The 2020 Democratic National Convention began Monday – technically in Milwaukee, but mostly virtually.
Here are some key takeaways.
1. Four years after ‘we go high,’ Michelle Obama says ‘it is what it is’
Four years ago, then-First Lady Michelle Obama offered one of the most stirring speeches of the Democratic Convention. On Monday, she offered an attempted indictment not just of President Donald Trump, but of the movement he has led.
“Right now, kids in this country are seeing what happens when we stop requiring empathy of one another,” Obama said. “They’re looking around wondering if we’ve been lying to them this whole time about who we are and what we truly value. They see people shouting in grocery stores unwilling to wear a mask to keep us all safe. They see people calling the police on folks minding their own business, just because of the color of their skin. They see an entitlement that says only certain people belong here, that greed is good and winning is everything.”
Obama also alluded to a line from her 2016 speech – “When they go low, we go high” – which has at times fallen out of favor with some Democrats who want a more forceful approach to winning elections.
“But let’s be clear, going high does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty,” Obama said. “Going high means taking the harder path. It means scraping in class on our way to that mountaintop. Going high means standing fierce against hatred while remembering that we are one nation under God.”
Continuing in that vein, Obama offered one of the most memorable attacks of the night, referring to Trump’s repeated statements that the coronavirus death toll “is what it is.” She called him out by name, something she didn’t do in that 2016 speech.
“Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country,” Obama said. “He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.”
In a speech where she also made a personal and unusually politica case for her husband’s former vice president and implored viewers to prepare for obstacles when voting, it’s that line about Trump that could live longest.
2. An emphasis: Not going too far left
One of the necessary casualties of holding a convention virtually – as with campaigning virtually – is spontaneity. Conventions were already glorified coronations and scripted partisan rallies, and that’s even more the case now.
But that also makes some of the chosen messages more interesting. And one of them was reinforced a couple times Monday night: Biden won’t go hard left.
“I’m sure there are Republicans and independents who couldn’t imagine crossing over to support a Democrat; they fear Joe may turn sharp left and leave them behind,” former Ohio governor and 2016 GOP presidential candidate John Kasich said. “I don’t believe that, because I know the measure of the man – reasonable, faithful, respectful. And you know, no one pushes Joe around.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., seemed to allude to the idea that Biden, while perhaps not liberals’ ideal, would be someone liberals can work with. He even, perhaps most strikingly, pitched Biden’s health care plan, despite attacking it vociferously during the 2020 primaries.
“As long as I am here, I will work with progressives, with moderates and yes, with conservatives, to preserve this nation from a threat that so many of our heroes fought and died to defeat,” Sanders said.
At another point, while discussing police reform in a virtual round table, Biden himself echoed a police chief who said there are more good police than bad ones.
“Most cops are good,” Biden said. “But the fact is the bad ones have to be identified and prosecuted and out, period.”
While not perhaps a groundbreaking or terribly controversial statement, it was an interesting inclusion given it may not be a sentiment some on the left would like to see emphasized at this particular moment.
Kasich’s comment is the bigger one on that front, though. He was speaking in his own voice, yes, but this was a sanctioned message from the Democratic presidential campaign. Again, it’s less about the content than what it says about the emphasis.
Some on the left have been concerned that Biden would not go as far as they’d like. Kasich even tangled with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., in the hours before the convention, after being quoted saying the New York congresswoman “gets outsized publicity” and that “doesn’t mean she represents the Democratic Party.”
Indeed, one GOP politician’s “turn sharp left” may be a liberal firebrand’s “do what we want.” There seemed to be more emphasis Monday on guarding against the perception that Biden would sell out to the left.
3. ‘His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump. And for that, he paid with his life’
The night was full of testimonials from average people and, even more than that, average people touched by crucial election-year issues like police violence and the coronavirus.
Perhaps none of them landed with the force, though, of Kristin Urquiza, whose father died of coronavirus. Urquiza, as she has done in The Washington Post’s Outlook section, flatly blamed Trump.
“He had faith in Donald Trump,” Urquiza said. “He voted for him, listened to him, believed him and his mouthpieces when they said that coronavirus was under control and going to disappear – that it was okay to end social distancing rules before it was safe, and that if you had no underlying health conditions, you’d probably be fine.”
Urquiza said her father heeded that advice and went to a karaoke bar when restrictions were lifted in Arizona, which wound up suffering one of the worst resurgences of the virus in the country.
Urquiza added: “My dad was a healthy 65-year old. His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump. And for that he paid with his life.”
Urquiza is hardly the first to blame Trump for the death of a loved one, but it was a thoroughly personal and emotional testimonial.