Michelle Obama, former first lady of the US, was the keynote speaker at the first virtual national convention of the Democratic Party. She did not disappoint and went into a long and detailed pitch for people to vote
By Kenneth Tiven in Washinton
Millions of Americans who tuned in to watch the opening night of the Democratic Party’s virtual convention observed a wide range of real people and politicians make the case that empathy and decency can save America from the authoritarian future promised by President Donald Trump.
Because the Covid-19 pandemic made traditional convention centre political gatherings impossible, the Democrats, early on, decided to use a more people oriented effort similar to the Zoom video meetings that are now seemingly ubiquitous in our lives.
Businessmen, farmers, teachers, medical workers, people of all colours and ethnicity, joined a host of politicians in talking about how the nation is handling—or not handling the economic, social and life-ending aspects of the global crisis where the US is the worst shape of all the nations on earth.
The programme seemed free of the artifice of most political conventions where raucous crowds stand packed together half listening to the speeches and applauding when it seems logical.
Candidate Joe Biden appeared in various sections of the programme, but it was people talking about him that provided a sense of his compassion and ability to listen to people and shape solutions. The first hour of the two-hour programme didn’t spend much time attacking Trump by name until Kristin Urquiza, whose late father voted for Trump said, “His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that he paid with his life.”
That line startled many viewers. An assortment of Democratic and some Republican politicians added anecdotes explaining why Trump was a danger to America. Trump’s recent statement that he would not fund emergency money to the US Post office because he doesn’t want mail-in voting to happen, was woven into the programme. Had the convention taken place when originally scheduled, this would not have happened.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who contested the primaries with Biden, was unequivocal in his support. He said, while I’d go further than Joe on several issues, it is more important to stop Trump whom he alluded to with a reference to the crimes of dictators from the Second World War. “The price of failure is just too great to imagine,” he said, reflecting a theme Biden hopes will unite various aspects of the party and attract Republicans and independents tired of Trump’s behaviour and lack of leadership in the medical crisis.
Michelle Obama, former first lady, was the keynote speaker and she did not disappoint. In a warm and personal style that made good use of her informal setting, she zinged Trump hard, even using his name, which she has generally refused to do for the last three years: “He is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment.”
Speaking of Biden’s sense of compassion, “Joe knows the anguish of sitting at a table with an empty chair”. Biden lost a young wife and child in an auto accident early in his career and his son Beau, a rising political star in his own right, died a few years ago of brain cancer.
Mrs Obama went into a long and detailed pitch for people to vote. “This is not the time to withhold our votes in protest, ” she said, “we’ve got to request our mail-in ballots right now—tonight,” adding a sense of urgency.
There are three more nights of this approach ahead, with the Republicans following a week later. If its tone stays comparable it would be in stark contrast to the bombastic, self-focused image likely to be a feature of Trump’s efforts to stay in office for four more years. The collapsed economy and the pandemic death toll has left Trump deflated and angry but still popular with the folks who believed in him in 2016.
From a television perspective, this new form of production had but two minor glitches. To this reporter who has covered six political conventions the tone and style were a welcome change.
—The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels
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