Julián Castro at the DNC, new Democratic rock star

by Russell's Rants

Originally published September 5, 2012

Julián Castro, the 37 year old Mayor of San Antonio, gave the keynote address at the opening night of the Democratic National Convention. And, boy, did he hit the high notes.

He did triple-duty: introducing himself, selling the President and rebutting some of the nonsense that came out of Tampa at the Republican National Convention last week.

Mayor Castro introduced himself a second-generation Mexican-American immigrant, raised by a grandmother who did domestic work and a mother who was a Latino civil rights worker. His grandmother paid the hospital bill for his and his brother’s birth with $300 that she won at a menudo cook-off. I’ve never been to a menudo cook-off, but will accept the next invitation offered.

His personal story gave Castro the ability to describe the essence of American Exceptionalism better than any of the chest-thumping Anglo-Saxons at the RNC:

“My family’s story isn’t special. What’s special is the America that makes our story possible. Ours is a nation like no other, a place where great journeys can be made in a single generation. No matter who you are or where you come from, the path is always forward.”

“America didn’t become the land of opportunity by accident. My grandmother’s generation and generations before always saw beyond the horizons of their own lives and their own circumstances. They believed that opportunity created today would lead to prosperity tomorrow. That’s the country they envisioned, and that’s the country they helped build. The roads and bridges they built, the schools and universities they created, the rights they fought for and won – these opened the doors to a decent job, a secure retirement, the chance for your children to do better than you did.”

Bonus points for connecting American Exceptionalism to the policies promulgated, enacted and promoted by the Barack Obama and the Democratic Party – those that support and sustain the middle class. Also a nice rejoinder to the “you didn’t build that” claptrap of Team Romney.

I have heard some conservative criticism that the civil rights group, Raza Unida, with which Castro’s mother was involved in the 1970’s might be considered a bit too radical for good taste. Maybe so. But the intellectual McCarthyism that has become popular on the far right (from casting unsupported aspersions against Huma Abedin to Barack Obama himself in a zany new faux-documentary) has to be called out for its essentially non-American thesis: that our intellectual beliefs may be discerned by those of our relatives, friends or associates – rather than our own stated convictions and deeds. How would Irving Kristol fare under this new McCarthyite gaze? Although the founder of the neo-conservative movement in the 1970’s, Kristol got his start as a young Trotskyist at City College New York in the 1930’s. Kristol should be judged based on the views he espoused in his maturity, as should be everyone else in the public arena.

Castro closed his speech with a strong critique of what the Romney-Ryan policies would do to the middle class. He told a funny story demonstrating how out of touch Romney was at a recent Ohio university visit. He encouraged the students to show some entrepreneurial moxie by staring a business. But when asked how, Romney’s advice? “Borrow money if you have to from your parents.” Castro’s critique:

“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.

“We know that in our free market economy some will prosper more than others. What we don’t accept is the idea that some folks won’t even get a chance. And the thing is, Mitt Romney and the Republican Party are perfectly comfortable with that America. In fact, that’s exactly what they’re promising us.

“The Romney-Ryan budget doesn’t just cut public education, cut Medicare, cut transportation and cut job training. It doesn’t just pummel the middle class – it dismantles it. It dismantles what generations before have built to ensure that everybody can enter and stay in the middle class.”

Or as Michelle Obama would later echo in her address: “. . . when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity. . . you do not slam it shut behind you. . . you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”

Both Michelle Obama and Julián Castro have walked through that doorway of opportunity in their own generation. The difference from Romney is not only that he is a generation removed from that journey, but that he wants to slam the door shut for the next one.