A Big Effing Deal

The pandemic made this year’s Democratic Convention something completely different. It was unlike any presidential nominating convention I can remember.

Gone were the huge crowds that would ordinarily fill vast, indoor arenas. Gone were the deafening eruptions of applause, cheers and whistles from thousands of people under one roof. Gone was the spontaneity of unruly floor demonstrations. Gone were broadcasters’ sky-booths overlooking a sea of partisan humanity drunk with the moment.

Even within these absences was a symbolic message: the Democrats were taking care not to spread the coronavirus—a virus that had so far infected 5 million and torn away more than 170,000 American lives from the fabric of the nation’s families.

In ways unexpected, the impossibility of recreating an arena atmosphere in virtual reality made a much better convention possible for Democrats. It was more personal, more inclusive and more audible. It allowed the walls of the convention hall to disappear and allowed the diversity of the American landscape to be seen and unified. E pluribus unum.

For the most part, the technology and the electronic orchestration of the event worked and worked well. It was not flawless, but it didn’t have to be. The bits that fell flat were unimportant in the end. The practical and necessary business of the convention—the nomination and endorsement of the party’s presidential and vice presidential candidates—was accomplished.

The standard-bearers delivered their acceptance speeches in large empty rooms. Without feedback from a live audience, they could not know when their words connected with the hearts of those that heard them. Anyone who has been on stage knows what is lost when a line is delivered to an empty house.

Joe Biden looked open-eyed into the camera lens and did not deliver a speech as much as he began a conversation, talking about what is at stake in the election.

This is a life-changing election that will determine America’s future for a very long time.

Character is on the ballot. Compassion is on the ballot. Decency, science, democracy.

They are all on the ballot.

Who we are as a nation. What we stand for. And, most importantly, who we want to be.

That’s all on the ballot.

And the choice could not be clearer.

No rhetoric is needed.

Biden’s speech was not aspiration and poetry without substance. He highlighted a range of issues that would become the focus of a Biden presidency: having a plan to control the pandemic of coronavirus; building the nation’s economy back better; building on the Affordable Care Act; making a college education affordable; providing child care and elder care; making a humane immigration system an economic asset; empowering labor unions; assuring equal pay for women; paying essential workers rising wages to support families; responding effectively to the global threat of climate change and creating good-paying jobs in the process; protecting Social Security and Medicare; and standing with international friends and allies instead of “cozying up to dictators.”

But even beyond this litany of policies, Biden expressed a vision of new possibility.

One of the most powerful voices we hear in the country today is from our young people. They’re speaking to the inequity and injustice that has grown up in America. Economic injustice. Racial injustice. Environmental injustice.

I hear their voices and if you listen, you can hear them too. And whether it’s the existential threat posed by climate change, the daily fear of being gunned down in school, or the inability to get started in their first job — it will be the work of the next president to restore the promise of America to everyone.

Biden’s vision embraced possibly the most ambitious and hopeful of all futures for America. He drew his inspiration from a six-year-old girl, Gianna Floyd.

She is incredibly brave.

I’ll never forget.

When I leaned down to speak with her, she looked into my eyes and said “Daddy, changed the world.”

Her words burrowed deep into my heart.

Maybe George Floyd’s murder was the breaking point.

Maybe John Lewis’ passing the inspiration.

However it has come to be, America is ready to in John’s words, to lay down “the heavy burdens of hate at last” and to do the hard work of rooting out our systemic racism.

His acceptance of the nomination was framed within the theme of light versus darkness and hope versus fear. But the times we are living in do not call for rhetorical flourish. These were plain-spoken words and all the more effective. More than any poetry of language or any detailed policy prescription of the moment, this was a speech that was aware of and spoke to America’s history. It was a good, solid speech and one that, if you listen, can inspire.

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