CHARLOTTE — San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the grandson of a Mexican immigrant and the son of a Hispanic rights advocate — and who credits affirmative action and public education for his rapid rise — took direct aim at a central Republican messaging tenet against President Obama.
Though the keynote was historic — Castro was the first Latino keynote speaker — the message was very much of the moment. Opportunity and government investment in infrastructure and schools go hand in hand, Castro said. People build their own success, he said, but they achieve it thanks to the social structure America has created.
“We know that in our free market economy some will prosper more than others,” Castro said, according to prepared remarks. “What we don’t accept is the idea that some folks won’t even get a chance.”
In this polarized political landscape, Democrats put a truly progressive vision of the country in the primetime slot of their national convention. Castro drew sharp contrasts with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, saying the GOP seeks to destroy the very foundation that helped lift Castro and his brother Joaquin (who’s running for Congress) to success.
“Twenty years ago, Joaquin and I left home for college and then for law school. In those classrooms, we met some of the brightest folks in the world,” Castro said. “But at the end of our days there, I couldn’t help but to think back to my classmates at Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio. They had the same talent, the same brains, the same dreams as the folks we sat with at Stanford and Harvard. I realized the difference wasn’t one of intelligence or drive. The difference was opportunity.”
President Obama has pitched more government investment in education and infrastructure throughout his administration. Castro picked up Obama’s constant refrain that such government investments will grow the middle class and create more opportunity — the heart of the “You didn’t build that” quote when seen in full context — and turned it into a rallying cry for Democrats assembled here.
He cast the argument as a battle between Democratic Party ideas and those of the GOP.
“Of all the fictions we heard last week in Tampa, the one I find most troubling is this: If we all just go our own way, our nation will be stronger for it,” he said. “Because if we sever the threads that connect us, the only people who will go far are those who are already ahead. We all understand that freedom isn’t free. What Romney and Ryan don’t understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.”
Castro’s speech included shout-outs to his mother and grandmother and some Spanish, sections that could directly appeal to the Hispanic electorate Obama is hoping to pull out this fall. But the central message of the keynote was one often repeated by all Democrats: Government money can expand opportunity and grow a vibrant middle class.
Obama’s been making the argument for months on the campaign trail. Castro gave it a newer, younger voice Tuesday.
Watch the full video below: