This is definitely going to be my final report from Philadelphia. I realize I'm almost a week late with it, but it was a busy and sleep-deprived week all around. In case you missed it, I reviewed the primetime speeches Monday and then yesterday posted my photos from the trip. Today I'm going to cover Day Three and Day Four (outside of the primetime hour), as well as give a few closing thoughts and general impressions.
After the first two days of the Democratic National Convention, Day Three seemed to be a turning point of sorts. The pro-Bernie crowd staged their last effective protest inside the arena (and also staged a smaller protest in the media tent), but by the end of the night Democrats had come closer to unity than they had yet managed during the convention to date.
The third night was the most star-studded of the entire convention, with the sitting vice-president, the sitting president, and the new vice-presidential nominee all slated for the closing speeches. Seating inside the arena was at a premium. The ushers at the doors stopped letting people in when their section was full, which left a whole lot of people watching on monitors in the hallways (and lining up at the doors, in the hopes that someone would exit). The place was packed to the roof hours before the main speeches began. Whereas the arena was mostly full on the first two nights, the last two nights it was beyond "standing room only."
There were a few kerfluffles in the media before the evening began. Terry McAuliffe apparently stepped in it by saying Hillary Clinton would likely get behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement after she was in office. This is precisely what the Bernie Sanders supporters have suspected all along, so it was precisely the wrong thing for a Clinton surrogate to say at this particular time. He later tried to walk it back, but it merely added to an already tense situation between the two camps of supporters. In the Rightwingistan media, the big complaint was that there were "no flags" at the Democratic convention. Day Three didn't see the Democrats' response, but Day Four certainly did -- but I'm getting ahead of myself here.
Tonight's theme seemed to be a combination of national security, law-and-order, and belittling Donald Trump's business record. To put it another way, it was designed to show how incredibly weak and vague Trump has been on any and all of these subjects. The conservative complaint up until tonight that Hillary wasn't talking about foreign policy at all (or honoring slain police) was put to rest by the roster of speakers. Things got underway at 7:00, for instance, with a veteran's widow praising Clinton for raising military survivor's benefits from $12,000 to $100,000.
Martin O'Malley then got his consolation-prize speaking slot (which he had to have been disappointed about, since he was essentially running to be Hillary's veep all along). O'Malley, as usual, had a rather boring delivery, but did get in a few zingers on Trump (on the "wages are too high" Trump line, O'Malley responded: "Donald Trump's opinion of himself -- that's way too high!").
Next up was Sigourney Weaver, who introduced a film produced by none other than James Cameron, on the threat of climate change. As you'd expect, the film was brilliant in every respect.
Jerry Brown spoke next, which the crowd certainly enjoyed. A "Jerry! Jerry!" chant was even heard, briefly. Brown extolled California's record of recovery under Democratic government, which is about par for the course for a governor in a Democratic convention. I enjoyed hearing him speak, since he is my governor, but have to remain somewhat objective about how others may have seen him.
We then got a bunch of grieving relatives. A mother of a victim in Orlando was impressive, especially when she shared that her (Japanese, I assume) grandparents met in a U.S. internment camp during World War II, and still managed to fall in love. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy spoke next on the Sandy Hook tragedy, and championed (as he did recently during his 15-hour filibuster in the Senate) some commonsense gun control measures (which got a big hand from the crowd). A video of other family members of those killed by gun violence was shown, and more grieving relatives spoke as well. The former top cop in Philadelphia spoke next, giving a strong endorsement of Hillary Clinton from a big-city police chief.
The gears shifted at this point to national security. A really excellent video started this off, with poignant quotes from former presidents (Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan) on the importance of a firm (but sane) hand on the wheel of the ship of state. This was interspersed with quotes from fellow Republicans (Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio) on how unacceptable it would be to have Donald Trump as commander-in-chief. If you haven't seen this video, search it out because I thought it was one of the best of the entire convention. It really needs to be made into a series of ads which should run in Virginia and perhaps even places like South Carolina.
Rear Admiral John Hutson (retired) was next up. He gave Donald Trump a dressing-down worthy of the best drill sergeant you can imagine. He even had some funny lines, something I wouldn't have expected from such a speaker. He started off his speech with: "My name is John Hutson and unlike Donald Trump there are two things I know an awful lot about: law and order." Later, in response to Trump's invitation to Russia to hack Hillary's email and meddle in an American election (which Trump had said only that morning), the Admiral shot back: "That's not 'law and order' -- that's criminal intent!" The crowd got a big laugh out of that one. On Trump denigrating John McCain being a prisoner of war, Hutson sneered: "Donald -- you're not fit to polish John McCain's boots." This got an enormous cheer from the audience, which is pretty extraordinary considering that he was the man Barack Obama beat eight years ago. Nothing like a bit of bipartisanship at a national convention, eh? All in all, the Admiral got the blood flowing and woke everyone up for the next phase of the program.
This is where things got a bit ugly, though. Leon Panetta was the next speaker. He's an obvious choice, since he's headed both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon. However, Panetta wasn't exactly the right cup of tea for the Bernie crowd. I thought Panetta's speech would be nothing more than a less-forceful repeat of the Admiral's full-throated remarks, and I even wrote in my notes during the early part of his speech: "Nat'l sec., etc., etc., etc."
But Panetta was the chosen target for the Bernie protests tonight. This was probably a smart move on their part for a number of reasons. The other (more prominent) speakers of the night are far more sympathetic to far more Democrats inside the building. Protesting Obama or Biden would have triggered an even bigger reaction from the pro-Hillary folks in the crowd -- who now vastly outnumbered the Bernie diehards. So choosing Panetta to make their point was probably the best way to go.
After Panetta had been speaking for a few minutes, a big chant of "No more war!" broke out all over the building. It could even have been led by the New York delegation, who were front-and-center on the floor, but I couldn't swear to it. Perhaps they were the ones leading the counter chant, I couldn't tell from my elevation in the arena. Panetta looked somewhat shocked (he hasn't given a political speech in quite some time, and the Monterey, California district where he's originally from isn't exactly a hotbed of lefty protesters), but he steamrolled on with his speech, ignoring the noisemakers.
At this point the crowd either began channelling a Republican convention, or perhaps even a Trump rally. Don't believe that shocking statement? The chant that went up in the hall was: "U-S-A! U-S-A!" In a Democratic convention hall.
A couple of comments are necessary for context. First, the whole Jingoistic "U-S-A!" chant has always been an almost exclusively Republican thing to do at political rallies. Maybe Democrats are stealing it away? On Day Four, the crowd was actually given red-white-and-blue "USA" signs to wave as well. So who knows?
Which brings up my second point, the one about channelling a Trump rally. The crowd was restless throughout Panetta's speech. The protests and chants cropped up time and time again. And Panetta was, after all, talking about military might and Hillary having a plan to defeat the Islamic State. So chanting "U-S-A!" would be a timely reaction. But what might have been happening as well (it certainly seemed like it, at times) was protesters trying to get another round of "No more war!" going, and counterprotesters shouting them down with "U-S-A!" Exactly as Trump's supporters do at his rallies, when protesters interrupt.
The Panetta speech, as I said, was the point where the protests really reached their high-water mark. I should also mention that earlier, another (and much smaller) occupation of the media tent happened with a group supporting ("I'm with Nina") Nina Turner, a delegate to the convention who had been slighted by the Democratic National Committee. Turner herself was at the center of the group, but again they were much smaller and less noticeable than the tail end of the walkout which happened Tuesday night. By the fourth night, the protesters were reduced to a few dozen marching by the media tent and unable to raise the numbers to force the doors. The diehards thinned out as time went by, in other words, at least from the perspective of media-tent protests.
Four major speakers were left for the final two hours of Day Three. Dr. Jill Biden appeared to introduce her husband, to kick the main portion of the evening off. A video of Joe Biden's famous quotes on gay marriage (when he pushed Obama to "evolve" quicker) then played, followed by Joe himself walking out on the stage -- to a thunderous crowd reaction (and also to the theme from Rocky, for some reason).
Now, I've already written that I thought Joe Biden's speech was the second-best at the entire convention. Indeed, rather than writing this article when I should have last week, I instead took the time to write about how Team Clinton should immediately start sending Joe out to campaign -- in the exact same towns Trump visits, a few days later. So I'm not exactly the best objective observer to report on his speech, because I thought (as I wrote in my notes) that Joe "knocked it out of the freakin' park" with his speech.
After the extensive "Joe! Joe! Joe!" chanting died down, Joe gave a few nods to other Democrats before digging into the meat of his remarks. He thanked Barack Obama, and said of his wife's speech (which was the only one I rated higher than Joe's): "Michelle -- I don't know where you are, kid, but you're incredible." He followed this up with the folksy: "As they say in southern Delaware, Barack and I 'married up'."
The only time the crowd was quiet during Biden's speech was when he spoke of his son Beau's death and when he specifically asked them to consider a point in all seriousness -- how downright despicable it was for anyone to actually get enjoyment out of firing people. The entire rest of the speech Biden was awash in cheers, applause, and standing ovations. The crowd reacted more adoringly than for any previous speaker (Michelle included). The biggest cheer (until his finish) was likely when he began talking about Hillary.
Biden lit into Trump in a fashion nobody else has managed to achieve -- which is the big reason why I strongly urge Hillary to use Biden out on the campaign trail as much as humanly possible. Here's the key reason: Biden speaks to the same audience Trump reaches. Biden is an average Joe, whereas Trump is merely pretending to be one. Biden wouldn't be photographed eating KFC with a knife and fork, for instance. Biden speaks to the people who are currently only tuned in to Trump. "[Trump's] trying to tell us he cares about the middle class -- give me a break! That's a bunch of malarkey." That's something neither Hillary nor anyone else can do as well. I heard many a wistful voice after Biden's speech wishing he had run this time around, in fact -- that's how potent a force he is within the Democratic Party.
Biden kept his cadence simple and had a great call-and-response section on Trump: "He has no clue, period." The audience screamed back "NOT A CLUE!" when Biden listed some of the things Trump is clueless about. More "U-S-A!" chanting broke out as well, when Biden castigated Republicans for holding such a fearful convention: "We do not scare easily."
Biden's speech was one for the ages. There's just no other way to put it. Seek video of it out online, as it is definitely worth watching if you missed it last week. You can thank me later.
We then got the mayor of Atlanta, who did some city boosterism, and Michael Bloomberg, who seemed an odd choice for a Democratic convention. But Bloomberg did make a strong case of (to paraphrase a bit) "I'm a New York billionaire too," which gave him a unique perspective to knock down Trump's supposed business prowess: "I'm a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one." The other excellent line Bloomberg got in about Trump was: "The richest thing about Donald Trump is his hypocrisy." After begging America "let's elect a sane, competent person," Bloomberg left the stage.
This brought us into the final stretch after some music played (the "Fight Song" parody, I believe). We got a biography of Tim Kaine, and then he tried to live up to his billing between Biden and Obama. The crowd was favorable towards Kaine, but not overwhelmingly so. As I've written previously, he did better than expected. But you can read my review of his speech and President Obama's in the primetime review article I wrote earlier.
Overall, Day Three was pretty much a whopping success. The lineup of Biden, Kaine, and Obama was pretty stellar (and that's not even mentioning all the other good performances). The protests happened, but began to wane overall. One point worth mentioning before I begin with the final night's coverage was that we had a lot of grieving relatives. President Obama himself was introduced by a Gold Star mom, and not the one that made the news afterwards. I offer this up in my own defense, but again I am getting ahead of myself. Overall, Day Three achieved its goals. It focused on serious subjects that Donald Trump has no clue about, it highlighted Democrats' (and Hillary's ) support for the military, veterans, and police, and it went a long way towards deconstructing the myth of Trump as business genius. All around, that's a pretty good evening, but then it's usually always a good evening when both Biden and Obama are on the bill.
This was only my second national convention, and the first one that ran the full four days. I have to say, four days of this is exhausting! But Philadelphia has certainly been welcoming, I do have to admit.
Thursday, we awoke and decided to take some time to see a few historical sights. Alas, we had not realized that the super-convenient "Political Fest" buses that we had relied upon earlier (after signing up for their service) had ceased operation on Wednesday. In fact, the whole Political Fest had decamped entirely, which was a shame. Inside the convention hall where we had to pick up our press credentials every morning was a huge space with a mockup of President Kennedy's Air Force One jet, a mockup of the Oval Office, and a store selling nothing but older pins from conventions and campaigns throughout history (my eye was caught by an authentic Yippie Party button, but they wanted like 130 bucks for it -- although most of them were a lot cheaper than that). They also had a more traditional gift shop, which we really wanted to drop some money at since there were not a whole lot of independent vendors out on the streets selling T-shirts. So this was the day we had planned to buy souvenirs and do touristy things. But for some incomprehensible reason, Political Fest left before the final day of the convention. Go figure. Rather than walk 12 or 15 blocks in 95-degree heat, we decided to just punt on the whole idea, so even though we were in Philly all week, we never saw the Liberty Bell. We did see Independence Hall from outside it, but it wasn't the same.
When we got to the arena, I sent my wife inside to provide first-person coverage, while I stayed in the media tent (we only had one credential for the arena, but thankfully you can swap them throughout the convention). It was only fair, since she had supported Hillary Clinton all along while I was more a Bernie guy. These notes are a combination of what I saw on the screen and what she saw in the hall, I should mention (she also took most of the photos throughout the whole event).
But while listening to the earlier speeches in the background, I was typing out my "send Biden out now" article, so I wasn't listening with undivided attention. Hence, I largely missed one of the most talked-about speeches of the entire convention. As I said in my introductory column, attending a convention is like riding a whirlwind and you're never sure where you are is where you should be -- perhaps news will be made elsewhere. In this instance, news was made and I wasn't really paying attention. In my defense, however, over the course of the final two nights we had heard a lot of very similar stories from bereaved family members. Khizr Khan's stood out for his eloquence and emotion, but the story he told was a familiar one by the time he took the stage.
I did notice something of import was happening, about halfway through Khan's speech, and did listen to all of his amazing finish. But I had to watch the whole thing on video later to really see what everyone was talking about. His forceful challenge to Donald Trump was extraordinary, from how Trump doesn't know what sacrifice means to how he just doesn't understand the Constitution at all.
Trump later proved Khan right, in the most oxymoronic (or, at the very least, irony-impaired) statement I think he's uttered during the entire campaign season, which is indeed quite a feat. Trump responded: "Mr. Khan, who has never met me, has no right to stand in front of millions of people and claim I have never read the Constitution (which is false), and say many other inaccurate things." Actually, Donald, he does have that right. You know what guarantees him that right? The United States Constitution. Flip to the back, where the Bill of Rights starts the amendments. The very first one guarantees the right to free speech, and also (just for good measure) the right of the people to freely assemble to hear that free speech. It's almost as if... Trump hadn't read the Constitution, which is where all the irony-impairment comes in.
The Khan controversy aside, the theme for the night seemed to be women. Breaking the glass ceiling once and for all. It wasn't just a women's card, it was the whole deck, really. We got speeches from Tammy Duckworth, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Mikulski (and many other female Democratic senators), Jennifer Granholm, and then Hillary was introduced by her daughter Chelsea. There were plenty of other accomplished women whose names aren't as familiar, including a Medal of Honor winner, the Dallas sheriff, the co-founder of Republican Women for Hillary, and some working-class women with stories of pay discrimination and low wages. Among the music acts lined up were Carole King, Sheila E, and Katy Perry.
Now, I'm not saying that only women were allowed to speak the final night or anything. We also got speeches from prominent male politicians such as James Clyburn, John Hickenlooper, Sherrod Brown, and Andrew Cuomo. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar introduced a video segment (with a funny joke about how Trump couldn't tell the difference if he introduced himself as Michael Jordan). But the theme of women's power and women's strength came through clearly. Hillary Clinton was certainly entitled to such a final night, after her historic achievement, so I am certainly not criticizing this choice in any way. Millions of women will be excited to vote for the first major-party woman candidate for president that they've ever been able to. Millions of little girls will now start truly believing that they too could grow up to be president. It's a very big deal, and Hillary was right to showcase it to pump the crowd up for her speech.
A few of the speakers really stood out. Doug Elmets, a former official from the administration of Ronald Reagan, had some sneering things to say about any comparisons between his former boss and the current Republican candidate: "Donald Trump -- you are no Ronald Reagan." He then pointed out one of Reagan's famous lines was "tear down this wall," while Donald Trump wants to build a wall here. He was very effective, and was immediately followed by the Republican Women for Hillary speaker. Clinton is already trying to poach moderate Republican voters, many of whom are absolutely disgusted (or, at the very least, highly embarrassed) by their party's current nominee. Will some of the former "Reagan Democrats" become "Clinton Republicans" this year? It's certainly worth a try.
For all the family members of dead police and soldiers, I though that the best speaker to address how Hillary Clinton feels about such things was the Dallas sheriff, who gave a very moving personal story of overcoming the tragedy of the slain police officers in her city. She humanized the story more than anyone else managed (with the exception of Khan, who was in a class by himself), and yet still showed her inherent toughness -- something she'd have to have had to become a sheriff in a Texas city, one assumes.
The other speaker who woke everyone up was a retired four-star general from the Marine Corps, General John Allen, former commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan. My guess is that he rose from the ranks of an artillery unit, from listening to him speak. He had the type of penetrating and commanding voice that projected so well he probably didn't even need the microphone. A voice that could make itself heard even with Howitzers going off in the background, in other words. He wasn't the only member of the military on stage this evening, but he certainly was the most memorable.
The crowd loved his performance, which was once again the voice of reason from the military warning of the dangers of putting Donald Trump in charge of the nation's armed forces. We got plenty of "U-S-A!" chanting, and tonight there were even "USA" signs to wave as well.
Just before the primetime part of the show, where Chelsea introduced Hillary's acceptance speech, we heard from Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative Xavier Becerra. Both tried their best, but gave largely forgettable speeches.
Which brings me to the end of Day Four (again, I already reviewed the primetime portion of the night earlier this week). Except for one thing worth noting. As I mentioned, the right-wingers who seem to always find something to get their panties in a bunch over (even if there's nothing there to be outraged about -- they'll easily manufacture something, on the spot) were complaining about the lack of American flags at the Democratic convention, from about Day One through about Day Three. Well, on Day Four, the Democrats responded with an absolute avalanche of flags. When Hillary Clinton took the stage at the end of her bio video -- to the tune of Hillary's theme "Fight Song" -- there were thousands and thousands of American flags waving in the audience. Tens of thousands, in fact. There were people in the aisles with giant American flags, waving them proudly and joyfully. There almost literally could not have been any more flags being waved in the arena.
This put the lie to the whole Republican "Democrats are such America-haters they won't even allow American flags in their convention" line of moose poop, forever. Now, you could be cynical and conspiracy-minded, and posit that it would be possible for the Democrats to have actively reacted to the conservative complaints by providing these flags. It is indeed within the realm of believability that some party wholesaler in the Philly metro area could have filled a rush order if someone had called them up and demanded: "We need 30,000 person-wavable American flags within the next eighteen hours, and we'll pay any price." Philadelphia is a big city, and they probably have warehouses that do indeed have stockpiles of this sort. But whether the order was placed weeks in advance or at the last minute, the order was placed. Every man, woman, and child inside the arena had a flag to wave. The volunteers in the aisles had huge flags, just in case the smaller ones didn't show up on television well enough. It was an absolute patriotic frenzy of flag-waving. And it's a lot easier to believe (especially given the "USA" placards handed out the same night -- which couldn't have been produced on such short notice) that the Democrats in charge of the convention, and Hillary Clinton's team, had indeed planned this for the final night, right from the beginning.
To put this bluntly, and in other words, Republicans don't have a lock on American patriotism. They never did have one, no matter all their garment-rending angst over flag pins or flags or any of the other symbols of patriotism that Republicans hold higher than actual patriotism itself. Hillary Clinton, and Democrats in general, stood up for what this country stands for. They stood up for freedom, inclusiveness, and equality, in a manner the Republicans under Trump were simply incapable of. If we're going to get into a pissing contest over flags, well then, where were the tens of thousands of American flags being waved at the Republican National Convention? You see how silly such metrics are, in fact, just by posing the question.
Which leaves me with only a few closing thoughts about the entire convention.
The 2016 Democratic National Convention certainly had its challenges. Has either party ever given a convention the day after the head of the party has been forced to step down? The WikiLeaks scandal hung over the start to the convention like a shroud. The fallout from this still isn't over, as three more high-ranking Democratic National Committee members just had to step down this week. And the party itself was still pretty divided at the start of the convention as well, with Bernie Sanders diehards refusing to admit that Hillary Clinton was indeed the party's unquestionable nominee.
There were geographical problems to holding the convention in Philadelphia, as well. All convention activities were split into two areas, separated by a few miles of "South Philly." The evening events all happened in the big sports complex at the base of the downtown area, while all morning caucuses and events happened close to the center of town (the historical district). In 90-plus-degree heat, walking between the two areas was just not humanly possible. Charlotte was much denser, with the external (or satellite) events happening within a short walk of the arena. So this led to a rather disjointed feel to the convention. In Philly, once you were inside the security perimeter, you pretty much stayed there for the whole night. You couldn't drift off to visit a watch party, or a journalists' wingding, or any of the other peripheral events. But that was really dictated by the geography of the city center, so it was an inherent logistical problem rather than some lack of preparation by the convention planners.
Still, all of that's a lot of headwind to face into. But through it all, the Democrats and the convention progressed. They largely kept to their schedule and kept to each nightly theme. There were minor logistical hiccups, but no major breakdowns in the flow of the convention. Just on scheduling an event for television, the Democrats managed to do far better than the Republicans -- who have nominated a guy who is supposed to know how television works and be a master at it. Democrats had flawless primetime hours, putting the best or biggest speaker last every night (rather than having the audience stream out the doors halfway through, as the GOP did on multiple nights). The Democrats obviously had a much wider pool of talent to draw from, and presented music and speakers worthy of a national convention, rather than putting an underwear model and Chachi on the stage.
The Bernie Sanders faction was much more committed and had much deeper feelings about how things had played out than anyone in the Hillary camp realized, I think. But even this was pretty well stage-managed. The first day was pretty much conceded to Bernie, which is astonishing enough in a national nominating convention. His supporters reveled in the spotlight, but by the next day the roll call was complete -- completed by none other than Bernie himself. This damped down the outrage of his own supporters considerably, and the protests waned thereafter.
Overall, the Democrats showed America the stark difference between their vision for the future of the country versus what Donald Trump and the Republicans had to offer. Hillary Clinton and the Democrats showed level-headedness, seriousness of thought, and openness to all. Republicans, to put it mildly, did not.
When you attend a national convention, as I wrote in my preface to the event, you get caught up in the whirlwind. You have no idea how things look to those outside the torrential pace of events you are experiencing. When a strong speaker gets everyone on their feet, you have to wonder: "Did anyone else even notice, out there?" It's a microcosm far more intense than the usual "inside the Beltway" bubble that most political journalists and politicians reside within. And, as I said, you're always left wondering if something more newsworthy is going on over there, where you aren't. So these have been my experiences at the Democratic National Convention. I hope at least some of it wasn't ever covered or even addressed by the big media outlets, which would only vindicate the trust that the Democrats placed in me by allowing me my press credentials to cover it. After attending two of these, in Charlotte and Philadelphia, I certainly am looking forward to the next one, in whatever city the Democrats choose next.
This has been your roving reporter, blogging his fingers off from the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Until next time -- four years from now -- this is Chris Weigant... signing off.
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