09/05/2012 07:59 am ET

Dems: Government Is Not A Four-Letter Word: Seven And A Half Things To Know

Thing One: We're From The Government: All last week, Republicans painted Democrats as the party of Big Government. Last night, the Dems opened their convention by responding, more or less, "Yeah, and what of it?"

The headline speakers on the first night of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte -- from San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to the arena-destroying barnburners of First Lady Michelle Obama and Gov. Deval Patrick -- all embraced the idea that government was there to give you a hand if you needed it. "There are some things we can't do alone," Castro said. "We have to come together and invest in opportunity today for prosperity tomorrow."

"We believe that government has a role to play, not in solving every problem in everybody's life but in helping people help themselves to the American dream," Patrick said.

"When you've worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity," Obama said, "you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.

These are more-or-less direct counters to the "We Built It" meme of the Republican National Convention, which argued, essentially, that we don't need no stinkin' government. That in itself was an echo of the meme Ronald Reagan employed to bring the Republicans to power 32 years ago: "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

Those were different times, though. Even Reagan -- who raised taxes and the federal deficit and ballooned the size of the war-fighting part of the government -- acknowledged in deed, if not in word, that government was not entirely evil. The latter-day Republican Party is running on the idea that just about all government is bad. This reflects a sharp rightward shift in their thinking over the decades, notes The New York Times' Eduardo Porter, from the days when a wildly liberal Richard Nixon expanded Social Security, taxed the wealthy and guaranteed a minimum income for the poor.

Popular support for the idea of a government safety net has waned since Nixon's day, but mainly because Republicans have soured on it, Porter writes. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, seems to be gambling that voters in the middle -- of the political spectrum and the income scale -- still think government can be a force for good.

Thing Two: Good News, Bad News Economy: The economy, President Obama's biggest obstacle to re-election, continues to not really cooperate with him. The Institute for Supply Management yesterday reported surprising shrinkage in its measure of factory activity in August, the third straight month of a contracting factory sector. The ISM's employment index was in good shape, but forward-looking indicators of orders and inventories suggested factory activity could be slow to recover. Meanwhile, economic bellwether FedEx warned that a global factory slowdown could hurt its profits. On the brighter side, U.S. car sales boomed in August -- in part because people bought smaller cars to cope with high gas prices.

Thing Three: BP, Still Awful: The Justice Department has filed new papers in its lawsuit against BP, accusing the British oil giant of "gross negligence and willful misconduct" in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Reuters writes that the sharply worded filing shows the "exasperation on the part of government lawyers," who think BP is trying to wiggle out of responsibility for the spill. Hey, at least Tony Hayward has his life back.

Thing Four: Energy-Boom Mirage: You've heard a lot lately about how America is fracking and drilling its way to glorious energy independence. The new energy boom isn't all it's cracked up to be, though, Old Dominion professor Steve Yetiv writes in The New York Times op-ed pages. "At its current pace, the oil boom probably won’t significantly lower prices," he writes, "though it may temper their rise at times."

Thing Five: Facebook Would Like You To Stop Beating Up Its Stock Now: Facebook, after watching the value of its spanking-new stock price get cut in half since May, took some steps yesterday to stop the bleeding. It bought back millions of shares and said founder Mark Zuckerberg would hold his shares and options for at least a year. Trouble is, they can't stop employees from dumping millions of shares on the market this fall, when lockup periods expire.

Thing Six: Pain In Spain, Bank Edition: The European Central Bank holds a policy meeting tomorrow, and not a moment too soon: The Wall Street Journal writes that Spanish banks are at the end of their rope and having a hard time getting financing. The ECB could come to the rescue tomorrow by making it easier for Spanish banks to borrow from it, the WSJ writes. That will merely ease the symptoms of a debt crisis that still rages on without a long-term solution.

Thing Seven: Apple Has a Thing It Wants You To Buy: On September 12 -- look, over there, shiny object!

Thing Seven And One Half: One Day In September: Sorry, nothing funny today. On this day 40 years ago, Palestinian terrorists attacked the Israeli Olympic team in Munich, killing two people immediately and then taking nine hostages. All of the hostages died early the next morning during a botched rescue attempt at the Munich airport.

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8:30 a.m. ET: Productivity, revised, for Q2

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Heard On The Tweets:

@zerobeta: One day I am going to write the great American tweet.

@zerohedge: Who needs trade and cash flow when you have Princeton professors running the world

@HowardLindzon: I promise Mark Zuckerberg I won't day trade his stock until it starts going up occassionally. $fb

@ezraklein: Whenever a pol says "let us move forward, not back," all I can think is, "and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!"

@hodgman: Julian Castro is speaking. 8 yrs after young Hussein Obama spoke. Next convention I think the breakout speaker will be Esperanza Hitler-Borg

And you can follow me on Twitter, too: @markgongloff