DNC Day 4: History (and Balloons)
I feel comfortable saying that Day 4 of the DNC had the most memorable moments of any single day of the convention: the women of the Senate, the first transgender speaker at a major party convention, a Reaganite endorsing Hillary, Rev. William Barber’s moral defibrillator, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar joking that he was in fact Michael Jordan, Khizr Khan’s instant classic of a speech, Secretary Clinton’s historic acceptance of the Democratic nomination for President, and—of course—the balloon drop.
Before I dive into the day, I want to start with an observation that came into clear focus for me only on Day Four:
The Democratic Party spent its four-day convention arguing that both America and Christianity are fundamentally liberal—which is to say, oriented towards progress and defined by collective action.
And over four days, the Democratic Convention made an incredibly compelling case. A number of people, including Jamelle Bouie at Slate which you should read, have great analytical perspectives on this, but I want to discuss it from the perspective of having been in the room.
The result of all the speeches we heard—from the First Lady, to Vice President Biden, to President Obama, to Reverend Barber, to Khizr Khan, to Secretary Clinton—was a tapestry of oratory that inspired rather than frightened, that lifted up rather than divided, and that made you feel proud to be an American instead of feeling like our country had lost its way. The tapestry was that of an optimistic patriotism that over and over and over again reminded all of us that “we” is the watchword of our democracy.
It was incredibly moving.
Thursday morning started, bright and early. We heard from General Wesley Clark, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, AFSCME President Lee Saunders, and Iowa State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad. Lee Saunders gave one hell of a speech that and was followed by Rep Abdul-Samad’s powerful biographical story about losing his son to gang violence.
It was a powerful morning.
Spent a few more hours selling #TheWomanCards and then got packed up and headed to the Wells Fargo Arena. I was a little taken aback when I arrived because we were several hours from primetime and most of the seats were already filled. After grabbing my spot, I had a quick chat with PBS Newshour on Facebook Live (apologies for the scratchy voice—lots of cheering!) and I helped Chloe get situated up in the press section, and then went back to the floor.
There were a few Bernie folks wearing neon yellow t-shirts that glowed in the dark and rumor had it that they were planning to walk out. That didn’t happen, but it did give a nice visual when the lights were dimmed. I thought there might be more of a ruckus than there actually wound up being, and except for another breakout chant of “No More War” while former USMC General John Allen was speaking about defeating ISIS, the Sanders crowd was not all that disruptive on Thursday night. If you had only been following via social media, you could be forgiven for believing otherwise, but from where I stood on the floor there really wasn’t a lot of Sanders protesting going on except for a few unauthorized signs and a bunch of vandalized DNC signs. I’m sure this was largely the result of the effort made by Senator Sanders and his former campaign staff to pacify his supporters so as not to needlessly disrupt an historic moment for the United States of America.
Speaking of which, one thing I couldn’t stop thinking about that evening was the following: In the 2016 Democratic primary, for the first time ever, the first woman to become the nominee for President by a major party was also the first candidate to have a campaign managed by an openly gay man, and found she found herself in a mano-a-mano campaign with the first Jewish candidate to win a Presidential primary state in American history (and who then went on to win many, many more primary states) and therefore have a real chance of winning a major party’s nomination—and all of this just to have a shot at succeeding America’s first black President.
That’s pretty cool, and it makes me damn proud to be a Democrat. And, frankly, the Republican side was actually (relatively) diverse, too. Who would have thought a Canadian-American would be the second to last man left standing on the GOP side?
Anyway, the speeches Thursday evening were really solid. My recommendations:
Sarah McBride’s history-making speech. If your heart doesn’t go out to her, I don’t know what to say to you.
Reverend William Barber II’s rousing sermon/speech on the moral heart of our democracy. Watch it, and try not to find yourself thinking about it later.
The devastating speech of Khizr Khan, a Muslim immigrant and Gold Star father, whose son died in combat during the second Iraq War. The fallout from this speech is currently roiling the political press, and I think it’s going to be a top-tier story for the rest of this week.
Chelsea Clinton’s introduction of her mother was quite good, though I thought a little too long for an introduction. I had never actually hear her speak before. She was quiet, reserved, and casual in a way that I found really unexpected. (And who wouldn’t love a reference to A Wrinkle in Time?) But make no mistake about it—her deliberate and measured pace is the mark of someone who has a lot of practice and plenty of training in public speaking. It was a humanizing speech, and I expect “public service is about service,” is a line we might hear again between now and Election Day.
And, of course, Secretary Clinton’s historic acceptance of the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States. I have to confess that when she took the stage, I had no idea how it was going to unfold. Would some of the die-hard Sanders supporters walk out? Would they engage in a sustained disruption? Despite what Buzzfeed wrote about the steps the Clinton team took to pre-empt those efforts, there really wasn’t much that could have been done if credentialed Sanders delegates had decided they wanted to raise hell. But they didn’t.
It was a good speech, and it was quintessential Hillary. It wasn’t her most passionate speech—which I still think is a speech she delivered in Iowa last August—but it checked all the boxes you have to check with a nomination acceptance speech. She covered some basic biography, she discussed her policy proposals, she hugged (literally the night before and figuratively during her speech) a very popular President Obama, and she thanked Senator Sanders and his supporters (especially his young supporters) across the country. (I could be wrong, but I think those young people will turn out in big numbers for Hillary this fall.) She discussed her vision for the country, and called on young people to work with her in enacting the most progressive history in the history of the Democratic Party.
In one of the most effective parts of her speech, she took Trump to task for saying that he could fix problems alone. She exclaimed that Americans believe in tackling challenges together, and then immediately pivoted to the founding of our country—which took place, of course, in Philadelphia, about five miles from where she was standing. She underscored the collective actions already underway to solve America’s challenge, from the coalition to defeat ISIS to the 500 people who applied to join the Dallas Police Department in the wake of the July 7 shooting. This was all a part of what I mentioned in the beginning of this piece about the liberal (i.e. collective) nature of the United States of America, but talking about that liberalism in optimistic and confident language, rather than using that language to critique systems of oppression and power.
And then she made history. Proclaiming her “boundless confidence in America’s promise,” Hillary Rodham Clinton accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States.
She leaned into the fact that she is not a political newcomer or outsider and that she has spent the last 40-odd years in the spotlight. She embraced the fact that she’s often found the “service” part easier than the “public” part. She shared the life lessons she learned from her mother Dorothy. She repeated the Methodist creed: “Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.” She talked about sweating the details, including a brief shout-out to the ongoing mental health facilities crisis in Iowa. She made (allegedly) a Lil’ Wayne reference.
Then she pivoted into the accomplishments of the last eight years and all that we’ve been able to do under an Obama presidency, while explaining what she thought had to happen next, and why she was the candidate to do it. And then came one of the best paragraphs of the night:
Now, you didn’t hear any of this from Donald Trump at his convention.He spoke for 70-odd minutes — and I do mean odd. And he offered zero solutions. But we already know he doesn’t believe these things. No wonder he doesn’t like talking about his plans. You might have noticed, I love talking about mine.
The “odd” joke was great and it landed and the audience ate it up. She ran through her first 100 days, and then she just laid into Trump
She hit him for manufacturing his various “TRUMP” goods abroad instead of in America—and specifically not in battleground states. And then she went on to hit Trump with one of the best lines of the campaign: “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” And then she immediately followed it with an observation from First Lady Jackie Kennedy, that what worried her husband the most during the Cuban Missile Crisis was that a war might be started not by big men with self-control and restraint, but by little men, the ones moved by fear and pride.
It was really, really powerful—and she deployed a line that caught the attention of my more conservative friends: “I don’t want to take away your guns. I just don’t want you to be shot by someone who shouldn’t have a gun in the first place.” We’re going to be hearing that one again, too.
And then near the end of her speech, she quoted Hamilton: “We may not live to see the glory, but let us gladly join the fight,” and made an allusion about planting trees in a garden we never get to see. She hit the “stronger together” message again and closed out the landmark speech with a line about America being greater than ever. She smiled, asked for God to bless the United States of America, and was then joined onstage by her family as Katy Perry blared, fireworks sparked, and America witnessed a balloon drop that proved America is already great.
I am six foot five, and the shoulders were literally piled up past my shoulders. There were people in the Iowa delegation who were in the low five-foot range were literally buried under balloons. And I don’t mean “literally” like Vice President Biden means it. I literally mean literally. From where I was standing—and because I was literally covered in balloons—I could not see Bill Clinton’s reaction, but BuzzFeed suggests it was great.
It was really something. I’ll have a full album of photos up on Facebook before too long, but I wanted to share a few here.
Anyway, thanks for reading along. I’m planning to do one last recap of the Convention as a whole, hopefully sometime soon.