The Democratic National Convention kicked off Monday night looking, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, like a lot of things — except, you know, a convention.
And then Michelle Obama spoke.
“Let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can,” she said in her pre-tapedspeech at the end of the night. “Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. … It is what it is.”
That was old-fashioned politicking at its best, no matter what platform it went out on, no matter how you received it. No balloons dropped when she was done, no applause interrupted her several applause-worthy lines. But this was about as good as this kind of thing gets, and it suffered little for her delivering it in what looked like somebody’s spare bedroom.
To be fair, there was applause at the end of some speeches from what looked like Zoom viewers, which only added to the oddness.
Sometimes the DNC looked like a telethon, other times a Zoom call
Democrats told delegates and speakers not to come to Milwaukee, where the convention was scheduled to be held. Instead all four nights will be virtual gatherings, and there is truly only one word to describe the way that looks on TV:
Sometimes, as many on social media noted, Monday night looked like a telethon. Sometimes it looked like a Zoom meeting with people you didn’t know and maybe wished you could mute.
Sometimes it was genuinely inspiring, no matter what your politics.
Oh who are we kidding? Everything is all about politics and this was no different. But it was a different kind of take on the traditional convention. Call me shallow but I kind of missed the crowd noise and the stupid hats.
Why Eva Longoria Baston hosted
Eva Longoria Baston, the actress, hosted Monday night. Why? Maybe Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is a “Desperate Housewives” fan? (Actually she’s a longtime Democratic activist.) She explained that things would be different, and set the tone early: “Every four years we come together to reform our democracy. This year we come to save it.”
This would be the point where typically cameras panned across the floor of a convention hall packed with delegates screaming and hollering and looking like they were well into their second or third happy hour of the day. Only people don’t pack places anymore (or shouldn’t).
Instead Baston took a decidedly more muted approach, and a long-distance one at that. She bounced around with some footage from people who said they have suffered under President Donald Trump’s term. There were occasional musical performances that seemed oddly out of place. Children from around the country said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the National Anthem.
More than anything, it was like a Biden commercial
More than anything else it seemed like a commercial for Joe Biden. But isn’t that what a traditional convention is in its own way? This one just looked a lot different.
The Democratic candidates Biden defeated in the primaries gave votes of confidence. Even some Republicans offered their support, or at least their disparagement of Trump. This led to one of the more curious statements of the night: “I’m Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. What am I doing here?”
Sen. Bernie Sanders gave a full-on speech and, despite his differences with Biden, offered his support. And he scorched Trump.
“Nero fiddled while Rome burned,” Sanders said of Trump’s lack of response to the pandemic. “Trump golfs.”
For all the sick burns, and there were many, the most emotional words came from Kristin Urquiza, whose father died of COVID-19. She lives in San Francisco but her father lived — and died — in Arizona.
“My dad was a healthy 65-year-old,” she said. “His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life.”
Then, Michelle Obama took things to the next level
As striking as Urquiza’s speech was, everything was a build-up to Obama, and she did not disappoint. She said she hated politics and she well might, having spent eight years as first lady.
But she’s awfully good at it.
She famously said, during the 2016 convention, when they go low, we go high. Keep this in context — no one realized then how low “they” would go. She revisited that Monday night, with a different spin.
“Going high is the only thing that works,” she said, “because when we go low, when we use those same tactics of degrading and dehumanizing others, we just become part of the ugly noise that’s drowning out everything else. We degrade ourselves. We degrade the very causes for which we fight.”
What ‘going high’ means now
That could have been from 2016. But not the next bit:
“But let’s be clear. Going high does not mean saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty. Going high means taking the harder path. It means scraping and clawing our way to that mountain top. Going high means standing fierce against hatred while remembering that we are one nation under God, and if we want to survive, we’ve got to find a way to live together and work together across our differences.”
Of course conventions are one-sided affairs, with no rebuttal, no defense. If you don’t think Trump and his supporters will go low next week you’ve slept through the last four years. I don’t know if going high or going low is good politics and frankly I don’t care.
I do know things are profoundly different now, and Monday night was another sign of it. Conventions may never be the same. Maybe that’s a good thing. But as long as there are speakers with the skills of Michelle Obama, some things will never change.