There were so many fine moments last night at the Republican convention, which featured something to which President Obama pays lip service: civility.

While there were hard-hitting speeches—North Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who would have been remiss if she hadn’t mentioned the administrations’ attempt to block a Boeing factory in her state, and Ohio Governor John Kasich warmed up the crowd—the mood was sunny and focused on the idea that it is not too late to rescue the economy.  

One of the most powerful speeches of the evening was delivered by Artur Davis, the Alabama congressman who introduced Barack Obama at the 2008 Democratic convention. Davis has since become a Republican. “Thank you for welcoming me where I ought to be,” he said.

It was a genuine stem winder, more in the attack mode than the prime time speech of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, but MSNBC watchers missed it entirely. The cable network cut away from the convention whenever a minority speaker took the stage. So MSNBC viewers missed a good line from Davis’s speech:

Maybe we should have known that night in Denver that things that begin with styrofoam Greek columns and artificial smoke typically don’t end well.

This encapsulated one of Davis’ themes: celebrity versus leadership. Davis highlighted President Obama’s gutting the “welfare work requirement” and ramming through health care reform that took over a sixth of the economy without reaching across the aisle for GOP ideas. He exhorted “Democrats and independents whose minds are still open to argument” to tune into the to the Democratic convention in Charlotte and “ask yourself if these Democrats still speak to you.”

Chris Christie wasn’t the attack dog many of us have grown to love and expected to show up to deliver the keynote address, but he did something better. As Jonathan S. Tobin of Commentary, notes, he set forth a governing philosophy that could help us get out of our current mess:  

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s speech tonight was not your standard convention keynote address. He did not use his time to attack President Obama directly. Even more curiously, he did not mention the man he’s supporting for president — Mitt Romney — until the end of the speech. But he did put forward a vision of governance that could serve his party and the country well. …

[H]e was a thoughtful exponent of ideas about how the seemingly intractable problems facing the country can be solved given sufficient will on the part of its leaders. Christie said the difference between the two parties was that the Democrats believe Americans don’t want to hear the truth about out of control entitlements but that Republicans are willing to confront problems head on. In doing so, he threw down a challenge that showed his party is not going to evade Democrat class warfare tactics but is prepared to hazard the election on their being willing to listen to reformist arguments such as the ones he’s used in New Jersey. …

Christie’s discussion about taking on teacher’s unions but still supporting teachers and of being willing to touch the “third rail” of politics with entitlements showed that this no longer the big government Republican Party that spent the public’s money like drunken sailors before being tossed out in 2006 and 2008. Christie’s Republican Party is the same one that produced GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan and his reform agenda.

Christie’s Republican Party is one that actually believes they can talk about changing Medicare and still not be successfully demagogued by their opponents because senior citizens are not as “selfish” Democrats think them to be. That’s a political gamble but one that governors like Christie and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker — perhaps the most popular officeholder at the convention — have met successfully.

Actually, the bit about older citizens was a bit of a false step. The Romney-Ryan plan to reform Medicare is designed not to affect anyone 55 or older. But I quoted it because it shows Christie’s belief that voters are adults and can stand the truth.

It will be interesting to see how well this ultimately stacks up against the Democratic convention. But there is a strange sense of role reversal: the challengers are upbeat, while the incumbents seem to be in a foul mood.