Tuesday’s second night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention hammered home the notion that the party of Joe Biden is a big tent. Big enough to hold the Bernie revolutionaries, national security nerds, avowed centrists, the McCain family, Medicare for All advocates, teachers, people who miss the Kennedys, nurses, beautiful Soul Cycling grandmas, and Bill Clinton’s remaining fan.
All of these people would rather hang out in the big tent of the Democrats than squeeze into the sweaty clown car of Trump’s GOP.
Like Night One, Night Two was an experiment in trying to make Zoom calls between strangers interesting. But Tuesday’s proceedings felt a little more confident and a little less Tim & Eric. The business was to formally nominate Joe Biden for vice president. During a “normal” convention, this process is a mind-numbing procession of strangers speaking too softly or too loudly into a stadium microphone as reporters on deadline barge around looking for people in funny hats to interview. Not this time.
The 2020 roll call featured a series of regular people and elected officials standing in their respective home states, sometimes wearing costumes, sometimes framed by gorgeous local scenery. Astute observers could catch Bernie and Jane Sanders in the background of the Vermont delegation and Eleanor Holmes Norton in the background of the DC delegation. North Carolina’s Cozzie Watkins bluntly (but rightfully) reminded Democrats that without Black women, Democrats would have a hard time winning elections.
The whole affair was charming. Now, if only somebody could figure out how to convey mass joy during a time of pandemic without applause breaks resembling a Guess Who game board.
Less charming was the way the DNCC incorporated the party’s “rising stars” in a disjointed opening “keynote” that more closely resembled an absurdist off-Broadway production than a political speech. It wasn’t the participants’ fault; it’s just impossible to follow a sentence if six people are taking turns delivering it. Not only did the message get lost, but so did many of the participants. By the time Stacey Abrams—one of the best public speakers on the Democrats’ roster—got her 120 seconds, I’d forgotten the names of most of the possible future presidents the party had just highlighted.
Bill Clinton was another low point squeezed into the first hour, before the networks started airing the show. Sure, decorum dictates that Democrats kind of have to figure out a way to include the second-most-recent Democratic president somehow, but it’s a shame that a reminder of a less-than-great chapter in the Democrats’ past was given more time to make a case for Joe Biden than any of the 17 future stars were. Especially since Bill Clinton’s speech was about as exciting as an expired Crate & Barrel coupon.
Highly produced issue-based segments felt like bright spots in the evening, making a stronger case for a Biden presidency than the DNC’s attempts at filling screens with a dizzying number of boxes with a representative Democrat or two in each one.
A montage of public servants who were appalled by the way the president has turned America from a country that other countries quietly grumble about with each other into a country that other countries openly laugh at proved highly effective. National security officials who served under Democrats and Republicans made clear, bite-sized cases for why Trump was a disaster. That’s the kind of thing most news-literate people already know but may be helpful for people just tuning in now after successfully avoiding the news for the last three or four years, bless their hearts.
Republicans, once again, had a big night at the Democratic Convention in a way that Democrats never really have a big night at Republican conventions. In addition to Powell, a video of the late John McCain made an appearance, and organizers made sure that viewers knew that many of the speakers in the national security video had served under Republican presidents. Why do Democrats always have to coax voters who lean conservative into not being afraid to vote for them, like how a good neighbor might have to convince a scared kitten hiding under their car to get into a cat carrier so they can be taken to a vet and have their bite wounds treated? One of America’s great political mysteries. This week, Democrats are telling voters that they are not scary and are trying to help you; next week, Republicans will counter that Democrats will let people break into your home, steal your guns and teach your perfect little daughters all the words to Cardi B’s WAP.
But the biggest moment of the night, once again, didn’t belong to an American flag-shaped graphic of kids singing, or a slick video about Donald Trump being both dangerous and embarrassing. It belonged to a person who isn’t even a politician. It belonged to Dr. Jill Biden.
Every Meet Your Possible Future First Lady video at every party convention feels a little bit like the video introducing a favorite contestant before the hometowns episode of The Bachelor. But Biden’s felt different. We learned that, at 26, she married a widower with two sons. That she never thinks negative thoughts on her daily 5-mile runs. While her speech was all candied positivity, with nary a mention of Trump, it was impossible to watch and not make comparisons between the Biden family and the current occupants of the White House.
Jill Biden worked while Joe Biden was serving as vice president, which draws attention to the fact that the current first lady hasn’t really had a regular job since the modeling she did before she and Donald Trump got married. Jill Biden studied for grad school while helping manage a house full of kids in Delaware; the current first family was incubated in a golden box hundreds of feet above a Gucci store. The Bidens are aggressively normal. The current first family is unsettlingly strange.
So, says the DNC sales pitch, join us in the big tent. It’s a tent that contains both the past and the future. It’s a tent that contains everything but the awful of right now. It’s a tent that can stand at least until election day, at which point the armistice between the tent’s disparate factions will expire, and we can get back to the business of infighting.