unexcited.
Day 1, Democratic National Convention in Charlotte
Jared Polis, Congressman from Colorado, started his speech on a personal note: "My great-grandparents were immigrants. I am Jewish. I am gay. I am a father. I am a son. I am an entrepreneur. I am a congressman from Colorado. I am always an optimist. But first and foremost, I am an American." Citing diversity as source of American strength, and Obama's vision as one that can overcome the divisions, Polis continued by saying, "Now is our chance to tell the dividers 'No;' tell the special interests and cynical Washington insiders 'No;' tell the lobbyists and PACs 'No;' and tell our fellow countrymen and women, gay and straight, Christians, Jews, Mormons, Muslims and nonbelievers, rich and poor, black and white, Latino and Asian, east and west, north and south - it is time to tell them "Yes." Together we are stronger, together we are better, together we are America!"
One of the speakers who received the most applause was Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago and the former White House chief of staff. He reminded the Democrat audience that when Obama took office, the economy "was in a free fall, the auto industry on its back, the banks frozen up. You remember the uncertainty and fear that seized the country. On that first day, I said, 'Mr. President, which crisis do you want to tackle first?' He looked at me, with that look he usually reserved for his chief of staff: 'Rahm, we were sent here to tackle all of them, not choose between them.'"
Obama, Emanuel said, delivered the change he promised. "During the last 29 months, the 4.5 million jobs were added to the economy. Banks are slowly but surely lending again, and never again will taxpayers foot the bill for Wall Street's excesses. In case we forgot, that was the change we believed in."
Emanuel later said, "One thing I know with absolute certainty, having served two great presidents, is that in the next four years an unforeseen crisis, challenge or conflict is going to seize the country. Whose leadership, whose judgment, whose values do you want in the White House when that crisis lands like a thud on the Oval Office desk? A person who said in four words, 'Let Detroit go bankrupt,' or a president who had another four words, 'Not on my watch'?"
There was also a family moment, long ahead of the First Lady's speech. Craig Robinson, Michelle Obama's brother and Maya Soetoro-ng, Barack Obama's half-sister, spoke about the values the candidate and his spouse were raised on: the "willingness to work hard, a commitment to education and the responsibility to look out for each other." Robinson said that they are "the values at the core of how Barack and Michelle have lived their lives, raised our nieces and led this country as president and first lady of the United States."
The delegates on the floor were well warmed up before the speech of the rising star of the Democratic party, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, the first Hispanic politician to give a keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. Responding to repeated claims made at the Republican convention that Barack Obama "doesn't get it (the value of American enterprise and how it works)," Castro retorted by saying "Mitt Romney, quite simply, doesn't get it."
"A few months ago he visited a university in Ohio and gave the students there a little entrepreneurial advice: 'Start a business,' he said. But how? 'Borrow money if you have to from your parents,' he told them. Gee, why didn't I think of that? Some people are lucky enough to borrow money from their parents, but that shouldn't determine whether you can pursue your dreams. I don't think Governor Romney meant any harm. I think he's a good guy. He just has no idea how good he's had it," said Castro. In Tampa, Castro said, the country heard "fictions". "What Romney and Ryan don't understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it."
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