The second night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention is over.
The oddness of the all-virtual gathering was slightly less jarring than on the opening night (or maybe I was just more used to it). Old hands like Bill Clinton were mixed with young stars like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a series of virtual speeches. It was, overall, a markedly better two hours than I witnessed on Monday night.
Below the best – and worst – of the night that was.
* The McCain video: I am a rarely swayed by a Republican speaking at a Democratic convention (or vice versa). But the video – narrated by Cindy McCain – documenting the longtime friendship of John McCain and Joe Biden was extremely well done and reinforced a central message of Biden’s presidential campaign: He is someone with the willingness and ability to work across the aisle – someone who believes more in people than partisan labels. Hearing McCain’s voice again was both haunting and uplifting, and a reminder that politics can be a good thing.
*Ady Barkan: The story of the young father afflicted with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) is well-known, but no less powerful for it. The video of Barkan playing with his young child, the voiceover of him explaining why he is fighting so hard on health care – it was a hugely powerful, emotional and human moment.
* Jill Biden: She isn’t Michelle Obama. But, well, no one is. Jill Biden did what she needed to in her speech – she told the Biden story (a life marked by both tragedy and resilience) in a way that no one else could. Her testimonial to her husband’s faith and how he leaned on it to get him through the hardest of times was important, too, disrupting the narrative pushed by President Donald Trump that the former vice president doesn’t care about God. Plus, I liked the Biden cameo and the “I’m Jill Biden’s husband!” introduction. A little hokey, sure. But that’s what conventions are!
* Jacquelyn Brittany: Having the New York Times elevator operator who went viral when she told Biden that she loved him when he came by the paper to interview with the editorial board was a stroke of genius. And her words about Biden – “in the short time I spent with Joe Biden, I could tell he really saw me” – were a powerful testimonial to the Democratic nominee’s humanity and empathy.
* The state roll call vote: There isn’t much about a virtual convention that is better than the real thing. But the state roll call vote – which serves to formally nominate the presidential nominee – is one of them. It was fun to see what every state chose as its background – Rhode Island with a chef standing off to the side with a plate of calamari was the BEST – and who each state chose to deliver the votes to Joe Biden (and Bernie Sanders). (Khizr Khan, a Gold Star dad attacked by Trump during the 2016 race, and the parents of Matthew Shepard, who was killed in anti-gay hate crime, were particularly powerful choices.) And for a country that has been forced by Covid-19 to stay close to home for months, it was like a mini-trip around the country that I at least found hugely refreshing. And I wasn’t the only one.
* John Legend: Dude is just plain talented. Also: How many people can pull off the white suit with a black turtleneck? Not I.
* Bill Clinton: The former president has spoken at every Democratic convention since 1980. And he is a former Democratic president of the United States. So it’s not easy to tell him no. But for a party that has fully embraced the #MeToo movement and is leaning on women to beat Donald Trump, the image of Clinton was a jarring one. (You may remember that as President he has an extramarital affair with a White House intern.) Clinton didn’t get much time to speak (five-ish minutes) and it was in the very early moments of the night’s programming. But still…
* Chuck Schumer: I could just imagine the ever-media-aware Senate Majority Leader setting up the shot – Statue of Liberty in the background! – for his speech. Except that the statue was so blurry that you could barely recognize it. “I love that the planned symbolism of the shot was ruined by the need for a wide aperture to light it,” tweeted AJ Chavar, a video journalist (and former colleague of mine at The Washington Post).
* Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Watching AOC deliver a 90-second nominating speech for Sanders in the first hour of the convention was sort of like going to a Yankees game and seeing Aaron Judge pinch-hit. It just felt sort of like a waste of talent. I understand that the Biden team didn’t want AOC, a GOP lightning rod, to be front-and-center in a big primetime speech. But it felt like she could have been deployed in a much more effective way than she was.
* John Kerry: Meh. I mean, I understand the idea – a former Democratic presidential nominee and Secretary of State using his perceived gravitas to help make the case that Donald Trump is dangerous to America’s standing in the world. But another elder statesman of the Democratic old guard in a suit talking about why Trump is bad? In a decidedly senatorial tone? I could have done without it.