Democratic Convention Day One: We The People

[ Posted Tuesday, August 18th, 2020 – 16:50 UTC ]

I have to admit, I viewed the first night of the Democratic National Convention with some sadness. The sadness was personal, because this is the first time since Barack Obama's first election that I did not attend the convention in person. Seeing for myself how conventions are run in 2012 and 2016 was certainly a fantastic experience because being in the same room is a whole lot different than watching it on television. So I missed that aspect of it, as did everyone else who has ever had the chance to attend a national party convention.

Beyond the personal experience, though, just attending a convention doesn't automatically make you a power player or anything. I found it almost impossible to develop new sources or friendships or get interesting interviews with many people at all, so professionally I felt somewhat of an onlooker rather than a participant in all the hoopla. Maybe that's an admission of failure on my part, since others do manage to use such meetings of the powerful to springboard themselves into the national conversation.

But don't get me wrong -- it was a whole bunch of fun from beginning to end. Holding a press pass meant being allowed into all sorts of areas that the general public was barred from, but what many don't realize is the sheer overwhelming numbers of people with similar press passes. I heard that members of the media outnumbered the actual convention delegates something like 10-to-1, and it's easy to believe after seeing the biggest media frenzy in the universe. Even talking to a delegate was tough to do, since they all shared a feeling of being constantly hounded by journalists asking them questions from the profound to the inane.

When you consider the numbers, what isn't that surprising is that the chance encounters I did have were mostly with media stars rather than actual politicians. I rode an elevator with George Will, who politely talked baseball with me (I was wearing a Baltimore Orioles cap, which prompted the conversation). I took a selfie with Clarence Page, after noticing he had a Grateful Dead sticker on his phone (which he informed me was given to him by Jerry Garcia himself). Those sorts of encounters were more frequent, although usually with far lesser-known media types.

This year, however, I joined millions of other viewers who watched the proceedings from home. The "virtual convention" was as new to me as to everyone else, and I have to say the Democrats did manage to pull off a night that was noticeably free of technical glitches. This was an extraordinary achievement, seeing as how new the entire format was to everyone involved, and how daunting the technical challenges must have been (and will continue to be). There were only two moments the late-night comics even could crack jokes about -- when Jim Clyburn had to begin his speech twice (after getting cued twice; it wasn't his fault), and when they showed delegates sitting at home who didn't realize they were on camera (and supposed to be clapping wildly) until it was too late. For a two-hour unprecedented video-chat production, that's a fantastically good outcome, I have to say.

One more technical note before I begin reviewing the content of the first night -- I thought I might watch the proceedings on either PBS or a streaming cable channel, but I soon had to give up on that idea because they did exactly what they always do (even PBS) which was to decide in advance which parts of the convention program they were just going to flat-out ignore, in order to bring us a roundtable of people talking about what they thought about what was going on (while preventing us from seeing what actually was going on). Sheesh! I quickly found the official Democratic feed (at and from that point on got to see every minute of the program. I strongly encourage others to do the same, because what the networks dismiss as being beneath their notice often are the best parts to watch.


We The People

The theme for the first night of the Democratic National Convention was "We The People," which was a many-layered thing. On one level, Democrats opened up the stage to a whole host of ordinary people: first responders, the family of George Floyd, mayors, cops, nurses, paramedics, Amtrak employees, members of the military, teachers, Republican Trump voters with second thoughts, and all kinds of other voices and faces across the country. This was refreshing -- the convention normally did include a smattering of such "jes' folks" on stage, but it was far more limited in the past (the format allowed for very short segments from a lot more people). One of these actually stole the entire show, but more on her in a moment.

On a second level, Democrats showed a remarkable display of unity within their own ranks. Partly this was a byproduct of the new format -- it was impossible for protesters to stage a demonstration (or even a round of booing) because there were no crowds or platform for them to do so. But even if the convention had been held in person, my guess is that this sort of thing would not have happened much this year anyway. You can say a lot of things about Donald Trump (and I often do), but he deserves my profound thanks for being the biggest unifying force the Democratic Party has seen in four or five decades. From the Democratic Socialist wing to the Wall Street wing of the party, everyone is in perfect alignment now behind the idea that Donald Trump must be defeated at all costs. There will be no protest voting. There will be no flirtation with Green Party candidates this time around. There may be friction within the party after Biden wins, but not before. That message was on full display last night, and it came through loud and clear. Bernie Sanders drove this point home at the end of the night, in no uncertain terms.

The third level of "We The People" unity was to reach across the aisle and let disaffected or disenchanted (or downright disgusted) Republicans, Independents, and Trump voters know that they are more than welcome in Joe Biden's Democratic Party. We had short speeches from four prominent Republican politicians (three of them women, just to tweak Trump even further), all of whom were in perfect agreement with the Democrats: Trump must go, and this is a time to put country before party, period. Some of the "jes' folks" videos reinforced this (again, including that show-stealing moment), as Republicans who voted for Trump explained why they simply could not do so again.

The theme might well have been: "We have the biggest tent imaginable," because that is precisely the impression the Democrats put forward. You don't have to love Joe Biden, or think he's perfect, or agree with all his positions, or think he's the answer to every problem -- but you should vote for him if you want to see a return to decency, normalcy, and human empathy in the White House. Or, as D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser aptly put it: "We The People means all the people."


The speakers

OK, I have to admit that I had to ask who Eva Longoria was. My wife swears she's not only a Desperate Housewives actress, but also a big presence in the Democratic Party, so I have to give her credit for her activism.

Gwen Moore is well known to the readers of my "Friday Talking Points" columns, since she's deserved more than one "Most Impressive" award over the years. Here's just one example. But we have to admit we'd never seen her give a political speech before. And last night, she seemed to be the only speaker having some actual fun, giving a speech that was high-energy, exuberant, and brimming with positivity. Well done, Representative Moore!

The George Floyd family moment of silence was pretty powerful, and unexpected. All throughout the night, racial justice got a very prominent position, in fact. Democrats have definitely risen to the Black Lives Matter moment, and this should stand as a stark comparison to how it will be portrayed by the Republicans next week, if early indications are any guide.

Joe Biden speaking to a circle of screens was a bit strange, but the people he spoke with were certainly not to blame. There will likely be sprinklings of Biden cameos every night, so hopefully they'll get better as the week goes on.

Jim Clyburn was the first truly impressive speech (which was obviously delivered live), as he strongly urged everyone in the Black community to turn out at the polls for Biden. His cadence was great, and his speech was very powerful ("We know Joe, but more importantly Joe knows us").

Andrew Cuomo was the next prominent Democrat to speak, and he wasn't anywhere near as good as Clyburn. But he was the first to truly take the fight to Trump himself, as he ran down the pathetic inadequacy of Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic. He had one stellar line: "Donald Trump didn't create our division, the division created Trump." That's a pretty good soundbite, we have to admit.

The pinnacle of the evening, at least for me, was the next speaker, a woman named Kristin Urquiza who lost her father to the COVID-19 virus. She explained that her father was a big Trump supporter and listened in the early spring when Trump was playing down the crisis and later when Trump prematurely (and dangerously) urged everyone to go out and resume normal life again. Her father followed Trump's advice -- and as a direct result he got sick, entered the hospital, and died. Her powerful delivery built to one scathing indictment that will be remembered for years to come (that's my guess, at any rate). Speaking of her father, she stated: "His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that he paid with his life." Other than Michelle Obama's speech, this was easily the most-quoted line of the entire evening in the press coverage which followed. She stood out not only from the crowd of ordinary Americans featured last night, but from everyone else who spoke to the convention. Just as Gold Star father Khizr Khan did at the last convention, Kristin Urquiza put a very human face on the opposition to Donald Trump, and it worked extremely well.

The other two biggest highlights in the "ordinary Americans" segments were the postal workers who denounced the actions of their current Postmaster General as being undemocratic in the extreme, and the Amtrak employees who have known Joe Biden for decades. The first showed that it's not your own postal carrier who should be held at fault -- a very important distinction to be making right now -- but the Republican donor who has been actively trying to sabotage the election. Today, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy actually waved a huge white flag and declared that he's going to cease all such attempts (after being spectacularly caught red-handed over the past two weeks). That is a heartening victory, even before his congressional testimony this Friday and next Monday. Trump poked a real hornets' nest by attacking the Post Office, and it looks like he has finally realized the enormity of his mistake.

The Amtrak segment was the most endearing of the entire program last night, as it humanized Biden to a degree that no other speaker did (with the possible exception of the military mentor who told the story of Biden showing up unannounced to talk to children and the public). Joe Biden and Amtrak have long been somewhat of a political joke (to be funny, some pundits even used to write "Joe Biden [D-Amtrak]" in their pieces). But it obviously was no joke to either Biden or all the employees he befriended along the way. When you take the same trains in and out of D.C. for decades, you're going to see the same employees over and over again, obviously. But most members of the U.S. Senate wouldn't give them the time of day, while Biden not only got to know them but became friends with several. As I said, part of the job of a national convention is to introduce the candidate on the most personal level that can be achieved, and this one segment certainly checked that box in a big way.

Let's see, who else spoke? Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer spoke live, but turned in a fairly low-key performance. The Republicans-for-Biden segment had Christine Todd Whitman, Meg Whitman (no relation, I assume), Susan Molinari, and John Kasich, although Kasich got far more time than the others. All had the same message: Trump is dangerous, therefore we are crossing party lines to endorse Joe Biden for the sake of our nation's future. Kasich did do a good job disabusing the notion that Biden would "go hard left" if elected, which Kasich brushed off with: "I don't believe that."

There were a few Senate candidates, both incumbent and challenger (Doug Jones, Sarah Gideon, Catherine Cortez Masto) who spoke, but none were all that memorable (or perhaps I was just getting tired of taking notes by this point). Then we had a video of a whole bunch of Democrats who also ran for president this time around, most of whom have been completely forgotten by the public. This is understandable, since there was a grand total of 27 of them this year. Somehow, Marianne Williamson and Tulsi Gabbard did not make the cut for this video, which isn't all that surprising. Amy Klobuchar was the first of these also-rans who got her own convention speech slot, where she told the same sort of cheesy jokes that fell flat for her on the campaign trail.

But the biggest two speeches of the night came at the end. First Bernie Sanders proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's ready for the upcoming winter, by speaking in front of an absolute wall of cut firewood. "Vermont winters are serious business" seemed to be the implied message.

Kidding aside, however, Bernie's speech was a good one. He hit all the high points of his own campaign while taking the fight to Trump in a very personal way. Bernie's never been one to shy away from words like "authoritarianism," for instance. Bernie's job was to encourage his own supporters to enthusiastically vote for Biden in November, and he did a pretty good job, explaining that while his revolution had indeed changed the conversation within the Democratic Party and the public at large, and how all of these gains would be lost if Trump wins a second term.

Bernie ended on some very strong notes, pointing out that under Trump: "The unthinkable has become normal... this is not normal, and we must not treat it as normal!" But his best lines were his closers: "Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump golfs." His final point was quoted almost as much as that zinger: "The future of our democracy is at stake. The future of our economy is at stake. The future of the planet is at stake."

Then we got the keynote of the night, as Michelle Obama reminded us all what life was like when decent and respectable people last inhabited the White House. If her entire speech could be summed up in a single word, it would be: "Empathy." Or perhaps: "Empathy matters."

Obama's overall tone echoed the entire night, and might be described as an iron hand in a velvet glove. She was both well-spoken and soft-spoken throughout, but she certainly made the case against Trump in very detailed and scathing fashion. She explained why she sympathized with parents everywhere who just wanted a return to the days when the president of the United States could be held up as a role model for the nation's children. She kept to her previous "when they go low, we go high," but noted that this was not the same thing as just rolling over when confronted by what is wrong. For the first time, she denounced Donald Trump by name and threw the best shade of the whole evening with her dismissive "It is what it is" comment.

Michelle Obama was an excellent finisher to a very admirable first-night program. Granted, the whole first night was rather low-key, but please remember that a nominating convention is a four-night affair which is supposed to build in intensity throughout. So we'll have to see what the second night brings, but my initial reaction to the first night was that the Democrats have already set the bar pretty high for the new "in the times of coronavirus" convention format.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


51 Comments on “Democratic Convention Day One: We The People”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Meg Whitman spoke!!!???

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Do you think the needle was threaded when it comes to the first night of the convention appealing to all Democrats, some Republicans and a majority of Independents?

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I can't believe Meg Whitman spoke. Are there two of them!?

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Because, the one I know of ran against Jerry Brown in 2010 for Governor of California.

    I sure hope that one isn't the one who spoke last night!

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    She spent a record 160 million dollars trying to beat Governor Brown and failed. She couldn't have beat Brown if she spent a billion dollars.

    There is a message in that, Don.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    This is the one Democratic convention that I had hoped and prayed you would attend.


  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    And, may I say that CNNs coverage of night two of the Democratic convention has been a laugh riot! In a good way, I mean. :)

    And, we haven't even got to the Lemon and Cuomo show, yet!

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    "Is there anyone alive out there!?"

  9. [9] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    You have to love that the Postmaster Genital has announced that he'll delay the destruction of the USPS until after the election. I don't think we should believe him since Bunker Boy only hires lying liars, but even if we do believe him, doesn't this seem like a poorly thought out campaign promise?

    Vote for me and I'll make sure you never get your mail?

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Nailed it.

  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I'll go to sleep, laughing.

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    ... and drunk on the Democratic convention. :)

  13. [13] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    I don't watch this kind of stuff, but I do think it's a blunder to give more time to former Fox News talking heads like Kasich than to a rising star like AOC. I really don't know who he appeals to at this point, but I don't think it's Dem voters.

  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Don't start me up on AOC!

  15. [15] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Not after her performance tonight ...

  16. [16] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Dem voters should already know who to vote for or be motivated to come out to vote without hearing from Kasich, for God's sake!!!

  17. [17] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    All AOC said was that she was happy to nominate Bernie Sanders for the nest president of the United States.

    She could have added a bit more.

    Rising star? Huh. To be determined.

  18. [18] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I really don't know who he appeals to at this point, but I don't think it's Dem voters.

    Goes without saying. Ahem.

  19. [19] 
    Kick wrote:

    I'm taking one down:

    75 DAYS * 23 HOURS * 58 MINUTES

  20. [20] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I got to get me one of those for counting down the Rolling Stones' arrival!

  21. [21] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    She could have added a bit more.

    Was she given more than 60 seconds?

    Rising star? Huh. To be determined.

    It's already a FACT! Big Money Joe had better be nice to her.

  22. [22] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Oh, it is the other way around, my friend. How long does it take to say, 'Joe Biden' ...

  23. [23] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    She got the time she deserved.

  24. [24] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    AOC needs to learn a thing or two about respecting her elders.

  25. [25] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I still love the House speech she gave the other day with regard to being called names by a fellow congressMan ... I could have listened to her all day. It was a great speech!

  26. [26] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I'm in a bit of mood ... nasty debate over at my favourite radio station about who is the best, Beatles or the Stones.

  27. [27] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    The Stones and that's a FACT.

  28. [28] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, that is precisely what I have been trying to tell them. :)

  29. [29] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    All AOC said was that she was happy to nominate Bernie Sanders for the nest president of the United States. She could have added a bit more.

    That really was what she was there for and I suspect that the transcript will reveal that she said a little more than that. Is Joe just another narcissist who can't hear his name enough? It's not good enough that's she's on his team?

    You really do want Bernie's fans to vote, don't you?

  30. [30] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    I'm glad the theme wasn't For The People. Kamala used that for her campaign. Using an ambulance chaser's slogan is probably why she went down in flames.

  31. [31] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Is Joe just another narcissist who can't hear his name enough?

    No, Joe probably thinks she's great.

    I'm the one with the problem.

  32. [32] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    Do you know who the Orange One has nominated to be U.S. ambassador to Canada?

  33. [33] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    No, but I wanted to tell you what made me laugh out loud during Totally Stripped ... when Keith was rushing into the venue in Paris to practice and he heard all the others already practicing and he says, "They started without me!" ... Ha!

    Okay, tell me who.

  34. [34] 
    Kick wrote:

    Chris Weigant

    But the biggest two speeches of the night came at the end. First Bernie Sanders proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's ready for the upcoming winter, by speaking in front of an absolute wall of cut firewood.

    You have no idea how funny it is to see you write that because me and my crew had the exact same response and more fun with that "wood wall" than you can shake a stick at. The minute we saw it, we were like**

    ** Bern it down
    ** Bern it up

    Bernie: "Together we must build a nation that is more equitable..."

    ** one log cabin at a time

    Bernie: Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

    ** feel the Bern

    Bernie: Trump golfs.

    ** 1-wood, 2-wood, 3-wood
    ** Tiger Woods

    Bernie: The future of our democracy is at stake.

    * Berning at the stake

    Bernie: The future of our economy is at stake. The future of the planet is at stake.

    * The stakes are high.

    In our defense, we had by then had quite a few alcoholic beverages, and all kidding aside, I did think Bernie's speech last night was pretty dang good... for a Yankee. ;)

  35. [35] 
    Kick wrote:

    John From Censornati

    You have to love that the Postmaster Genital has announced that he'll delay the destruction of the USPS until after the election.


    I don't think we should believe him since Bunker Boy only hires lying liars, but even if we do believe him, doesn't this seem like a poorly thought out campaign promise?

    Those 20+ AG's and states better hold his butt to the fire and make him accountable to the law... don't let up with the lawsuits they're filing... and full steam ahead.

  36. [36] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    LizM [36],

    Okay, tell me who.

    The Postmaster Genital's wife.

  37. [37] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    The Orange Swamp Thing wants your small money.

  38. [38] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    You have to be joking. I mean about the ambassador.

  39. [39] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    You really do want Bernie's fans to vote, don't you?

    Well, yes ... yes, I do. I don't think that it's too much to hope for, either and, I don't think any of them care what I think.

  40. [40] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    I don't think they care about that either, but they probably care about what AOC says. She's very bright. You should trust that she knows what she's doing. She's left no doubt that she wants Biden to win. So do I, but it's not about him.

  41. [41] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    [41] No joke.

  42. [42] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Good God.

  43. [43] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    It kind of is about him, though, no?

  44. [44] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I guess I just remember what happened at the last Democratic convention and what I heard many Bernie supporters say. Of course, that was when the nominee wasn't Biden. Heh.

  45. [45] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    [46] It could be almost anybody. The bar is set pretty low this time around. I'd rather it was Bernie or Liz (or somebody a little younger).

  46. [46] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    If the Dems nominated Willard Rmoney, I'd vote for him.

  47. [47] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    And, he'd probably lose.

  48. [48] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Which is just to say that I think it really mattered who the Dems nominated to go up against Trump.

  49. [49] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Well, it's official - you fumduckers have done it again - nominated the only American capable of losing to the Orange Moron.

    Let's hope the OM blows it this time.

  50. [50] 
    James T Canuck wrote:

    I don't know, there were a few decent moments to the first night's 'cavalcade' of big girl's blouses. Kasich, Cuomo, Sanders and Obama all said what had to be said in a timely way.

    Sanders finally came to his senses and told his mob that Biden the hand that feeds them will ultimately feed the presidency to that excrement for another four years, in addition to the four for which they still have to account.

    It's refreshing to see the Elephants all of one mind, Trump has to go, sharpish. The rest of the planet has decided if you want to grassy knoll this one too... You'll get no flak from us.

    Under no circumstance can Trump be allowed to continue in his present line of fraud.

    See to it.


  51. [51] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:
Comments for this article are closed.