Stirring. Historic. A speech that'll be remembered for decades.
Safe to say the jury's still out on all that. But as snippets of Mayor Julián Castro's speech at the Democratic National Convention began to leak hours before his big showing beneath the bright lights of Charlotte's Time Warner Cable Arena, it was clear San Antonio would get a glimpse of a Castro we rarely get to see: an attack dog with a partisan bite.
The grandiosity of the task, the rhetoric dumped on Castro's shoulders in the month or so leading up to the keynote has been impossible to escape (and along the way we learned, via the NYTimes, San Antonio has apparently become "a kind of Berkeley of the Southwest"). Did Castro live up to the rousing 2004 address that launched Obama into the Oval Office? The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza called the expectation an "impossible task," and by that high standard, Castro's speech probably fell flat. Still, there was no shortage of praise as Castro left the stage. The keynote knocked MSNBC's Chris Matthews off his feet, him calling it one of the greatest speeches he'd ever heard.
Instead of the sober, unassuming mayor we're used to seeing about City Hall (for his entire political career in city politics, Castro's always been "officially" nonpartisan), the heart of Castro's speech rang with standard party-driven bombs thrown at Romney/Ryan, all while drenched with the obligatory praise for Barack Obama. Lines like, "Mitt Romney just doesn't get it. But Barack Obama gets it," and so on and so on.
No surprise it's here where Castro appeared most uncomfortable, some of his lines delivered with the same awkward pauses and timing seen in his (admittedly, hilarious) takedown of Charles Barkley during Spurs season. His attack on Romney's suggestion to Ohio students that they borrow money from their parents if they want to start a business ("Gee, why didn't I think of that?"): borderline cringeworthy. The heart of Castro's speech was filled with that same attack-dog, party-driven stuff we'll be buried under until November clears, all without clearly outlining what's in store for Obama Round II. "Opportunity Today, Prosperity Tomorrow," was Castro's best synopsis.
It's not that Castro can't deliver a good, moving attack. He can.
It was in Summer 2011 that Castro delivered his best speech to date, to the conference of National Association of Latino Elected Officials gathered in San Antonio, giving a subtle but poignant indictment of the Texas GOP. It happened just as the Legislature was in the throes of pushing anti "sanctuary cities" measures (which failed), a voter ID law (which a panel of three federal judges knocked down last week), and a redistricting plan that, according to a D.C. federal appeals court, wasn't just discriminatory, but intentionally discriminatory.
On before Gov. Rick Perry took the stage, Castro painted the distressing picture of another Texas, one struggling beneath the "veneer of success." "If you've ever had the experience of finding a coin on the ground, one that is shiny on the outside, the side up, picking it up and then turning it over and finding a rusted out bottom," he said, "it's what you can't see right now in the State of Texas that is so distressing to the Latino community."
On Tuesday night, Castro certainly had his compelling moments and, as expected, most of them revolved around his family story, which he led and closed his keynote with. (And adorably, his 3-year-old daughter Carina nearly upstaged him by playing for the cameras). He told the story of his grandmother, an orphan from Mexico, who after dropping out of school by fourth grade worked her whole life as a maid, cook, and babysitter to send Castro's mother, the revered Rosie, to college — in puro San Anto fashion, he told America how his grandmother even entered a menudo cook-off in order to raise $300 to pay for Rosie's hospital bill when the Castro twins were born.
The crowd even began to chant Rosie's name as Castro told of his mother's role as a leading Chicana activist. Speaking of Rosie, Castro delivered one of his best lines of the night: "My mother fought hard for civil rights so that instead of a mop I could hold this microphone." -- Michael Barajas, firstname.lastname@example.org