The line-up for Wednesday suggested that Democrats intended to devote this night to expanding the electoral coalition beyond strong Democratic women and those who love them. Joe Biden would address the working class while Michael Bloomberg would aim at corporate Republicans and Independents. There were segments to touch base with environmentalists, gun control advocates, and sentinels of the military-intelligence state. Tim Kaine would introduce himself to a broader audience, sandwiched between the valedictory addresses of the incumbents.
There was a lot to process in one sitting, and there remains a lot to deploy in the weeks ahead. For all the eloquence of the speeches, the jewel was a visual: the hug between Obama and Clinton when she walked onto the stage after his speech.
Earlier in the day Donald Trump played his part as The Joker of America-as-Gotham. His invitation to the Russians to procure and release the 30,000 emails deleted from Clinton’s private server stoke furnaces of righteous indignation throughout the establishment. Big breaking news, of course, a master stroke in the rhetoric of chaos which he has pioneered this cycle.
Turning to the convention show: the eco-block featured a video with a screen credit to James Cameron. It was surprisingly good political cinema, with well-chosen drop quotes from advocates interspersed with the expected visual spectacle. Jerry Brown drove home the argument. Al Gore was a no-show.
During the gun violence block, a speech by Gabrielle Giffords vaulted into its own hallowed category. “Speaking is difficult for me. But come January, I want to say these two words: Madame President.”
A well-sculpted and forcefully delivered speech by retired Rear Admiral John Hutson (Navy) checked a big box for Democrats on national security. However, former CIA and DOD Director Leon Panetta was taken aback by protesters yelling “No More War” and “Lies” before they were drowned out by “USA” chants.
Joe Biden touched off a spontaneous chant of “Not a Clue.” It was a 10,000-post blip in social media overnight, and yet another example of convention audiences’ fondness for three word slogans, three word slogans, three word slogans. Biden created line after line of campaign rocket fuel, both negative (“No candidate has ever known less.” “A man who embraces the tactics of our enemy.”) and positive (“We’re Americans! We own the finish line.’) He reminded me of Gene Hackman as the high school basketball coach Norman Dale. Igniting a rhythmic clap would have been in character for his galvanizing performance.
Michael Bloomberg administered a billionaire beat-down. “I’m a New Yorker and I know a con when I see one.” “I’ve built a business. And I didn’t start it with a million-dollar check from my father.” He praised Clinton, and made the ask: “So tonight, as an independent, I am asking you to join with me—not out of party loyalty, but out of love of country.”
Tim Kaine reprised his Saturday speech, which I praised to the skies here in Recap #34. This version did not ascend until late, when he led the audience in jeering Trump about his failure to release his tax returns. He also trotted out a beta version of a crucial argument, that Clinton can pass a comparative who-can-you-trust test matched against the Republican nominee.
Sharon Belkofer was terrific. She’s the Ohio Gold Star Mom who delighted the audience by disclosing that, inspired by two hugs from the man she was about to introduce, she ran for school board at age 83 and won. Her story would foreshadow what was to come.
President Obama opened with a legacy recitation framed as cause for national optimism, signs of an already great America. He contrasted it with the “deeply pessimistic” vision heard the week before in Cleveland, a vision that was neither Republican nor conservative, just a fanning of resentment, anger, and hate. Attributing this to “Cleveland” puts the entire party on the spot. Expect Democrats to ask their opponents up and down the ticket whether they were in Cleveland for the convention.
He brought down the house by declaring that “there’s never been anybody more qualified to serve as president than Hillary, not me, not Bill.” Both men beamed at the reaction.
The president derided Trump with the same sarcasm he used at the 2011 White House Correspondents Association dinner: “The Donald is not a plans guy. Not a facts guy either.”
He poached personal freedom from the Republican values preserve: “We don’t look to be ruled.” He rebutted Trump’s signature policy position with another value: “The American Dream is something no wall will ever contain.”
He startled the audience with a shout out to Bernie Sanders supporters. It came during an extended peroration, delivered in his “fierce urgency” register, that blended his civics teacher lecturing with issues of the day and divisions among the audience.
The big civics lesson, “That’s how democracy works,” preached patient coalition-building.
He urged those in Wells Fargo Arena to join him and her the proverbial political arena that Teddy Roosevelt. “We’re gonna carry Hillary to victory this fall because that’s what the moment demands.”
Obama’s close hearkened back to his national debut speech twelve years ago to the day, and to his Kansas grandparents and mother. Michelle’s ancestral slaves were swept into the multigenerational immigration narrative as well.
Faith in that narrative, belief in those civic values, guaranteed that “home grown demagogues,” like fascists, communists, and jihadists, will fail in the end.
I’m not a great lip reader, but I think Hillary said “Oh my God” as she glided into the president’s open arms. It was as natural a display of emotion as she has given in a long time. Destined for heavy replay, it may lubricate the transfer of Obama lovers into the Clinton camp, by no means a smooth ride on the basis of their shared history. The hug signifies that the team of rivals is now a team of superheroes determined to save America.