The Democratic National Convention (DNC) runs from August 17th – August 20th. This article is part of a broader, MJPS Online series providing daily analysis of the DNC as it happens. Click here for the other components of the series.
After a mostly successful first night under the theme “We the People,” Democrats virtually reconvened for the second night of this year’s convention, this time with the theme “Leadership Matters.” Once again, the convention opened with a nod to the original DNC plans, with the call to order being led by Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett.
The first section of the evening – “The Leaders We Are” – featured the traditional keynote address reserved for a rising leader of the Democratic Party. In the past, this address has been used by politicians such as Barack Obama (2004) and Julian Castro (2012) as a springboard into national politics. This year, in an unprecedented move, the Democrats chose to feature seventeen speakers, including Long Beach mayor Robert Garcia, Rep. Connor Lamb of Pennsylvania, and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. At the end of the address, all seventeen speakers praised the party’s nominee, stating “There is one person that is looking out for us – all of us, and that is Joe Biden.”
Following the keynote address, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who was fired by Donald Trump in early 2017 for refusing to enforce his travel ban targeting predominantly Muslim countries, spoke out against the current president’s behaviour. She criticized his selfish behaviour, claiming that unlike Trump, Biden knew how to put his country first. After a short address from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, three generations of Democratic leaders made the case for Joe Biden.
First, Caroline Kennedy – John F. Kennedy’s daughter and the Ambassador to Japan under Barack Obama – and her son Jack expressed their support for Biden by echoing JFK’s famous words, stating Biden would be a “president who asks what he can do for our country.” Then, former president Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter praised Biden’s “experience, character, and decency to bring us together and restore America’s greatness.” Lastly, former president Bill Clinton heavily criticized Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, before making a case for Biden focused on his ability to restore the economy.
Then, under the second sub-theme of the night – “The Leader We Need” – the traditional roll call was held. The roll call is the moment in the convention where each state delegation casts its vote, based on the results of primaries and caucuses for one or more candidates. This year, two candidates were eligible for the roll call: Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders was nominated in speeches by labour activist Bob King and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, while Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester and Sen. Chris Coons, both of Delaware, did the same for Biden. Biden was also nominated by Jacquelyn Brittany, a security guard at the New York Times who met the Democratic nominee when he came to meet with the newspaper’s editorial board in late 2019. Brittany praised Biden’s ability to connect with Americans everywhere, recounting that in the short time she spent with him, she “could tell he really saw me, that he actually cared, that my life meant something to him.”
Following the nominating speeches, representatives from all fifty states and territories were called upon, in alphabetical order, to cast their ballot. These representatives included elected officials, including some of Biden’s rivals for the nomination like Sen. Amy Klobuchar for Minnesota and Pete Buttigieg for Indiana, and activists. The state of Delaware, represented by Gov. John Carney and Sen. Tom Carper, was the last to cast its votes to make Biden the official Democratic nominee. Following Biden’s official nomination, he was briefly seen celebrating with his wife Jill and their grandchildren.
The night then moved to its third section – “The Leaders We Are” – centred around healthcare. It included a short panel discussion with Biden and a few American citizens, similar to the one about racial justice on the first night of the DNC. Activist Ady Barkan, who has ALS and has campaigned for universal healthcare, offered touching remarks voiced by a computer. Barkan discussed his own experience with the healthcare system and urged progressives to put on Biden’s desk “a bill that guarantees us all the health care we deserve.”
The last section of the night – “The Leader Joe Is” – was kicked off by the remarks of Biden’s former colleague in the Senate and White House, 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry. Kerry criticized Trump’s foreign policy and poor relationship with traditional American allies and his failure in protecting U.S. troops. Colin Powell, a retired general who served as George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, spoke in support of Biden and praised his support of allied countries and the military. John McCain’s widow Cindy narrated a video about Biden’s friendship with the late senator, which emphasized Biden’s ability to reach across the aisle.
The last speaker of the night was Jill Biden. After being introduced by a short documentary about her life, the former Second Lady spoke to the convention from Brandywine High School, where she used to be an English teacher. She made the case for her husband’s ability to bring the country together, touting his experience and his character. As a teacher and parent, Jill Biden also directly addressed the impact of the pandemic on education, promising that “classrooms will ring out with laughter and possibility once again.”
After two nights, it seems as the DNC has been able to strike a good balance between a desire to appeal to both more progressive voices and disaffected Republicans, and between making both the case against Donald Trump and for Joe Biden. There are still two nights to go, with three barrier-breaking women expected to speak on Wednesday: Hillary Clinton, the first female nominee of a major party; Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House; and Kamala Harris, the first African-American and Asian-American woman on the ticket of a major party.
Edited by Eyitayo Kunle-Oladosu.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.