At the Democratic National Convention in 2016, Hillary Clinton told Americans that “love trumps hate.” Michelle Obama told Democrats, “When they go low, we go high.” And President Barack Obama told the crowd that he was “even more optimistic about the future of America.”
Four years later, the country is in a much darker place. And so are the Democrats.
To hear the party tell it at this year’s convention, America is engaged in an existential war. A battle against creeping authoritarianism. A fight to save the most basic building blocks of public education, health care and the economy. A moral crusade for a basic level of decency.
“The heart of this nation still beats with kindness and courage,” Jill Biden said in her address on Tuesday night. “That’s the soul of America Joe Biden is fighting for now.”
For much of 2019, Democrats debated the details of their policy differences. Should student debt be canceled for everyone or only for some? How quickly should the country transition away from fossil fuels? To what extent should America embrace a public health care system?
Those fights have been washed away, or at least buried until after Inauguration Day. Instead, the focus of the second night of the convention was on the simple promise of returning a sense of normalcy to a nation grappling with a devastating pandemic and social unrest.
A charming roll call that traveled the country painted a rosy picture of a multiracial democracy. Dr. Biden described her husband as a leader driven by a deep sense of empathy, once considered a basic quality of a president. National security officials talked about restoring the country’s place on the world stage. Testimonials to Mr. Biden’s character dominated the evening.
At past Democratic conventions, attacks on the Republican opponent have been entangled with criticism of the Republican Party and its agenda. This year, the focus is solely on President Trump. And the attacks are deeply personal.
“He won’t defend our country. He doesn’t know how to defend our troops. The only person he’s interested in defending is himself,” former Secretary of State John Kerry said.
“If you want a president who defines the job as spending hours a day watching TV and zapping people on social media, he’s your man,” former President Bill Clinton said.
The message was clear: It’s not that love trumps hate, but that beating Mr. Trump trumps everything else.
It’s an argument that plays to the heart of the Democratic electorate, which told pollsters during the primary race that defeating Mr. Trump was more important than nearly anything else. It was a reason Mr. Biden prevailed over a crowded field of younger, more diverse and ideologically ambitious rivals: Primary voters saw him as the safest choice.
To make the case against the president, Democrats are even welcoming Republicans onto their virtual stage, including many whom they disagree with on issues fundamental to the party like abortion, foreign policy and workers’ rights.
Tuesday night’s program embraced Colin Powell, a former secretary of state under George W. Bush who made the case for the Iraq war — a foreign entanglement later renounced by nearly every Democrat in the party. It paid homage to the friendship between Mr. Biden and former Senator John McCain, who ran against Mr. Obama.
Even the party’s future took a back seat to the more urgent quest to oust Mr. Trump.
The Democrats’ “next generation of party leaders” were compressed into one montage of a keynote address, a rather disjointed viewing experience given the 17 different people speaking. Mr. Clinton, 74, Mr. Kerry, 76, Mr. Powell, 83, and Dr. Biden, 69, gave the lengthiest remarks.
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Calamari and the end of the floor vote?
So far, the first all-virtual convention has been fairly well received, but there is nary a Democratic official or delegate who would want to commit to another one in four years. If the party can return to the more traditional trappings of a political convention in 2024, it will.
Except, perhaps, for the floor vote.
Yes, it is the most important part of the “official party business” in a convention, when each state’s delegates officially pledge their votes to anoint a nominee.
But the floor vote doesn’t always make for a good viewing experience. Microphones are hastily passed around an arena as camera operators whiz down cluttered aisles to get to the next delegation to speak. Most of the excitement comes from the delegates’ wardrobes (there are often some impressive, patriotic hats).
On Tuesday, the roll call went on a virtual road trip around the country for nearly 30 minutes, as officials in 57 states and territories delivered their pledges in front of famous vistas with their own unique flair.
At a time when most Americans are unable to travel, the virtual road trip was a momentary escape to locales both familiar and far-off, such as the Northern Mariana Islands. And the presentations oozed local charm and state pride. Utah touted the state’s vote-by-mail operation, New Jersey showed off the Asbury Park boardwalk (at night), and Rhode Island boasted that “our state appetizer, calamari, is available in all 50 states.”
If the roll call returns to the convention hall in 2024, perhaps Rhode Island could at least bring some calamari to the floor.
More convention coverage
Here’s our recap article from the front page of the newspaper: “Democrats formally nominated Joseph R. Biden Jr. for the presidency on Tuesday night. …”
Our news analysis on Night 2’s foreign policy theme: “Putting back the pieces is probably not a feasible option, with global affairs straying a great distance from the status quo Mr. Biden might recall. …”
You can also watch video clips of the most memorable parts of Night 2 of the convention.
An accidental viral moment between Mr. Biden and a security guard — who, it so happens, works for The New York Times — led to an even bigger moment on Tuesday night.
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