AUGUST 20, 2020
Night 3 of the 2020 Democratic National Convention.
It was a star-studded night, with the last Democratic president (Barack Obama), the last Democratic presidential nominee (Hillary Clinton) and, perhaps, the next presidential nominee (Kamala Harris) all speaking.
Below the best — and worst — of the night that was.
* Barack Obama: Yes, the former president is an incredibly talented orator. But we’ve long known that. What mattered most about Obama’s speech on Wednesday was that he did what lots of Democrats have been begging him to do for the last three-ish years: He delivered a stunning takedown of the man who followed him into the White House. Obama said that Trump simply does not take the job “seriously.” He said that Trump uses the government’s vast powers in a purely “transactional way.” And most powerfully, he said this: “Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t, and the consequences of that failure are severe.” Consider what Obama is saying there: As someone who did the job — for eight years — he not only believes Trump cannot rise to the demands of the presidency, but also that there are very real effects of Trump’s deficiency. “This isn’t just the sharpest criticism Obama has made of Trump,” tweeted Politico’s Tim Alberta. “This is the sharpest criticism a former president has *ever made* of a sitting president.”
* Kamala Harris: The vice presidential nominee started slowly — almost certainly the result of nerves — as she delivered the single most important speech of her political life. Even as she recounted her personal story, you could tell that she was still struggling somewhat to find her sea legs. And then she hit this line, when talking about her background as a prosecutor: “I know a predator when I see one.” Harris paused, purposely, after dropping that hammer of a line — and everyone watching knew who she was talking about. From that moment on, Harris was like a different person — confident, powerful and fully aware of the history she was making as the first Black and South Asian woman to be on a national ticket for a major party. Her best line? “There is no vaccine for racism. We have got to put in the work.” If Harris’ speech was a tryout for 2024 (or 2028), she passed it.
*Gabrielle Giffords: I still remember the day Giffords, at the time a Democratic congresswoman from Arizona, was shot in the head at an event in her district in 2011. Her struggles — and triumphs — over the last decade have put a very human face to the fight over gun control. Giffords’ speech on Wednesday night, which capped a piece of the programming dedicated to the toll taken by gun violence, was incredibly moving, not least because they showed how hard she had worked to be able to deliver it seamlessly. It was the longest speech she has delivered, in fact, since that 2011 shooting. “Convention organizers say @GabbyGiffords worked intensely to be able to deliver these remarks,” tweeted NBC’s Mike Memoli. “It’s quite something to see.” Yes, it was.
* “A woulda coulda shoulda election:” Hillary Clinton’s speech wasn’t, to my mind, terribly memorable. But this line about 2020 — “this can’t be another woulda coulda shoulda election” — was a very good one. And it was even more stirring when delivered by a woman who received almost 3 million more votes than Trump in 2016 — and still lost.
* Presidential Medal of Freedom video: I remember watching Obama present former Vice President Joe Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on their last days in the White House in January 2017. What struck me then — and what I was reminded of while watching the video played during Wednesday night’s convention program — was that Biden was 1) genuinely surprised and 2) deeply aware of what the honor meant. His emotion, which he was unable to contain, was real and unforced. In re-showing that video, it was a stirring reminder of Biden’s single strongest quality (and, conversely one of Trump’s weakest): Empathy.
* Sam Cooke: “A Change is Gonna Come” — which Jennifer Hudson performed at the end of the night — is just an amazing song. You should listen to Sam Cooke singing the original. He slays it (as did she)!
* Donald Trump: What’s the easiest way to let your opponents know their critiques are getting to you? By responding-– in real time — to them! “HE SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN, AND GOT CAUGHT!,” tweeted Trump in the middle of Obama’s speech. But Trump wasn’t done! “WHY DID HE REFUSE TO ENDORSE SLOW JOE UNTIL IT WAS ALL OVER, AND EVEN THEN WAS VERY LATE?,” Trump asked of Obama as the former president was wrapping up his speech. “WHY DID HE TRY TO GET HIM NOT TO RUN?” Like, maybe lay off the caps lock for a while, Mr. President?
* Mike Pompeo: Being secretary of state is a very big job. You are, with the lone exception of the president, the face America shows to the world. Which is why Mike Pompeo’s tweet in the middle of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s speech — a GIF of Lisa Simpson crying and tearing up a written speech — was so, so tone-deaf. (To be clear: I was not a big fan of Pelosi ripping up her copy of Trump’s State of the Union speech either.) Pompeo should leave the trolling to the Internet. It’s what it’s there for.
* Tony Evers: When you are the Democratic governor of the state where the Democratic convention is (sort of) being staged, you get a speaking slot at some point during the proceedings. So, we got Tony Evers. And he was, uh, shaky. At least it was short. And he used the phrase “Holy mackerel, folks” — so it wasn’t all bad.