A tale of two conventions

Less than 600 miles separate Tampa, Fla. (where the Republican National Convention was held) from Charlotte, N.C. (where Democrats will hold their convention this week). But the ideas and policies advanced in the two political pep rallies are worlds apart.

Memories of the Republican convention are fading fast, eclipsed now by anticipation for the Democratic convention. But this midpoint between the conventions provides an opportunity to consider the fundamental divide that separates the two major American political parties.

The RNC was foremost a celebration of American exceptionalism, the idea that America is a unique force for good in the world.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave a stirring speech in which she asked, “Where does America stand? … When our friends and our foes alike do not know the answer to that question – clearly and unambiguously –the world is a chaotic and dangerous place. The U.S. has since the end of World War II had an answer – we stand for free peoples and free markets, we are willing to support and defend them – we will sustain a balance of power that favors freedom.”

But Rice reminded us that America shouldn’t apologize for greatness. “When the world looks to America, they look to us because we are the most successful political and economic experiment in human history,” she said. “That is the true basis of ‘American exceptionalism.’ The essence of America – that which really unites us – is not ethnicity or nationality or religion – it is an idea – and what an idea it is: that you can come from humble circumstances and do great things.”

The RNC was also a celebration of a country that encourages ambition and promises the opportunity of success to anyone who works hard and plays by the rules. Rice talked about her implausible transition from a young black girl in Jim Crow Birmingham to U.S. Secretary of State.

Senator Marco Rubio also touched on this theme in his speech on Thursday night. “In this country, you will be able to accomplish all the things we never could,” Rubio recounted his father, an immigrant from Cuba, telling him.

But it was the Republican presidential nominee who highlighted the deepest dividing line between the Republican and Democratic visions of America. “We look to our communities, our faiths, our families for our joy, our support, in good times and in bad,” Romney said. “The strength and power and goodness of America has always been based on the strength and power and goodness of our communities, our families our faiths. This is the bedrock of what makes America, America.”

This is a very different vision for America than what will be offered this week at the Democratic National Convention. President Obama views Americans as wards of the state. “The Life of Julia,” the Obama campaign’s online story, follows a fictional character, Julia, through life in Obama’s America.

Julia is controlled and directed at every point in her life by government. Her reproductive, professional and financial decisions are not truly hers but the state’s. Faith, family and civil society are almost entirely absent from Julia’s life. As Paul Ryan said about this idea of America, it is “a government-planned life, where everything is free but us.”

The conservative idea of America is rooted in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. It’s the central idea of America, that all men are created equal and that our inalienable rights are endowed to us by God.

Democrats seldom refer to the second paragraph. Tellingly, when President Obama cites the second paragraph, he often intentionally omits reference to our creator. But the idea that our liberty comes from God, not from government, is what makes America unique, what makes it exceptional.

This week Democrats will pay homage not to God or the rights He has bestowed on us but instead to the supposed benefits of the ever-encroaching welfare state.

The RNC’s themes were “We built that,” “We believe in America” and “Obama isn’t working.” The official Obama campaign motto is “forward.” But a more apt motto would be “It could be worse.” Democrats will no doubt spend the week making excuses for Obama’s terrible stewardship of the economy, and they’ll continue to look back to blame Bush for Obama’s broken promises.

Democrats will also try to recapture some of the enthusiasm and sense of hope of 2008 (which perhaps explains why the Obama campaign is still selling memorabilia from the 2008 campaign on its online store).

Whatever the outcome of the Democrats’ convention this week, one thing is certain: No one who tunes in will be left in any doubt about the very different visions the parties have for the country and its future.

“You are entitled to the clearest possible choice because the time for choosing is drawing near,” Paul Ryan told the country in his acceptance speech. And on November 6th, the country will be given the chance to act on that clear choice.