Democrats man­age not to screw up con­ven­tion, yet

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - I NEIL STEIN­BERG nstein­berg@sun­times.com | @NeilStein­berg

f Repub­li­cans gam­bled their souls that they’d be able to con­trol Don­ald Trump and lost, for­feit­ing every­thing they once val­ued, Democrats seem com­mit­ted to beat­ing them by dou­bling down on who we are and what we rep­re­sent.

That’s a bet I’ll take.

Be­cause if we’re gonna lose, let’s lose wa­ger­ing on our best selves.

If the United States of Amer­ica is re­ally go­ing to deal it­self four more years of tin­pot dem­a­goguery, con­spir­acy crazi­ness and whoops­some­body-broke-it in­com­pe­tence — don’t kid your­self, Don­ald Trump is still pres­i­dent and pres­i­dents usu­ally get re­elected — Democrats can com­fort our­selves that, at least on the first night of their 2020 na­tional con­ven­tion, we bet on who we are.

In a dis­play of messy in­clu­sive­ness, the typ­i­cally mar­ginal and dis­pos­sessed were shoved front and cen­ter. Those who still, de­spite every­thing done to them, in­sist on be­liev­ing that Amer­ica be­comes great, not be­cause of a slo­gan sewn on a hat in China, but by do­ing great things.

Yes, be­ing Democrats, we stum­bled out of the blocks Mon­day night.

“Eva Lon­go­ria?” I thought, set­tling be­fore the TV. “Why am I see­ing a ‘Des­per­ate House­wife’?” For a ter­ri­ble mo­ment, I thought we had stolen a page from the Repub­li­can play­book, and she would Vanna White us through two hours of pol­i­tics as re­al­ity tele­vi­sion.

But Lon­go­ria ra­di­ated dig­ni­fied con­vic­tion, or at least a good im­i­ta­tion, and soon the screen was bro­ken into a Brady Brunch grid of pledg­ing, singing faces, then cut to a prayer to Je­sus — which I sup­pose we can let pass. Des­per­ate times call for des­per­ate mea­sures.

This fes­ti­val of in­clu­sion seems a pre-emp­tive coun­ter­bal­ance to next week’s Repub­li­can “It’s a Small, Small (White) World.” It’ll be interestin­g to see, as the con­ven­tion un­folds, if this is in­deed a tone-set­ter, or a one-off, some­thing got­ten out of the way. Whether the mes­sage con­tin­ues, or is the con­ven­tion ver­sion of the old sched­ule-the-pub­lic-pol­i­cypro­gram-at-5-a.m. Sun­day gam­bit.

I started watch­ing on ABC, but was driven off when they cut away, about three min­utes in, so Ge­orge Stephanopo­u­los could an­a­lyze what we had just seen. He didn’t quite drag out a felt board, with a smil­ing Mr. Sun and a few floppy can­di­dates. But ABC did dis­in­ter Rahm Emanuel, look­ing quite life­like. After lis­ten­ing, prompted by mor­bid cu­rios­ity, to Rahm’s pol­ished peb­bles of wis­dom — some­thing about roots — it was time to switch to CNN.

The first hour chugged along, with no glar­ing gaffes and un­pol­ished, let’s-put-ona-show pro­duc­tion val­ues. The best line be­longed to Kristin Urquiza, whose fa­ther, a Trump sup­porter, died of COVID-19 after fol­low­ing GOP ad­vice and hit­ting the town.

“My dad was a healthy 65-year-old,” Urquiza said. “His only pre­ex­ist­ing con­di­tion was trust­ing Don­ald Trump. And for that, he paid with his life.”

Sure, there were mis­fires. Amy Klobuchar, grin­ning like an id­iot, as if just so happy to be al­lowed to stay up late with the adults. Michi­gan Gov. Gretchen Whit­mer col­lect­ing every po­lit­i­cal cliche and bro­mide she could find in the al­ley be­hind the UAW hall and spread­ing them on a blan­ket.

Those who had to de­liver, did de­liver. Bernie San­ders didn’t foam, didn’t wan­der, but stayed on point, giv­ing per­haps the tight­est speech of his ca­reer, which I would sum­ma­rize as, “We tried. Now, cut the pie-in-the-sky crap and vote for Joe or you’ll be left with noth­ing.”

Lead­ing to the high­light, Michelle Obama. “Don­ald Trump is the wrong pres­i­dent for our coun­try,” Obama said. “He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head.”

The first lady’s rhetoric ac­com­plished some­thing I would not have imag­ined pos­si­ble un­til the mo­ment Obama ac­tu­ally did it: She lifted up the flap of the burn­ing cir­cus tent that is Amer­ica 2020 and urged us to es­cape with her, away from this smok­ing, chaotic clown show. To slip out­side into the fresh air. Back to the rolling fields and sturdy towns, to an Amer­ica that isn’t a flam­ing hate­fest. I was amazed to find my­self, be­side her, blink­ing in the un­ex­pected sun­light of 10 p.m., and re­al­ize it is still there. Amer­ica is still here, some­how un­sul­lied by the grotesque abuse in­flicted over years of squirm­ing away from the puck­er­ing, grop­ing, tight­en­ing em­brace of our pres­i­dent.

“We have got to vote for Joe Bi­den like our lives de­pend on it,” Obama said.

Which, in the era of COVID, they kinda do.

Eva Lon­go­ria

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