Monday: Late. After an evening of brief, carefully orchestrated, largely forgettable messages of unity, came Michelle Obama’s breathtaking vivisection of the current White House occupant — a person she would not deign to address by name, like a shunned relative no longer welcome in her home.
It was sharper-toned than any First Lady’s convention speech before, and more effective for her seated, almost casual delivery.
As for all that preceded it, the lack of energy stemmed mostly from content rather than format. The first night, at least, was mostly a sort of hand-holding through shared struggle. More cathartic than uplifting, but probably fitting the mood.
There were a lot of “ordinary people” featured in the program, mostly giving voice to this year’s triple-threat of pandemic, recession, and racial injustice. One of the few segments centered on the Democratic candidate came from the point of view of more ordinary people: Amtrak conductors befriended by Biden during his years commuting to Washington.
Those bits were individually effective, for the most part; and most of the speeches were fine as well. Thematically, the segments darted around without much cohesion or direction. They were connected mostly by a call for everybody — Black, Brown, or white, Democrat, Republican, or Independent; moderate, liberal, or conservative — to put those details and differences aside for a moment, to vote out the bad guy.
Which is, really, the theme and the goal of the Biden candidacy.
Monday: Evening. The nation’s first virtual convention opened with the feel of recent cause-based programming. Anchored by Eva Longoria, it pretty seamlessly caromed from segment to segment, some pre-taped, some live. The first hour, on cable and streaming only, blended smoothly into the broadcast-TV second hour.
Everybody spoke direct to the camera in front of them — unlike last week’s first Biden and Harris speeches after her announcement as his running-mate, for which they used prompters set off to their left and right, as is done for live audience addresses. If that was a test-run for the virtual convention, apparently it was deemed a failure not worth repeating.
The overall effect of the new formatting was quite good, though a bit listless at times. Occasional attempts to artificially insert energy — cutting to viewers applauding after a speech, for example — only accentuated the problem.
It’s just not going to be the same as with an enthusiastic live audience; the DNC was wise to accept and work with that, rather than trying too hard to recreate what conventions usually are.
Monday: Mid-day. Presidential nominating conventions have important public-facing and internal-facing aspects. The former, crammed into a couple of hours each evening, naturally gets most of the attention. But the latter takes most of the time over the course of the week.
Monday, while most Americans were doing what they do, delegates and Democratic Party insiders tried to recreate some of that internal engagement in a virtual space — connecting on their devices, rather than in physical rooms off of the main convention hall.
So, former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick spoke to the New Hampshire convention delegation’s “breakfast” Monday morning — as many past and potentially future Presidential candidates have at in-person conventions.
Boston Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, much in demand these days, spoke to the DNC’s Black Caucus meeting, exhorting delegates to work hard to defeat the Trump administration and its “racist, xenophobic, and hateful agenda.” A little later, she showed up in the Black To The Future Action Fund “virtual town hall.”