Democratic socialists bernie sanders
The virtual convention began with a woman standing backstage–“Hey everybody, it’s me, Kamala”–urging people to vote, an informal opening to her very big night.
And it ended with that same woman celebrating people of all colors and creeds “takin’ it to the streets,” as though that’s what got her on the stage.
Kamala Harris faced a monumental task on Wednesday night: making a favorable first impression on the country after being attacked by the president as an angry and nasty madwoman. In one speech, the senator had to show she has the policy chops and the temperament to be president on a moment’s notice, and make skeptical voters comfortable with her presence for the next four years.
Oh, and praise Biden to the skies and tear down his opponent, which are the primary duties of the No. 2.
Harris got personal by talking about the values she got from the mother who largely raised her, “a vision of our nation as a beloved community,” and yet–thanks to Trump–today “that country feels distant.”
She accused the president of “chaos,” “incompetence” and “callousness,” pivoting to Biden as a man “who will bring all of us together–Black, white, Latino, Asian, Indigenous.” And she contrasted her running mate with “a president who turns our tragedies into political weapons.”
The California Democrat, constantly smiling, started with the 100-year-old victory for women’s suffrage, hailed her Indian heritage and praised her husband. She described a nation that is “grieving,” saying the coronavirus hits blacks and Latinos harder because of “structural racism…There is no vaccine for racism.”
And, as required in such things, she kept returning to Biden’s record and warmly recalled his late son Beau.
Harris had a tough act to follow in the person of Barack Obama, the party’s best orator, and couldn’t come close to matching his eloquence. The 44th president denigrated his successor in a way that seemed designed to get under his skin.
Obama insisted that he hoped Trump would grow into the job, but alas, “he’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
The former president also graciously paid tribute to his former vice president in a way that only he could, saying he came to admire “his resilience, born of too much struggle; his empathy, born of too much grief.”
Real Life. Real News. Real Voices
Help us tell more of the stories that matterBecome a founding member
“Empathy” and “decency,” mentioned by Obama as well, are perhaps the keywords of this convention, also stressed by Jill Biden, a choreographed attempt to contrast the nominee with a president they believe shows none.
It was as good as any speech Obama has given, marshaling the sweep of American history and calling on voters to work for change that a president can’t deliver alone.
Trump issued a prebuttal, as is his wont, telling White House reporters he wouldn’t be there if Obama and Biden had done a good job, that he wouldn’t even have run, because he liked his old life just fine. And he tweeted attacks while Obama was speaking (“HE SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN AND GOT CAUGHT”).
The night was largely devoted to issues certain to excite liberal voters–gun control, climate change, illegal immigration, women’s rights–but perhaps less appealing to Midwest factory workers worried about the economy. Only in the second hour was there a video featuring struggling and displaced workers.
There were other Democratic luminaries–Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, an incredibly moving speech on gun violence by Gabby Giffords–but most notably Hillary Clinton, who would have been giving her reelection speech if Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin hadn’t broken the way they did. The admiration for Hillary in the party is balanced by resentment that she blew a winnable election.
Her main message: Don’t do to Biden what you did to me in 2016. “For four years, people have said to me, ‘I didn’t realize how dangerous he was.’ ‘I wish I could go back and do it over.’ Or worst, ‘I should have voted.’” Now, says Hillary, is their chance.
She gave a solid speech that went beyond told-you-so, better than Bill’s the night before. But she reminded viewers that the Democrats might need more than a 3 million lead in the popular vote–like her–“so Trump can’t sneak or steal his way to victory.” (For the record, Trump won the Electoral College as laid out by the Constitution.)
In a convention, early or otherwise, the early speeches are like summer storms that quickly fade from the media radar. Whether Michelle Obama gave a stirring speech or Bill Clinton gave a mediocre one is quickly forgotten. Even Jill Biden’s widely praised appearance connecting their personal tragedies to the country’s problems is ultimately a sidebar story.
Conventions leave lingering impressions, of course, and the main message of the Democratic show is that Biden is a good, decent man, liked by people ranging from Bernie Sanders to John McCain. The goal seems less to rebut Trump’s charge that Biden is a tool of radical socialists than to cast him as a warm and reassuring figure.
But in the end what matters is Harris’ speech and now Biden’s acceptance speech Thursday night. Even without the cheering crowds, swelling music and balloon drops, even with the reduced ratings, it is the biggest stage that the Democratic running mates will have until the fall debates–and a rare week in which they eclipsed Trump.
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe