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2020 Democratic Convention: 10 Takeaways

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The 2020 Democratic convention is over. Given the difficult circumstances, it might have been a disaster. Instead it was very successful. Here are 10 takeaways:

10. Better than expected. Political conventions are typically overrated. Too many speeches. Manufactured controversy. Too many talking heads.

This year's Democratic convention was all "virtual" and, therefore, more immediate. Overall, it had a better flow than any convention I've watched. Each of the four nights worked. There were many interesting cameos and powerful songs. Kudos to the organizers. Let's make this the model for all Democratic conventions.

9. Compelling themes. Throughout the four nights there was a coordinated emphasis on several meta-themes: Family: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris spoke of their families and emphasized the importance of protecting American families. Dignity: each person has worth and deserves a shot at the American dream; everyone needs access to healthcare, housing, education, and a decent job. Overcoming adversity: Biden has overcome the death of his first wife and their little daughter and, later the death of his son. Harris has overcome the burden of being a black woman, born of immigrant parents, in America. Unity/Working together/E Pluribus Unum: Biden and Harris and most speakers spoke of the importance of recreating a culture where Americans work together to overcome these tough times: pandemic, recession, and systemic racism. Love: Biden's personal story emphasized his deep faith and his capacity to reach out with love to everyday people (as well as political adversaries).

8. Diversity: Harris said that she and Biden want to rebuild the "beloved community." The dominant theme was: "Democrats are the Party of diversity. (Republicans are the Party of rich white men.)" More than any previous Democratic convention the speakers were diverse by color, gender, age, and physical condition (ALS activist, Ady Barkin, spoke from his wheelchair).

7. Powerful women. On the first three nights of the convention, women got the most airtime (Michelle Obama, Jill Biden, Kamala Harris). It wasn't tokenism. It's clear that women have a lot of power in the Democratic Party. (By the way: each night's program was narrated by a woman.)

6. Joe Biden is a nice guy. The convention organizers went out of their way to tell Biden's story. To emphasize his working-class roots. To portray his faith. To depict how he overcame adversity. And, to illustrate his capacity for empathy; his ability to get-along with people from the elevator-operator who nominated him to the late Senator John McCain (and many other Republicans). [There was a clear contrast: Donald Trump is not a nice guy and he does not get along with folks, particularly anyone who is not a Trump supporter.)

Best Biden supporter cameo: Fifteen-year-old Brayden Harrington who spoke about Joe Biden helping Brayden to overcome his stutter.

5.The Roll Call. In a typical convention, one of the most boring segments is the delegation roll call. "The great state of Wisconsin, the cheese state, cast 26 ballots for Governor Al Smith..." This year, due to the pandemic, each delegation filmed a video to cast their votes for president. So there were 57 brief videos from every part of the country including American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Washington DC, and Rhode Island (the "calamari state"). Again, this emphasized the diversity of the Party. It was heartwarming.

4. Kamala Harris: No pressure, but in her acceptance speech, Kamala Harris had to introduce herself to a large segment of American voters, illustrate that she is moderate Democrat -- and not some radical firebrand, and demonstrate that she is capable of running the big show if something happens to Biden. She did this.

Kamala Harris was articulate and compelling. Her speech had many memorable lines but two that stuck out: "I know a predator when I see one." [A not so subtle reference to Donald Trump - who describes her as "a nasty woman."] And, "There is no vaccine for racism. We have got to do the work"

3. Michelle Obama: Michelle is the most beloved woman in America but she's not a politician. (Doesn't want to be a politician.) So, she doesn't give that many political speeches. Nonetheless, Her keynote address on the convention's opening night was a "wowser".

Most memorable line: "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. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is." [Emphasis added]

2.Barack Obama. Barack Obama is the best political orator of our era. Normally, on a list like this, he would be number one. Nonetheless, his somber convention address was a classic: "I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office. ... But he never did...
Donald Trump hasn't grown into the job because he can't. And the consequences of that failure are severe." [Emphasis added]

1. Joe Biden: Over the years, I've seen Joe Biden give many speeches. His 2020 acceptance speech was his best. It wasn't just the best speech in terms of the content, it was the best speech in terms of delivery. It showed us his program, his values, and his heart. It was a fitting end to a strong convention. (By the way: Biden's speech should nullify the Republican claim that Biden is not mentally up to the job of President.)

Best lines: "The current president has cloaked America in darkness for much too long. Too much anger. Too much fear. Too much division. Here and now, I give you my word if you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I will be an ally of the light, not the darkness. . . . We will choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, fairness over privilege." "You know, I've always believed you can define America in one word: possibilities. The defining feature of America: Everything is possible."

Strong speech. Strong convention. I feel hopeful.

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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