The Democratic Party can be a disappointment to liberals. When we had control of both houses of Congress, we were too timid, too ineffective, and had too little to stand by when we faced the Tea Party landslide. We have seen how accommodation of more conservative Blue Dogs has watered down ambitious legislation. We have witnessed representatives and candidates playing defense against attacks - often baseless, often fear-mongering from the right.
We're not always proud of that Democratic Party.
But the Democratic Party that took the stage last week in Charlotte made us stand up and cheer. Speaker after speaker fully embraced a range of issues that Democrats had been slow to come to or divided over. Marriage equality. The Dream Act. Reproductive rights. Voter access.
These Democrats were bold and certain. They were progressive and passionate. And they weren't just challenges like Elizabeth Warren seeking to stand out. These were the established voices of the party -- right up to the occupants of the White House.
On marriage equality, Obama's "evolution" has swept through the party. For the first time, marriage equality is in a major party platform. Nobody discussed exemptions for conservative religious institutions. Nobody uttered "civil unions." The party was unified.
You wouldn't have known that this is a party that hasn't yet pushed for the repeal of DOMA.
There was equal unanimity on the DREAM Act, and the efforts to give a path to citizenship to the young people who know no other home except America. The president himself most articulately wove the story of these youth into his address, but they were cheered and honored through a series of speakers.
Who would have guessed deportation increased under the Obama Administration?
Every major speaker made reference to women having control over their bodies, their health and their choices. This may be an old canard for the Democratic Party, but this year it drew a starker contrast with a Republican Party whose war on women has chased female and independent voters away from the Romney-Ryan ticket. Democrats, at times, try to talk less about choice to appeal to more conservative voters; this time they showcased their feminist credentials.
Yet it was only 2 1/2 years ago, conservative Democrats were rallying around Stupak during the healthcare debates.
Voter ID laws may have been the biggest jolt. It's not surprising that Democrats oppose the restrictive laws pushed by ALEC and others, and the Attorney General even called them a poll tax. That said, it's an issue that usually doesn't rate at the top of every politician's radar, or make it into a major speech…and for the most part, voter access advocates have felt alone in screaming for attention to this issue. At this Convention, Democrats gave the dangerous right-wing crusade against voter rights its biggest spotlight.
However, these restrictive laws have spread around the country without Democrats mustering the force needed to call attention to them early enough to prevent them.
The Democrats that have been governing our country may not be the ones who inspire us. The ones on stage are those we want to elect into power. So how do we deal with the fact that these are the same Democrats?
A Party's convention and its platform are, to a certain extent, aspirational. Some may rightfully consider such planks false promises. But really they depict a world the party would like to realize before the realities of Washington, the pressure of lobbyists, the corruption and inertia and compromises set in.
They also depict an America that may not be created by the party's leaders but are cheered and thirsted for by the party faithful -- the rank-and-file delegates from around the country. These aren't political professionals, but earnest local organizers. These are full-time workers and parents who finish their day jobs to give their evenings to improving their communities. These are seniors who spend their retirement envisioning a better America. These are students who engage beyond their schools to improve their country's future.
These are Democrats who are committed enough to fight locally, serve nationally and give themselves to their beliefs. These are also the Democrats who don't want to to see the world as it is, but as it could be.
The platform speaks to them and speaks for them, even when their representatives do not. The distance between the rhetoric and the reality, the possible is the actual, is the space that these Democrats -- and a nation of citizen-advocates -- need to bridge through continuous, forceful engagement.
If the platform speaks to the faithful, the Convention speaks to the public. By putting the rights of women, the LGBT community, immigrants and the disenfranchised at the center of their convention, the Democratic Party affirmed that these are values that will build the party and the nation. They acknowledged that the party need not be ashamed of these core values. All we have to be ashamed of is how far we are from realizing them, a shame that activists are working to erase every day.