For the second night in a row, the Democratic National Zoom Meeting was a galloping montage of videos that used its time to good effect. After another hiccup-free evening of content that entirely sidelined the network talking heads for two hours — an unanticipated boon — it is hard to imagine the party going back to the old way of doing conventions in four years.
For my money, the second-best part of the event was the nomination roll call, and not just because Bernie Sanders pulled down almost a third of the available delegates. We all got to see exactly what the country looks like as represented by its vastly diverse and dedicated people.
Parkland father Fred Guttenberg submitted the delegates for Florida. A college professor named Carmen Walters represented Mississippi. The legendary Rep. Barbara Lee stood for California. Khizr Khan, who lost his son to the wars and drew Trump’s ire after the ‘16 convention, delivered Virginia. Rep. John McNamara brought some calamari from Rhode Island, and Cozzie Watkins brought some fire from North Carolina.
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And a Nebraska meatpacker named Geraldine Waller used her brief moment with the country to telegraph a chilling plea:
I work at a meat packing plant, making sure grocery store shelves stay full. They call us essential workers, but we get treated like we’re expendable. Workers are dying from COVID, and a lot of us don’t have paid sick leave or even quality protective equipment. We are human beings, not robots, not disposable. We want to keep helping you feed your family, but we need a president who will have our backs.
The diversity of the roll call was mirrored in the 17-person “keynote address” featuring a crowd of rising Democratic stars. Again, they looked like the country. There was some pre-show handwringing about splintering the focus of the keynote, which has traditionally been used to promote a single individual whose star is waxing — see Barack Obama in 2004 — but the showcase of men and women from every racial and cultural corner of the country was bracing in its optimism, in its simple truth. This is us.
Over the course of the broadcast, important Democratic touchstones like Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and the Kennedy family were visited. Joe Biden popped up twice for brief interludes, one to accept the nomination and the other to put on a mask right in front of the camera. Jill Biden was no Michelle Obama, but she was incredibly strong nonetheless, and the delivery of her remarks in an empty classroom spoke volumes by itself.
Sally Yates made mincemeat of Donald Trump over his larval-fascist attacks on government oversight. Bill Clinton — rendered radioactive with the advent of #MeToo — took a verbal baseball bat to the Trump administration in a raspy whisper that was a shadow of its former folksy self.
The health care segment of the program was deeply moving as it centered around health care activist Ady Barkan. After being diagnosed with ALS, Barkan has spent the years since advocating fiercely for Medicare for All. Last night — using a wheelchair and communicating via an electronic device — Barkan offered words that were profoundly evocative as he spoke to his cause while endorsing Biden’s nomination. “We live in the richest country in history and yet we do not guarantee this most basic human right,” he said. “Everyone living in America should get the healthcare they need regardless of their employment status or ability to pay.”
Barkan’s remarks were not solely relegated to his appearance in the event. Before it began, he told the press, “I support Medicare for All and Joe Biden obviously doesn’t. Many Democratic voters agree with me, as evidenced by the overwhelming support in the exit polls during the primaries. And the pandemic and depression have proven how dangerous it is to tie insurance to employment.” As this event has unfolded over the last two nights, it is manifestly clear that, should Biden prevail in November, many of the people endorsing him this week will be all over him pushing progressive policy initiatives once he takes office. Count Ady Barkan as one of those, for as long as he is able.
Without warning, the program suddenly whiplashed weirdly from health care to the inevitable “Yay War” portion of the exercise. I was at both conventions in 2004, the first conventions after September 11 and the onset of the wars. They were hypermilitarized events almost to the point of self-caricature.
Last night was not that, and probably there is some political capital to be found in pandering to voters who need to be told that Joe Biden will kill anything that breathes “to keep them safe.” But Colin Powell is a damn war criminal, and to a great many progressive voters, his endorsement of anything is a red-flag warning to run the other way. His inclusion last night was egregiously unnecessary and possibly damaging.
And while we’re on the subject: Four of the 13 main speakers at the 1996 Republican National Convention have spoken at this year’s Democratic National Convention, and the thing is only half over. When, oh when, are the Democrats going to be comfortable enough with themselves to just be themselves all by themselves, and stop pursuing the uncatchable rabbit of broad Republican approval?
This is not a change-minds convention, or a change-minds election. Opinions are fixed like the North Star. This is going to be a put-butts-in-the-seats election for both sides, and whoever does that better will win, full stop. This is why the U.S. Postal Service is so vital to both parties, despite what President Thundercloud is on about.
Not one mind will be changed by seeing John McCain, Meghan McCain, Colin Powell, John Kasich, Christine Todd Whitman, Susan Molinari and Meg Whitman stand on their bloodstained Republican credentials to call Trump a loser and a fool.
Most Trump voters revile McCain more than any Democrat, so no points there. “John McCain is not well-liked by most Trump voters mainly because he was a bitter corrupt old man at the end,” a Trump-voting friend told me last night. “As for it swaying any Trump voters, I think it has the possibility to disgust and dispirit more progressives than anyone on Trump’s side.”
Hard not to take that barbed point to heart. Maybe the time given to Republicans at the Democratic Convention could have been given to, oh, I don’t know, Democrats?
Like, say, AOC?
I said my second-favorite portion of the night was the delegate roll call. The best part of the night, by any metric, was the eye-blink time slot afforded Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to second Bernie Sanders’s nomination. Her remarks were a song, a poem of hope and defiance, and they speak better for themselves than I ever could:
Good evening, bienvenidos, and thank you to everyone here today endeavoring towards a better, more just future for our country and our world.
In fidelity and gratitude to a mass people’s movement working to establish 21st-century social, economic and human rights, including guaranteed health care, higher education, living wages and labor rights for all people in the United States; a movement striving to recognize and repair the wounds of racial injustice, colonization, misogyny and homophobia, and to propose and build reimagined systems of immigration and foreign policy that turn away from the violence and xenophobia of our past; a movement that realizes the unsustainable brutality of an economy that rewards explosive inequalities of wealth for the few at the expense of long-term stability for the many, and who organized an historic, grassroots campaign to reclaim our democracy.
In a time when millions of people in the United States are looking for deep systemic solutions to our crises of mass evictions, unemployment and lack of health care, and espíritu del pueblo and out of a love for all people, I hereby second the nomination of Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont for president of the United States of America.
One minute and 37 seconds out of a program two hours in length, and Representative Ocasio-Cortez made the most of all of it. Imagine if she had been given the same amount of time as Kasich, or Powell, or even the commercials CNN ran during the roll call?
Well, maybe by 2024, the Democratic establishment will have realized which way the tide is running, Biden or no Biden, and give the ever-rising progressive wing of the party its due.
In the meantime, it’s the Hillary Clinton show tonight. Get ready for the talking heads to deploy the word “bittersweet” on repeat. She lost to the single most ridiculous presidential candidate in human history four long years ago. Bittersweet? Nah, just bitter.