Last week, Republicans spun a narrative of immigrants and first generation Americans who had pulled themselves up through the toil and sacrifice of their families and their own hard work. It served two purposes at the GOP convention in Tampa. First, it showcased some diversity in the GOP’s office-holding ranks – diversity only lightly reflected in the gathering of delegates. Second, it buttressed the Republican notion that with hard work and determination, anything is possible in America.
On Tuesday, keynoter Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, wove a Democratic counter-narrative: Americans who had prospered from their own hard work and the sacrifice of their families, yes, but also because of government-facilitated opportunities essential to the American dream.
Texas was a place that believed in the rugged individual, he said, but though the Lone Star State expected people to work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, “we also recognize there are some things we can’t do alone.”
He and his twin brother, Joaquin, had met brilliant people attending Stanford and Harvard Law School, he said, but some of their high-school classmates had had every bit as much potential.
“I realized the difference wasn’t one of intelligence or drive,” he said. “The difference was opportunity.”
To provide such opportunity, Castro said, San Antonio was expanding pre-K opportunities and had started Café College, a program to help students with “everything from college test prep to financial aid paperwork.”
“We know that you can’t be pro-business unless you’re pro-education,” he said. “We know that pre-K and student loans aren’t charity. They’re a smart investment…. We’re investing in our young minds today to be competitive in the global economy tomorrow.”
The weakness of Castro’s speech was that, beyond public education, he didn’t detail the opportunities he and his brother had benefitted from that weren’t available to others. A listener was left wondering on that point.
Still, his good-natured tweak of Romney’s suggestion that young people hoping to start a business simply borrow from their parents – “Gee, why didn’t I think of that?” – led easily into his next gentle gibe.
“Some people are lucky enough to borrow money from their parents, but that shouldn’t determine whether they can pursue their dreams. Not in America,” he said.
“I don’t think Governor Romney meant any harm,” he added. “I think he’s a good guy. He just has no idea how good he’s had it.”
Sometimes the most effective criticisms are the understated ones.