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Dems manage not to screw up convention, yet

2020 offers, not a safe bet, but a bet worth taking, as Michelle Obama invites us to escape.

Yes, the first night of the Democratic National Convention was hosted by Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria Baston. But the whole thing somehow still worked.
Yes, the first night of the Democratic National Convention was hosted by Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria Baston. But the whole thing somehow still worked.
AFP

If 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 whoops-somebody-broke-it incompetence — don’t kid yourself, Donald Trump is still president and presidents usually get re-elected — 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-policy-program-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-on-a-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.