The third night of the Democratic National Convention featured a number of heavy hitters within the party including President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine.
I watched, tweeted and took notes on the best and the worst of the night that was. My picks are below.
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– Joe Biden: The Vice President did three things extremely well in his speech on Wednesday night: 1) Told his own story of loss and perseverance 2) Offered a full-throated testimonial on behalf of Hillary Clinton and 3) Smashed Donald Trump; “no major party nominee in the history of this nation has ever known less or has ever been less prepared,” Biden said.
But, he did more than that too. Sensing that this was almost certainly a swan song for him in front of this sort of audience on a national stage. Biden delivered a powerful defense of the middle class and of the unique ability of Americans to overcome even the most difficult challenges. It was quintessential Biden — a fundamental rejection of the dark vision of America offered by Trump in favor of the come-on-this-is-America spirit that the longtime Delaware Senator personifies.
The total package was absolutely outstanding — a speech only rivaled at this convention by First Lady Michelle Obama’s address.
– Barack Obama: This was not a speech that will make it into the pantheon of Obama’s best addresses. Obama is still better selling himself than he is serving as a surrogate for someone else. (That’s not unique to him. Almost every politician is better at selling themselves. It’s why they’re politicians.)
But, Obama at 75 percent is still a better speech-giver than almost anyone else on the planet. He was gracious — sharing credit with Clinton for the decision to go after Osama bin Laden. He was biting and tough on Trump, dismissing him as a “self-described savior.” And Obama made a stirring case for American exceptionalism and the enduring power of the American experiment; “America is already great,” he said at one point. “America is already strong.”
And, Obama’s close — about the uniqueness of his own American story and all of our American stories — was deeply compelling.
– Michael Bloomberg: The former New York City mayor (and former Democrat/Republican) started off a little bit shaky — getting a rough reception from the convention crowd when he talked about places where he disagreed with Hillary Clinton. But, Bloomberg found his mojo when he turned his rhetorical fire on Trump. And, man oh man, did he go after his fellow New York billionaire. “Let’s elect a sane, competent person,” Bloomberg said at one point. “Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s run his business. God help us,” he said at another. It was a searing and effective critique coming from Bloomberg — an unquestioned titan of business.
– Martin O’Malley: The former Maryland governor took the stage just before 7:30 p.m. — not exactly an ideal speaking slot. But, he did a lot with a little. He delivered a blunt and effective attack against Trump as anti-science and anti-worker.
It’s time to put a racist bully in his place, and a tough woman in hers: The White House!
That got the crowd going and on his side. Plus, I loved that O’Malley came out without a suitcoat and with his tie loosened. We need less formality at these conventions! They are too stuffy and programmatic!
– Christine Leinonen: The mother of one of the 49 people who were murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, last month delivered a raw and emotional testimonial to her son’s life. It was brutally hard to watch and almost impossible to forget.
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– Tim Kaine: The vice presidential nominee delivered a totally competent speech, introducing himself to a convention hall and a country that, largely, didn’t (and doesn’t) know him, touting Clinton’s credentials for the top job and attacking Trump. But, that same speech contained a few groan-worthy lines — “We should all feel the Bern and not get burned by the other guy” — and too much “hey, do you remember” sort of phrasing. Also, please, Senator Kaine, never do the Trump impersonation again. I beg you.
It didn’t help that Kaine was effectively sandwiched in between Biden and Obama, two incredibly gifted speakers who have been in front of these huge audiences a whole lot more than him. Kaine wasn’t actively bad but he wasn’t actively good either. Of course, he wasn’t picked to be Clinton’s vice presidential nominee because of his soaring rhetorical skills.
– Leon Panetta: The former CIA Director, Secretary of Defense and California Congressman is one of the most respected voices on national security in Washington. And, it was clear from the start of his speech that he was tasked with delivering a serious and sober condemnation of Trump and his alleged inability to grasp the complexity of the threat posed by terrorism. Unfortunately for Panetta, his speech was the moment when the most committed Bernie Sanders supporters decided to make a statement; a chant of “no more war” broke out on the convention floor, forcing Panetta to pause his speech. It was an awkward moment that clearly took him by complete surprise.
– Rahm Emanuel: The president’s first chief of staff and the now-mayor of Chicago was a key cog in Obama’s first term. But the celebratory video that led into the president’s speech barely made mention of Rahm — and, when it did, it cast him as the guy saying that the Affordable Care Act couldn’t pass. Not great.
– Microphones: It was cool to see all those Broadway stars singing “What the World Needs Now Is Love.” But, why did they have so few microphones? The rush to pass the mic to the person to the right distracted from the overall effect. Make Microphones Great Again!
– Chanting: If you’re going to chant, you need to make it short and sweet. “Love trump hate” is a good slogan but as a chant? Doesn’t work. Too muddled. And, when the California delegation started chanting in the middle of Rear Admiral John Hutson’s speech, no one — including Hutson — knew what they were yelling. Come on man. What are we even doing out here, man?