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A tale of two American political conventions: Democrats run on 'decency,' while Republicans tout 'law and order'

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Biden gives a speech at the DNC. Image: Elvert Barnes/Flickr

Irony abounds in the U.S. presidential election campaign, especially the recent Democratic and Republican conventions. The Democrats are running on "decency," as they did in the 2016 election. The Republicans are running on "law and order."

"Political Conventions Are Now Literally Party Advertisements," joked a Mother Jones magazine headline, following the second two-hour program of the four-day virtual Democratic convention. After decades of everyone grousing how fluffy and emotional conventions were, wrote Kevin Drum, the inevitable happened. "Guess what? COVID-19 has finally turned them [conventions] literally into party advertisements: just a bunch of prerecorded segments edited together into a 2-hour infomercial. And it's great!"

The Democratic convention drew on Hollywood and Silicon Valley expertise to produce a four-evening digital extravaganza, featuring a series of slick, cheerful short videos highlighting the party's diversity. For example, the roll call vote featured quick videos from 57 states and territories, each showcasing local colour and character.
    
Although Joe Biden had already won the required 1,991 state primary votes to secure the nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders and his far more progressive platform received almost three in 10 (28 per cent) of the votes (1,073 to 2,687). As seconder for Sanders' nomination, Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez described his platform as a: 

"...mass people's movement working to establish 21st century social, economic and human rights, including guaranteed health care, higher education, living wages and labour rights for all people in the United States … a movement that realizes the unsustainable brutality of an economy that rewards explosive inequalities of wealth for the few at the expense of long-term stability for the many, and who organized a historic grassroots campaign to reclaim our democracy, in a time when millions of people in the United States are looking for deep, systemic solutions to our crises of mass evictions, unemployment, and lack of health care."

However, Sanders told the convention he was throwing his support behind Biden -- after negotiating progress for parts of Sanders' platform, including support for a $15 minimum wage, union organizing, 12 weeks family leave, much greater access to "pre-K" child care, and shutting down private prisons and detention centres. Sanders urged viewers to support Biden too: "My friends, we must come together to defeat Donald Trump," Sanders said. "The price of failure is just too high." 

Speaker after speaker pointed to 45's handling of COVID-19 as the reason the U.S. has surpassed its six millionth coronavirus case, with more than 180,000 deaths -- a very high price indeed.

When Democratic speakers had to be on stage, they wore face masks when appropriate, and maintained social distancing.

In between speeches from former Democratic presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, current music stars (Billie Eilish, John Legend, Common, Jennifer Hudson and Prince Royce) popped up to entertain viewers. D is for Democrat, but it could have been for Disney.

For their convention, Republicans stuck to what they knew: staged speeches delivered to live audiences. They relied on TV reality show producers to stitch the speeches together. The result was more Fear Factor than 45's former program, The Apprentice. The Daily Show called it, "fear and shouting."     

The digital convention started with a video featuring Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis lawyers who were charged for waving guns at peaceful protesters marching past their home. "Make no mistake," said Patricia, "your family will not be safe, no matter where you live, in the Democrats' radical America."
    
Most of the Republican convention speakers seemed to be relatives or employees of 45, including his daughter Ivanka, sons Eric and Donald Jr., and Donald Jr.'s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, whose glowering speaking style is almost as frightening as her bullhorn voice. Despite the evidence, several speakers praised the president for his swift decisive leadership during the pandemic. Seriously.
 
Melania Trump was the first Republican to acknowledge the nation's grief over the U.S. pandemic infection and mortality rates. She delivered her speech crisply but with inflection and feeling.

Vice-President Mike Pence praised 45 in his speech, and introduced the Republican 2020 campaign theme: law and order. In answer to nightly demonstrations in streets across the U.S. supporting Black Lives Matter, Pence swore "We will not tolerate public disorder." If this means more armed troops in the streets, as in Portland, it's time to start printing up more Wall of Moms t-shirts, and rounding up leaf blowers to repel tear gas.

For the finale, 45 addressed a live audience of more than 1,000 people sitting in the White House rose garden, with hardly a face mask in sight. 45 pledged to be "your law and order" president, in a 72-minute speech that was expected to last only 30.  

Law and order? Some media commentators focussed on the public hazards in the speech's staging, which flouted masks and social distancing. A few news stories mentioned that Herman Cain -- who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 -- died of coronavirus a few weeks after he attended 45's Tulsa rally. 

Of course, media and politicians were already outraged that the "law and order president" was breaking protocol and probably a few laws by electioneering from the people's White House and other federal property.

Ratings-wise, 19.7 million people watched the Democrats' first night, compared with the 17 million who watched the Republicans' first night. By the end of day three of the RNC, Rachel Maddow and her panelists had identified thousands of lies in what Republican speakers told their party members, and the world. On day four, even with Maddow's skill at speedtalking she could not identify all the lies in the president's address in the five minutes allotted to her.

"The president is going to talk to you about law and order," said Michael Cohen, formerly 45's personal lawyer, in a video released the day of his speech. "That's laughable. Virtually everyone who worked for his campaign has been convicted of a crime or is under indictment, myself included."

The digital national conventions did affect public opinion -- the Democrats are still ahead, although their lead narrowed to six to eight points from 10 to 15 percentage points before the Republican convention. However, a whole host of other factors probably will intervene in the scant two months before election day, from wild swings in the economy to climate catastrophe. But that's a topic for another time.

Award-winning author and journalist Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local column in Calgary for four years. She was editor of Straightgoods.com from 2004-2013.

Image: Elvert Barnes/Flickr

Editor's note, September 2, 2020: A previous version of this story misspelled the last name of the seconder of Bernie Sander's nomination. She is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, not Ocascio-Cortez.

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