Last night we saw Barack Obama give his last DNC speech as president and it was one of his best speeches ever, which is saying something. It's very unusual for a president to pass the baton with such enthusiasm to his successor. In the past the president either had no respect for the person running to replace him or the new candidate felt he needed to run against the president's record. There was nothing like the full-throated endorsement from Barack Obama last night with Eisenhower-Nixon, Johnson-Humphrey, Reagan-Bush, Clinton-Gore or Bush-McCain. There is no doubt that President Obama is happily entrusting Clinton to carry on his legacy and Clinton is warmly embracing it. For better or worse, these two believe their legacies are entwined.
It was a good night for the Democrats in general. While there were many thematic moments, including some moving testimonials about gun violence and a film about climate change by James Cameron. But coming as it did after Donald Trump held a press conference and invited the Russian government to do some more hacking on his behalf (among other inhinged ramblings), it was an excellent opportunity for the party to show America that voting for a madman is unnecessary, even if you generally vote Republican. And as it turned out that was exactly what they had planned.
If the first night was the night for demonstrating the party's progressive bonafides, last night was about Dem The first speaker to address those folks was retired Admiral John Hutson, a former Judge Advocate General and law professor. He got right to the point, saying:
“Donald Trump calls himself the ‘law-and-order candidate,’ but he’ll violate international law. In his words, he endorses torture ‘at a minimum.’ He’ll order our troops to commit war crimes like killing civilians. And he actually said, ‘You have to take out their families.” And what did he say when he was told that’s illegal? He said our troops ‘won’t refuse, believe me.’ This morning, he personally invited Russia to hack us! That’s not law and order. That’s criminal intent!”
There are almost certainly Republicans who are shocked by those comments. Many people with a military background are deeply offended by them. Admiral Hutson was speaking to those people, trying to tell them that there is an alternative.
Former Pentagon and CIA chief Leon Panetta made a similar case testifying to the clear and present danger of a Trump presidency. He was booed lustily by a contingent of anti-war Democrats in the hall, which was probably to be expected. (I wrote about Panetta's propensity for self-serving "maverick" behavior a while back.) So he may have served a broader purpose. If the goal was to reassure certain Independents and moderates, Panetta is a good choice to do that.
Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg was the one who made the case most explicitly. He said upfront that he didn't agree with many of Clinton's policies and that he didn't consider himself a Democrat. (This would be more shocking if it weren't for the fact that the runner-up for the nomination just announced that he's going back to being an Independent as well! The Democratic coalition is full of them these days.) And Bloomberg's task was essentially the same as Bernie Sanders' was --- to indict Trump and make the case that it's important that Clinton beat him. He put it starkly: "Together, let's elect a sane, competent person." The implication of what that said about Trump couldn't have been clearer.
Vice President Joe Biden gave a barn-burning speech aimed directly at middle-class suburban Republicans who are looking at Trump and wondering just what in the world he knows about their lives. Biden has that common touch and he said it as only he can.
Ladies and gentlemen, let's say the obvious, that is not Donald Trump’s story. Just listen to me a second without booing or cheering. His cynicism and undoubtedly his lack of empathy and compassion can be summed up in that phrase he is most proud of making famous: "You're fired." I'm not joking. Think about that. Think about that. Think about everything you learned as a child. No matter where you were raised, how can there be pleasure in saying, "You're fired?
He is trying to tell us he cares about the middle class. Give me a break. That is a bunch of malarkey.
He ended his speech saying "come on!"
Finally, there was Tim Kaine there to accept the VP nomination and prove to average Americans that the Democrats are the party of normal people. And he did. He is America's square Dad and that's bound to be reassuring to a few Americans who may be nervous about electing another "first" even as the GOP is offering up someone who appears to be unstable and unqualified. Kaine is the anti-Trump, a self-effacing, modest, obviously decent regular guy.
All of this oblique appealing to the center annoyed some more ideological observers on both sides. Some Democrats found the defense of John McCain and some chants of "USA" discordant and it's not surprising. Republicans were upset to see the Democrats using language they thought they owned:
American exceptionalism and greatness, shining city on hill, founding documents, etc--they're trying to take all our stuff
— Rich Lowry (@RichLowry) July 28, 2016
But Democrats shouldn't be upset about using this kind of rhetoric to advance progressive goals. It's not a capitulation to the other side. Using some of their familiar riffs just makes it comfortable for people to make the switch.
There is evidence that this election may end up finally dislodging the white, college educated demographic from the GOP, which has won them since the time polling first began. Many of them can see that Trump is dangerous. Last night was an invitation from the Democratic party for them to leave the dark side and come into the light. And they did it with the most liberal platform in history. That's a pretty neat trick.