While much of the first two nights of the Democratic National Convention were spent wooing moderate Republicans put off by the divisive style and policies of President Trump, Wednesday’s star-studded lineup, with actress Kerry Washington as emcee, tailored a message to younger Democrats hungry for change. The theme of the night, “A More Perfect Union,” put a focus on the ambitious plans the party has for fighting climate change, curbing gun violence, expanding immigration and addressing systemic racial inequality. It also set the stage for Sen. Kamala Harris to make history as the first Indian-American and first Black American to run for vice president on the ticket of a major party.
Here are the key takeaways from day 3 of the DNC.
Harris makes history
On Wednesday, Sen. Kamala Harris of California accepted the Democratic party nomination for vice president, the first Indian-American and the first Black American to appear on a major party ticket. If the Biden-Harris ticket wins, she will also be positioned to someday become the United States’ first woman president. With those milestones in mind, the stakes for Harris’s speech were high.
She spoke at the beginning of the two-hour virtual session, and again at the end. Her message at the beginning was about voting, and the apparent effort by Republicans to discourage it.
“Hey, everybody, it’s me, Kamala. So before I go onstage later tonight, I want to talk about the importance of voting. I know many of you plan to vote this year, but amidst the excitement and enthusiasm for this election, you’ve also heard about obstacles and misinformation and folks making it harder for you to cast your ballot. So I think we need to ask ourselves: Why don’t they want us to vote? Why is there so much effort to silence our voices? And the answer is: Because when we vote, things change. When we vote, things get better.”
For her closing address, accepting the nomination, Harris set about introducing herself to American voters, many of whom knew her only from glimpses on the Democratic debate stage during the primaries or during her questioning of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. It was a personal and principled speech, intended to make the case that she is equipped to lead the Democratic Party in the next decade.
“I've fought for children, and survivors of sexual assault. I’ve fought against transnational gangs. I took on the biggest banks and helped take down one of the biggest for-profit colleges. I know a predator when I see one,” the former San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general said, in a pointed allusion to Trump.
Harris said she was “committed to the values” her mother taught her, and that she shares with Biden “a vision of our nation as a beloved community — where all are welcome, no matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we love.”
She brought up racial disparities in health in the context of the coronavirus, and linked it to the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted nationwide following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“This virus, it has no eyes — and yet it knows exactly how we see each other and how we treat each other. And let’s be clear, there is no vaccine for racism. We have got to do the work. For George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for the lives of too many others to name,” Harris said, referring to the emergency medical worker shot and killed by police in her apartment in Louisville, Ky.
“We’re at an inflection point. The constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone,” Harris said. “And here’s the thing: We can do better and deserve so much more. We must elect a president who will bring something different, something better, and do the important work. A president who will bring all of us together — Black, white, Latino, Asian, indigenous — to achieve the future we collectively want. We must elect Joe Biden.”
Progressive issues get airtime
Much of the first hour of Wednesday’s convention was given over to video montages addressing issues especially important to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. A series of interviews with the family members of the victims of gun violence introduced an address from former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot and suffered brain damage at a campaign event in Tucson in 2011. She resigned from Congress the following year, and has made few public appearances since then. “I have not lost my voice. America needs all of us to speak out, even when you have to fight to find the words,” Giffords said in the longest speech she has delivered since the shooting.
A video about the important role that immigrants have played in shaping the United States intercut interviews with a speech by former President Barack Obama making the point that Trump’s immigration crackdown is bad for the country. Another segment, on climate change, featured activists, farmers and scientists who said that Trump has turned his back on an impending environmental catastrophe.
A video showing tearful domestic violence survivors telling their stories, intended to highlight Biden’s role in passing the Violence Against Women Act, drew an apparently derisive tweet from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: a clip from “The Simpsons” showing Lisa crying and tearing up a piece of paper in disgust.
Warren has a plan to help Biden win
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, one of Biden’s chief rivals during the Democratic primary and a finalist in his search for a running mate, delivered a powerful speech advancing her populist economic agenda. She predicted that Biden and Harris would prioritize funding for childcare, to level the playing field for American workers.
“We build infrastructure like roads and bridges and communications systems so that people can work. That infrastructure helps us all, because it keeps our economy going. It’s time to recognize that childcare is part of the basic infrastructure of this nation. It’s infrastructure for families. Joe and Kamala will make high quality childcare affordable for every family, make preschool universal and raise the wages of every childcare worker.”
No Warren political speech is complete, however, without digs at Trump. On Wednesday, she took aim at the president over his response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 170,000 Americans.
“Donald Trump’s ignorance and incompetence have always been a danger to this country. COVID-19 was Trump’s biggest test. He failed miserably. Today, America has the most COVID deaths in the world and an economic collapse, and both crises are falling hardest on Black and brown families.”
Clinton has an ‘I told you so’ moment
During the 2016 presidential campaign, the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, repeatedly warned that electing Donald Trump posed a risk to the safety and security of the nation. On Thursday, Clinton returned to the spotlight with a message that, at times, seemed to say, “I told you so.”
“I wish Donald Trump knew how to be a president,” Clinton said in a live speech from her home in Westchester County, N.Y. “Because America needs a president right now.”
Clinton, who, since losing a close election to Trump in 2016, has often spoken out against the president and those in his administration, recounted what she had heard from Americans distraught over the direction the country has been heading.
“For four years, people have said to me, ‘I didn’t realize how dangerous he was.’ ‘I wish I could go back and do it over.’ Or worst, ‘I should have voted,’” Clinton said. “Well, this can’t be another woulda, coulda, shoulda election. If you vote by mail, request your ballot now, and send it back as soon as you can. If you vote in person, do it early. Bring a friend and wear a mask. Become a poll worker. Most of all, no matter what, vote. Vote like our lives and livelihoods are on the line, because they are.”
Clinton won the popular vote in 2016 by more than 2.8 million votes, while losing the Electoral College to Trump, and on Wednesday, she reminded those watching that history could repeat itself in 2020.
“Don’t forget: Joe and Kamala can win by nearly 3 million votes and still lose,” Clinton said. “Take it from me.”
Obama unloads on Trump
Obama has largely adhered to the tradition that outgoing presidents avoid directly criticizing their successors, but he discarded that self-imposed restraint on Wednesday. In a speech that pulled no punches, Obama went after Trump in a way that Americans had not yet heard.
“I have sat in the Oval Office with both of the men running for president,” Obama said from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. “I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies. I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care. But he never did. He’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
While Obama spoke glowingly of his relationships with Biden and Harris, his speech is likely to be remembered most for the tone he took in assessing Trump’s legacy.
"Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job, because he can’t. And the consequences of that failure are severe: 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before."
As he spoke, Trump lashed out on Twitter, in uppercase:
HE SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN, AND GOT CAUGHT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 20, 2020
But Obama had the stage, and his speech was carried on Fox News.
“This president and those in power, those who benefit from keeping things the way they are, they’re benefiting from your cynicism,” Obama said, adding, “Do not let them take away your power. Do not let them take away your democracy.”
Having made it his mission to overturn virtually every one of Obama’s accomplishments, including the Affordable Care Act, Trump continued his counter-programming on Twitter, and coined a new slur, “Slow Joe,” for his opponent.
WHY DID HE REFUSE TO ENDORSE SLOW JOE UNTIL IT WAS ALL OVER, AND EVEN THEN WAS VERY LATE? WHY DID HE TRY TO GET HIM NOT TO RUN?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 20, 2020
As Obama explained during the Democratic primary, he withheld his endorsement to avoid exerting undue influence on the outcome. With Biden now the nominee, he was free to say what he thought — and what he thinks is that a second Trump term would be a catastrophe.
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