The Official DNC Round Up
From July 25th-28th, the Democrats held their presidential convention, the Democratic National Convention (DNC), at the birthplace of the U.S., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Over the course of four days, the Dems gathered to nominate their presidential and vice presidential candidates, and listen to party leaders, presidents, activists and celebrities give speeches and extol the Dem platform.
But before the DNC even started, the Dems were already roiled with convention controversy. Wikileaks released hacked emails from months ago that showed DNC officials discussing possible plans to allegedly knock Bernie Sanders out of the nomination race. While nothing ever came of these plans, the damage from the leak to the DNC was already done. DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) resigned from her post, and during her one public appearance before the DNC she was loudly booed by the outraged crowd.
For a party hoping to put on a better show of unity compared to the fractious RNC, things were already in chaos.
Day 1 – United Together
Despite the theme being “United Together,” the first day of the DNC started with unrest from the Bernie delegates. A large portion of them loudly booed anything they didn’t like, which involved boos crashing through the speakers during any mention of Hillary Clinton’s policies, or nominating Hillary Clinton, or voting for Hillary Clinton, or literally anything involving Hillary Clinton. Their discontent with Hillary and the DNC even overrode their love for progressive firebrand, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). When Warren mentioned that she was fully supporting Hillary, the enraged Bernie delegates let their anger be heard.
Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) gave a rousing speech filled with soaring rhetoric and hopeful optimism (reflecting a younger Barack Obama’s 2004 DNC speech to mixed reviews), which was also punctuated by angry chants from the Bernie delegates.
In what has to be one of the single best speeches that I have personally ever heard, First Lady Michelle Obama gave a charismatic, impassioned, powerful speech defending the progress in America thus far and the need to continue that progress under a Hillary Clinton presidency. The First Lady’s oratory skills dominated the convention halls, leaving even the most hardened Bernie delegate in emotional speechlessness.
The day ended with the man himself, Bernie Sanders, making his final major speech. It was a plea to all of the Dems, targeting his unruly delegates and “Bernie or Bust” supporters in particular, asking that they all get behind Hillary Clinton and elect her as president. Bernie made the case that a Trump presidency is unthinkable, and Hillary is the only choice to stop him. The Bernie delegates watched heartbroken, a few trying to protest and plead, as their candidate hammered the final nail on the Bernie campaign coffin.
Day 2 – A Lifetime Of Fighting For Children And Families
Before the evening’s main speakers, the DNC held their official nomination vote. After all the delegates cast their votes, either for Bernie or for Hillary, Bernie, speaking from the Vermont delegation mic, moved to suspend the voting rules and have all votes be recorded as votes for Hillary in the official record. Bernie’s motion was passed by acclamation, and it was a clever show of unity that still allowed Bernie’s delegates to at least vote for their now-defeated candidate.
The headline speaker for the evening was former President Bill Clinton, Hillary’s husband, who chose to give his speech in the form of a deeply personal recount of their life together, starting from when they met at a library at Yale’s law school. The speech was clearly meant to help humanize Hillary, and was loaded with anecdotes about Hillary as a loving mother, a committed public servant and policy maker, and a compassionate individual.
Day 2 ended with a clip of Hillary “shattering” pictures of all the past presidents (who are all male) and her saying that her nomination was another giant crack was made in the glass ceiling for women and girls in America.
Day 3 – Working Together
There were only three speakers that mattered on Day 3: Vice President Joe Biden, Vice President nominee Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), and President Barack Obama.
Biden gave a blistering, fiery speech that tore into Trump and dismissed him and his dark rhetoric as “malarkey.”
Kaine gave his VP nomination speech and it was mediocre to say the least. Kaine punctuated his speech with a cringe-worthy impression of Trump that only added to his average, boring dad reputation. The other thing of note was Kaine’s display of his fluent spanish speaking skills, interjected his speech with spanish quotes.
After a video that showcased Obama’s rise and presidency (portrayed in a way as if to say “Do you miss me yet?), the President took to the stage and delivered what was truly one of his most astounding pieces of oratory of his career. His speech was calm, rife with passion and filled with his trademark cadence. He portrayed Hillary as the only one fit for the presidency as she and not Trump knew what it was like to be in the Oval Office, and described her as the most qualified candidate ever to be nominated. Obama linked Trump and his “homegrown demagoguery” to other threats to the American way of life, while praising the diversity and unity of America. But the most noticeable thing was that Obama annexed the GOP’s mainstay Reagan rhetoric. It was no longer the Republicans defending American patriotism, American exceptionalism, and Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” – it was the the Democrats who were the protector of these ideals.
With our President closing what will be one of his final major addresses to the American people, Hillary, his chosen successor, walked out on stage to hug her former rival turned friend and ally.
Day 4 – Stronger Together
There are two notable things before we get to Hillary Clinton and her daughter.
The first is that Sarah McBride, an LGBTQ activist, was the first trans individual to ever address a party convention.
The second was Khizr Khan’s emotional speech about his son, who was a soldier killed in the Iraq War, during which Khan denounced Trump and his anti-immigrant policies, saying that Trump has not made any real sacrifices and asking whether or not Trump has even read the U.S. Constitution. This speech has since triggered a massive controversy, after Trump decided to attack Khan and his wife with ostensibly ethnically charged language.
At long last the final two speeches for the DNC.
Chelsea Clinton, Hillary’s daughter, is not the most charismatic speakers, nor the most exciting. She tried to make up for that with her plethora of anecdotes about Hillary as a mother and grandmother. How effective that was is mostly up in the air, and in the inevitable comparison to Ivanka Trump, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka certainly outclassed Chelsea in charisma and oratory skill.
Finally, Hillary Clinton, the woman herself, took to the stage to accept her nomination and give her biggest speech to the electorate yet.
Hillary, long criticized for her lack of charisma, made no major change to that trend. Instead, she doubled down on her tenacious, policy and details driven persona, reiterating her refusal to quit no matter what. What she lacked in excitement and oratory, she made for with her steady tone, her attacks on Trump, and her portrayal of herself as calm and competent compared to Trump’s mercurial temperament and lack of qualifications. She stated that you can’t trust someone in the presidency who is easily baited with tweets (to which Trump angrily responded to…with tweets).
Hillary kept to the message of optimism that was portrayed during the DNC, and her most notable line acknowledged the whole historical moment: “When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.”
Take-aways from the 2016 DNC
The end of the DNC signals two things to the public: the presentation of the Democratic platform and candidates to the electorate, and the end of the primary season for both major parties.
After the DNC there is roughly 100 or so days for the GOP to campaign across America in order to sell the message they presented at the DNC. Here are a few of my take-aways as we enter the general election.
1. The Dems managed to avoid a cataclysmic schism between the Bernie supporters and the Hillary supporters.
Scandal after scandal for the DNC and the fervent love for Bernie’s anti-establishment persona made the very large faction of die-hard Bernie supporters rebellious and unwilling to back Hillary. It took careful maneuvering, specific gestures of placation and unity, and cautious rhetoric to bring the unhappy Bernie delegates in line with Hillary. For the wider electorate, this show of unity was possibly the last well publicized push by Bernie and the DNC to bring the remaining holdouts into the Hillary camp. Hillary was always going to be the nominee, but the consolidation of the Dem base was shaky at times. Were it not for the looming specter of a Trump presidency, I doubt that the Dems would’ve been this successful in unifying the party.
2. The Dems have co-opted pointedly traditional conservative rhetoric from the GOP because Trump failed to use it during the RNC.
Speeches filled with American exceptionalism, hope, and optimism, rhetoric about the strength of the U.S. military, mentions of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, and actual quotes of Reagan himself. These are the the things that are typically associated with the GOP and the RNC. The Dems are no more or less patriotic than the GOP, but the GOP has always been the more vocal party about their patriotism. But this election, and Trump, flipped everything over. Trump took great care to emphasize a dark America that only he alone can fix, filling his speech with negative rhetoric and casting aside GOP mainstays like Reagan and Eisenhower. The rest of the RNC reflected this too. This gave the Dems, whose convention came after the RNC, complete room to adopt all the rhetoric normally employed by the GOP. All this was best exemplified by Obama’s speech, and a lot of conservatives realized exactly what was going on.
3. The Dems are casting this general election as optimism versus fear.
If your convention goes second, you typically can chose the dichotomy you want for the general election. Trump triples down on being a populist strongman who will make America great again and keep out all the enemies. You can choose to say that America is already great, that more progress will come, and that we are better as a welcoming, inclusive society. That is exactly what the Dems did at the DNC, and exactly what they are trying to convey to the electorate before Trump can do anything about it. It is a gamble that reflects the one made by President Obama back in 2008, and like that election, the success of the Dems’ gamble is entirely dependent on how Americans view the state of the economy and national security. If it stays like how it is now or gets better, the Dems have an increased chance of winning. If it gets worse, then Trump will gain in the polls.
4. The Dems are extremely lucky that the GOP chose to nominate Trump.
Hillary is not a great speaker. She’s weighted down with controversy and decades of Republican smear campaigns, and she has trouble expressing genuineness in the public eye. By any merits, the GOP should have had an easy time beating her in the general election. Instead, they nominated someone far worse than Hillary and are letting him run amok. Electoral politics usually favors the party out of power after one party has held the White House for two terms. Trump makes it so that literally anyone else seems a bit more preferable, and it doesn’t help the GOP that Trump’s publicity tactic seems to be walking headfirst into every landmine field he can find (the Khan family incident mentioned before is one example). That’s not to say that Hillary will 100% win the general election. There’s still roughly 100 days left before election day, and a lot can happen between now and then. But the issue for Trump, and the luck for the Dems, is that there doesn’t seem to be any reversal of fortune and there likely won’t be unless Hillary completely crashes and burns in a debate. The aftermath of the two conventions shows that this will likely be the trend all the way through to election day.
The Dems have chosen their Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, respectively. It’s not the most inspiring ticket, but their bet seems not that bad when compared to the one the GOP has decided to take.