Jim Newell: Julia! The Democratic National Convention is over and though the party leaders are spread throughout remote locations across the country, I am pretty sure I heard their loud “PHEW” from inside my home. Joe Biden crisply and articulately delivered his speech accepting the Democratic nomination, a whole 25 minutes that went by without any of the elderly mental fumbles that the Trump campaign had been hoping for. The program before Biden’s speech was … hmm … but we’ll get to that in a minute. But first, what did you make of Biden’s speech?
Julia Craven: I really liked it! And I’m not someone who is impressed by political speeches. I don’t think it was an outstanding oration, but I do think it was effective and he delivered it really well through appropriate vocal tone shifts. He was confident. You got the sense that he’s a well-seasoned politician, something we ain’t really seeing too much of these days.
I also noticed how, overall, it felt a bit further left of center than usual. I could see that he’s been talking and listening to Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
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Jim: Yeah, he didn’t hide from the policy he’s signed on for, which a lot of the center-left (or actual Republican) speakers in this convention have tended to do. I thought he was most effective when he related to those who’ve lost people to COVID by sharing his own experiences with grief: “I know how it feels to lose someone you love. I know that deep black hole that opens up in your chest. That you feel your whole being is sucked into it. I know how mean and cruel and unfair life can be sometimes.” It’s been WELL DISCUSSED that he’s past his prime, but at his best, he still excels at making people feel comfortable around him. I saw it on the campaign trail, when he would give some meandering stump speech where he said 20 things wrong but would win over votes one by one just interacting with people afterward. And I think that relatable candidate came through. And again, he didn’t screw up the speech, which in and of itself is a huge blow to Trump’s (perhaps poorly devised) attacks.
That said … how terrible was the rest of the night?
Julia: You know … it was pretty difficult to watch. But there were some bright spots. Riley Curry is always a joy. Brayden Harrington put his whole foot in his speech. We could all learn something from him. Cedric Richmond Jr. should host the next convention—and, to be fair, he should have hosted this one too. The tribute to John Lewis was stunning as well.
But overall it felt flat. I don’t know how much of that is because we’re all at home instead of being jammed in a massive convention center together, though.
Do you think the convention being virtual affected how people at home perceived it?
Jim: I felt like the most effective parts—aside from some of the video segments, which they would have shown at a normal convention anyway—were the speeches from (both) Obamas and Bernie Sanders, where the message was quite grave: We’re doomed if this shit doesn’t stop. It didn’t require a roaring audience to land. I don’t know what audiences at home were supposed to make, for example, of Julia Louis-Dreyfus cracking one-liners about Trump tear-gassing protesters after a video about how seriously Biden takes his faith?
Julia: That’s a fair take on it. And thank you for reminding me that it was a bad night for Julias. But it was a good night for the fly that landed on Michael Bloomberg.
Jim: Yeah, it must be irritating to pay the Democratic Party $60 million for a DNC speech and then not even be able to adequately debug the room in which he spoke. I thought Bloomberg’s speech, to the extent I listened to it, was a repeat of what he said at the 2016 DNC: I’m a good businessman, so believe me when I say he is a bad one!
There were some times tonight, and this week, where I shuddered thinking about how this reminded me of 2016. There was the Sarah Cooper impressions video, celebrities making jokes, good production values … and then like a minute devoted to a roundtable with real human workers. Jon Meacham babbled about dignity or something for an extraordinarily long period of time. By the time Biden’s turn to speak came up, the eloquent speakers from the earlier nights seemed far away—which, intentionally or not, served as a pretty good strategy for keeping the nominee from being overshadowed.
Julia: I wish I remembered 2016 that well. It seems like a faraway land.
Jim: I guess what makes me nervous is that they’re banking a lot on these “dignity” and “decency” points as the central argument. And it’s a good point when Trump is president! But they lost in 2016 when they took the same approach.
Julia: I’m becoming more convinced that this messaging could work because Trump has had four years in the White House. He’s no longer a concept; he’s a very horrifying reality.
Jim: I start becoming convinced and then I have flashbacks and hide under the furniture in terror, but I’ll work on that.