I stayed off Twitter. I actually just forgot and then, when I remembered, I thought no, it’ll just be a snark parade, because there was a lot to snark about. But I actually thought that under the circumstances, Night One of this weird and unprecedented convention worked surprisingly well.
It was glitchy and strange here and there. Some of the visuals didn’t work (John Kasich at his literal crossroads—I bet Kasich insisted on that, it’s a very Republican idea of effective symbolism). But a lot of the regular people were kind of endearing. I liked that jumpy, nervous farmer with the Pittsburgh accent, and the Republican guy from Illinois who appeared to be holding a scotch on the rocks while he talked. And who didn’t love Kristin Urquiza, and feel her pain? Her father’s “only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump.” Boom! She was awesome.
In the second hour, it picked up some momentum. And finally, in the end, they just gave LeBron the damn ball, and it was lights out. Michelle Obama was just about perfect: “He can’t be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.” Imagine if she’d been able to deliver that line in front of a roaring crowd. As it was, she delivered it perfectly. That look on her face. That line will go down in convention-speech history.
Bernie Sanders was great. I was a little distracted by those cords of firewood behind him. Why’d he choose that? But this one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard him give.
Up to that point, I was a little disgruntled at the comparative lack of direct attacks on Trump. I want red meat this week. I think the only people actually watching this are very committed Democrats, and only a handful of moments will go viral, and good attacks are most likely to do that.
Sanders delivered. He used the word “authoritarianism.” Twice. And he got off a good one-liner: “Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump golfs.” Sanders also delivered on explaining Joe Biden’s proposals and plans. Total team player.
As for the Republicans, what was all that fuss about again? They were fine. They went by so fast anyway. Meg Whitman seemed to get about 15 seconds. But as I watched I thought, what in the world is wrong with getting testimonials from a few Republicans? Nothing! There are people out there in this country for whom that kind of validation is important. And Trump of course is always bragging about his support among Republicans, which is high, but isn’t the 96 percent he always claims it is. Typically according to exit polls, about 8 or 9 percent of members of both parties cross over and vote for the other party’s candidate. If Biden can get that up to 12, which is not impossible, well, every little bit helps.
And at the same time, I don’t think the base got short shrift here. The first half hour was a full-on embrace of Black Lives Matter, including moments with Eric Garner’s mother and George Floyd’s brothers and Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, speaking from a downtown rooftop that enabled us to see the words “Black Lives Matter” painted on that stretch of 16th Street behind her.
Democrats of 12, eight and maybe even four years ago would have shied away from leaning into BLM like this, I think. I do remember that four years ago, some mothers of victims of police shootings did gather on the stage, but this seemed more motivated.
And how did the nominee come across? Well, Michelle offered him some terrific testimonials, as did Sanders. But other portions of the show weren’t about his proposals or what he did as vice-president, but just his guy-on-the-train decency. That Amtrak segment was terrific. There’s something about old film footage that just feels real and awakens warm feelings in us. Seeing those 30-year-old clips of Amtrak porters hauling people’s luggage is touching. And hearing that conductor talk about how Biden became his friend during all those years of riding back forth from Wilmington to Washington every day—well, you just knew it wasn’t bullshit. That was one of the night’s best moments.
It was low-key and genuine. I found myself wondering if it would had been schmaltzier if it had been produced to be seen by a live arena audience. I don’t know, but I suspect maybe it would have been.
In other words, maybe a virtual convention is, paradoxically, a more real convention; less emotionally manipulative. Hard to say, still three nights to go, plenty of time for schmaltz. Or maybe it’s just that the low-key-ness of it suits the moment.
It was a little weird and glitchy? Well, so is life in these United States right now. By design or luck, the Democrats may have found the right mood.