More Than a Few Surprises, Mostly Good Ones
Anticipation and Apprehension
I suppose we were all more than a little curious as to how this thing might go. We have all been to enough Zoom meetings of late to know the digital, virtual format has some advantages and loads of opportunities for misfires.
So, a lot of people were hoping for the best but feared this could be a sterile, dull event. Turns out, they need not have worried.
A Lot Went Very Right – Here Are My Top 10
Time Limits, Planning, and Themes
Probably the first good thing to happen was a two-hour limit each night. This forced a bit of discipline into every aspect of planning. It made for lively, but steady programming.
Secondly, the Democrats decided way early that this was how the convention would have to be done. They have been planning with that understanding for months.
The Republicans, on the other hand, went from a traditional convention in NC, to a split convention between NC-FL, to a virtual convention (just a couple of weeks ago), to whatever Donald Trump dreamt about last night.
They could prove me wrong, but this thing is likely to look like it was put together with duct tape.
Third, they picked winning themes (we, the people; united; etc.). Fourth, they had excellent production values and it seemed to me just the right mix of very professional and kind of goofy home video mixes.
The opening session on Monday night featuring the preamble to the Declaration of Independence and the kids singing the national anthem were simply perfect.
On the second night, the roll call was the surprise hit. People loved it. It felt like a tour of an America we almost forgot was on the other side of our quarantines.
Focus, People and Pols, and Trump in a Box
Fourth, they had solid reinforcement throughout of what is important to so many people now – health care. The young woman who said her dad tied because of the precondition of believing Donald Trump will be in our memories forever.
The activist so devasted by ALS, but still fighting for the rest of us to get decent health care. The segments on national security were mature, clear, and sobering. I thought Colin Powell and John Kerry ran away with the message, as did our former ambassador to Ukraine.
On social and racial justice, there was power and what felt like poetry. Jim Clyburn gave as good a speech as I have ever heard him give, and that is saying a lot.
The Mississippi delegation casting its votes from the Edmond Petit Bridge as a lump in the throat moment, reminding how much others have sacrificed and reminding us what it ours to get done, now.
Mathew Shepard’s parents were overwhelming, still, in their sorrow and determination. And on it continued all week. The Wednesday opening on gun violence was overwhelming. The immigration treatment on Wednesday brought tears to many. The themes all week were as solid as could be.
Fifth, there was a fine mix of political pros and regular citizens. I personally want to buy a drink for and have a chat with that elevator operator and those guys who run the Amtrak trains (something tells me the Amtrak budget will be fine in a Biden administration. About time.).
And speaking of politicians, it was nice to see so many state and local officials speaking, not just national figures. We saw the party in depth this week, and there was a lot to like. The novel approach to the roll call of state votes was perhaps the hit of the week. People loved it! It was just hokey enough to be fun.
Sixth, the week did not focus just on how evil and incompetent Trump is, but they took care to remind of that in ringing speeches and well-chosen film.
All of which was, of course, was anchored by Michelle Obama noting that Trump is simply not capable – he is not up to the task and cannot meet our needs. Trump did not dominate here. He was castigated, laughed at, and put in a corner.
Pacing and Speeches
Seventh, the pace was pretty much on target. I confess to being something of a convention junkie. They tell a lot about where a party is. I usually watch the whole thing for both parties (increasingly hard to do with the Republican events).
It was a break this year to have about 16 hours less viewing per week. Within the two hours nightly, things moved along well. More times than not, I was surprised to see how much time has passed. Most portions seemed to be about the right length and in a good order.
Eighth, the big speeches met the objective. They were not all perfect (I actually thought Michelle Obama’s speech was a bit long, although powerful) but they more than did the job.
There were dozens of first-rate quotes that we will see often in the campaign. Michelle had them, President Obama surely did. John Kerry landed some great ones. And so many others.
Unity and Humanity
Ninth, we know it cannot last at this level, but the unity on display was impressive. Bernie Sanders went the extra mile in this regard. A long list of Republicans weren’t really talking to Democrats, but to other Republicans and their message was be an American first, not a Republican.
Tenth, the message was delivered in so many ways about Joe Biden as the right person for the right job at the right time. If we all had a dollar for every time the word “decent,” “caring,” or “experienced” were uttered, we would be rich.
The comparison with Trump was so clear. And the country seems eager, hungry even, to make that change.
It would be hard to imagine a better closing night. Pretty well everything went well. For me at least, the time flew by. The opening theme of “Next Year at This Time” was perfect. The little kid doing the pledge was terrific.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the Chicks, Sister Simone – all spot on. Historian Jon Meacham gave great lines faster than I could write them down.
The “Survivor Panel” of former candidates hit the right notes. The Biden family kids and grand kids stole our hearts, as did the kid with a stutter. I hope we see much more of many of them in the years ahead.
The discussion of military families, led by Senator Duckworth and Jill Biden were perhaps the highlight of the night. These people understand service.
Oh, and Joe Biden gave what was probably the best speech of his life.
We will know soon enough what the Republican convention will look like. They have a ton of money to put into it, but I doubt that this will be enough.
What life story will they tell of their candidate? What set of values will they articulate? As one wag said, you could probably be forgiven next week for thinking maybe Hunter Biden was running for president.
It almost surely will be a negative, angry affair. They will play up fears and feelings of victimhood. It might work for the base, but it is unlikely to go much beyond that.
This is a party that no longer has any has any set of principles, just reactions. They have forgotten how to govern. Time will tell if this convention is a launch pad or the start of a wake. I’m betting on the latter but take nothing for granted.
What About 2024 and Beyond?
We will surely be back to more conventional conventions in due course, but it can be hoped that a lot of what was done and what was learned this year becomes part of the new normal.
Shorter conventions make sense. Including more virtual participants really worked.
I heard a number of people throughout the week say they felt more included in this one than in any convention. They felt like they visited the people in all those states. They felt like they were in the Biden home.
It was all just human enough to make us feel like we were in on it. Seeing people stare at the screen until a voice off camera said “You’re on!” was funny and sort of homey. Let’s keep some of that, please.
All in all, this week felt pretty good, didn’t it? Turns out the America we know and love is still out there. After 3 1/2 years of ugly nonsense and a killer year of 2020, its all still here. Just waiting on us to call her back. What a week this was.
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