WASHINGTON -- For Americans who watched the first nights of the Democratic National Convention this week, something important and revealing could be seen and heard: The party was explaining, point-by-point, what President Obama was actually thinking in his first four years.
For the first time, the president's chronology of actions began to come clear even to professional political types who have been asking: "Why is he doing that? And now?"
Why health care, during his first year, when it blotted out issues such as saving the economy? It still is a mystery to many, but Maryland's impressive Gov. Martin O'Malley explained it on TV quite convincingly before the convention started.
The reason was simple, he said. The costs of health care were the trouble cards in the political deck. These, plus Social Security, were what was eating up America's income, making "entitlements" the problems that must be dealt with, if we were to tame the national deficits and debt. So, President Obama put health care first, trying to solve the problem by moving much of the cost over to the insurance companies (where they belong, not incidentally) and bringing tens of millions more people into health insurance, thus defraying the national costs.
Hmmm, I never quite understood that!
When Bill Clinton got up on the stage Wednesday night, the former president clarified things even further. The president "inherited a deeply flawed situation," Clinton said. Obama found the potential economic collapse far closer than he had thought. (Another speaker noted that the auto industries had told Obama that they had two weeks before bankruptcy.)
And in these four years, he has put a safety net under those sicknesses in the economy; he saved the auto companies, and the government has been repaid for that investment; he began the slow upward trend in the economy that we are now seeing every month; he withdrew our troops from the hated Iraq war and began the withdrawal from Afghanistan; he put into practice a new payment schedule for student loans, allowing tens of thousands of students to stay in school, rather than having to drop out in order to pay their loans; and, of course, there was health care.
Jobs? Clinton wandered back 52 years over both Democratic and Republican administrations. He found that "our country produced 66 million jobs in those years." The Republicans produced 24 million, and the Democrats 42 million. Thus, the Republicans in their Tampa convention were living in an "alternate universe" when they talked about job creation.
Furthermore, Clinton spoke of the historic Democratic response over those years when it came to working with Republicans. "We believe that we're all in this together, and that that is a better philosophy than, 'You're on your own.' Who's right?"
"Although I often disagree with Republicans," he went on, "I never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate our president and the Democrats.
"Constant conflict may be good politics, but in the real world, cooperation works better. After all, nobody's right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice a day."
Indeed, this idea that today's Republicans stand only for "Me, first," while the Democrats believe that the nation is best when it cooperates and shares, ran through the convention. As an ex-worker from Mitt Romney's Bain Capital told the crowd, "I don't fault (Romney) because he made money, I fault him for lacking a moral purpose."
And as first lady Michelle Obama said in her remarkably deft speech, "You do not shut the door of opportunity behind you -- you give others the opportunity you had."
You also give others the health and emotional care you had, particularly when they have suffered in the service of America's wars. (I promise I won't go into these wars now -- I still feel too angry about Iraq and Afghanistan.) It was left to retired general Eric Shinseki, now Veterans Affairs chief, to note that some 800,000 American vets are getting care from his office's hospitals, and that tens of thousands of psychologists and doctors have been hired to deal with the aftermath of battle, thus stretching into the long-term future the costs of these wasteful and purposeless wars.
In short, it is pretty much true that the Republicans presented, as Bill Clinton wryly said, a policy of "We left him a total mess, he hasn't cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in."
But perhaps the most touching appeals were the constantly repeated and apparently heartfelt ideas that helping one's brothers and sisters, embracing appropriate cooperation over unbridled competition, and putting into place the permanent infrastructure that will offer equal opportunity for all are the moral and ethical precepts that should guide the country.
So don't worry about the Democrats. Whatever happens, they'll always have Charlotte.