Biden and the DNC get a ‘B’

Published 10:39 am Saturday, August 22, 2020

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As we approached the most pressure-packed Democratic Party convention since 1968, I was surprised by the energy and enthusiasm of the supporters, as the online format, chat rooms and live watch parties. I wasn’t surprised that Biden and Harris gave top-notch speeches. But there are some timing problems with the convention nights that cost the Democrats a perfect week.

With the deadly pandemic raging, the Democratic National Committee opted for a largely virtual convention setting. It’s too bad, because Milwaukee (the place of my birth) is a great town, and should get the slot in four years. I was cringing at the expectation of a dull, plodding event.

It was not boring. Democrats figured out that people would enjoy the event more if they got to actively participate, instead of passively watch the show. Across several chatrooms, I saw a fired up, excited group of watchers, whose enthusiasm fed off each other. It was infectious. It made the attendees feel less like individuals isolated from events, as a handful of delegates partied among the balloons in a far away city. Instead, they built a community, planned post office protests, shared memes, and swapped ideas about how to get involved in the Biden Campaign.

“I appreciate all they have done to truly represent everyone and make sure they can see the benefit of taking the high road and have morals and be faith-filled people,” one religious person told me at a chatroom with a faith-based feel. Call it a “Fireside Online Chat.”

On the second night, a series of trolls tried to hijack the process, with anti-Biden posts. But far from discouraging the Democrats, it was like quote-board material from the other players in a team locker room, firing up the Democrats to respond online, and harden their resolve.

Without having to try and fire up a crowd, and play for cheers with speeches, both Biden and Harris could deliver more presidential-style addresses than campaign speeches, conjuring up images of frank but hopeful “fireside chats” of the Roosevelt era.

Giving political rivals, and a diverse array of speakers from elected to non-elected citizens was a stroke of genius. Most gave short, crisp, and compelling remarks, not hour-long speeches. And the “Drive-In Theater post-speech party,” complete with fireworks, was the best sendoff under the circumstances.

So why doesn’t the convention get a perfect score? It’s because the DNC has joined nearly everyone in the news and entertainment media, who has a maddening obsession with appealing to the 11pm EST crowd. Time and time again, the best speakers were held until the end, long after the tired workers and kids needing sleep on a school night had drifted off to sleep.

The DNC gave so much thought to reimagining a convention. But when it came to making it a family event, to give the working class and non-night owls a break, we instead got another near-midnight ending.

It’s the same with sporting events, Oscar nights, and showing movies. What’s missing is the family sitting around the television, or Facebook livestream, sharing the experience, even talking about it the next day. All we’ll get is the leftover soundbite the next morning, like cold pizza left out overnight, usually containing a few zingers, missing the warm, heartfelt and hopeful speech that only works if you watch it live, like pizza fresh from the oven.

Republicans, if you’re listening, this is your opportunity. Prove to us that you’re not like everyone else in the media who demand the best events occur well after bedtime, who fail to understand how a family can provide the future viewer and voter among the kids.

Don’t make us have to watch regurgitated soundbites or Tweet summaries. And learn from what the Democrats did do right, which (luckily for the DNC) was overall a mostly successful convention.