By Jay Barth
on Fri, Jul 29, 2016 at 9:33 AM
Most reading this watched the final night of the Democratic National Convention yesterday and have watched many more hours of analysis of Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech and the other events of the evening, so I will avoid too many more words on what was a crisply delivered speech. Yes, it could have included more poetry: There will be few, if any, lines that are remembered a generation from now such as “I still believe in a place called Hope” or “Let us resolve to build that bridge to the 21st century” from her husband’s 1992 and 1996 convention speeches, respectively. Still, the speech — and the entire program of the convention’s final evening — was meant to expand the tent of Clinton’s Democratic Party to those most concerned about America’s role in the world in a dangerous time and those most distressed by the nation’s growing inequality and economic unfairness. It appears to have accomplished those goals well.
After several hours of lower-key speeches, two very different speeches truly moved the audience in the hall: a rousing speech by North Carolina preacher and civil rights leader William Barber II and the quietly impassioned lecture of Khizr Khan, the father of a Muslim soldier killed in battle in Iraq.
The Khan speech — in which he pulled a worn U.S. Constitution from his pocket to wave at GOP nominee Donald Trump in response to Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country — is being played on loop on cable television and likely is the moment of the convention that will be most remembered for its unexpectedness and potency. It knocked back the thousands in the room just as it worked incredibly well on television.
A few more observations on the final evening:
—The hall was packed to the gills. It was almost impossible to find a seat five hours before Clinton’s speech. There was a real sense that history was happening. The historical nature of the Clinton candidacy provides an important jolt for a candidate who has distinct personal challenges and lacks the ability to inspire on a regular basis. During the week, the moments where the historical nature of her success was celebrated brought tremendous energy to the room and seems to have moved folks across the nation.
—In stark contrast to the Republican Convention last week, the event was managed expertly. It was great political theater — from the order of speeches, to the management of the clock for primetime viewership, to the videos, to the musical acts, to the signs and flags. Moreover, because of the continued agitation of a few hundred Bernie Sanders delegates and the sheer length of the program (seven hours per day with hundreds of speakers), it was a tough convention to manage well. Decades from now, it will be compared to the 2004 Republican Convention as a piece of truly masterful political stagecraft.
—The legitimate drama produced by the Sanders campaign’s role in the convention amped up the volume to Clinton’s benefit. It’s fair to say that the more establishment Clinton delegates arrived in Philadelphia a bit subdued. The immediate sense on Monday afternoon that the Sanders folks were loud and still not willing to give up, inspired the Clinton delegates to respond to that Sanders energy with energy of their own. On the last night, in particular, it created a real tension in the room as it was unclear exactly where and when a Sanders mini-demonstration might break out. The now overwhelmingly pro-Clinton crowd (which had been joined by more mainstream Sanders delegates) fought back loudly whenever the protests started; they were energized by the critics in the room. And, it created a moment right out of the GOP’s 2004 convention during Gen. John Allen's energetic speech as Democratic delegates and guests responded to those tied to the military with loud chants of "U-S-A." It wasn’t the Democratic Party of my youth, but it was incredibly strong for reinforcing the party’s national security credentials.
Up next: The key next rounds of opinion polling mid-week next week. That will tell us how much of a bounce the Democratic nominee received from a convention that most think worked incredibly well in terms of casting a well-known nominee in new light.
I’m at the airport in Philadelphia about to jet away. Here’s one piece I did for another publication on the role of “love” at DNC 2016.
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