I watched every night of the Republican Convention last week, and I’ve watched every night of the Democratic Convention this week. Most nights I’ve texted and messaged with friends as I did. Last night I went to a viewing party (more on an amazing cocktail recipe I learned there below).
Every time I communicate about the two conventions, I can’t help but point out their stylistic differences. Where the RNC stated themes for each night, (e.g. “Make America Work Again”), it was hard to discern how each speech connected to the theme. They were mostly undisciplined rants, not vetted by the organizers, as evidenced by the Melania Trump plagiarism debacle. The DNC, on the other hand, didn’t come right out and name the evenings’ themes, but made sure each speech flowed into the other. Speakers were introduced by people who knew them or their accomplishments. Many were introduced by well-produced videos (made by the likes of Star Wars director JJ Abrams and Titanic director James Cameron). Hearing the message was like being told one cohesive, evolving story, where themes and ideas naturally sprung from the last.
The RNC famously had a lack of fame and accomplishment there. Former presidents Bush (both of them) announced they’d be staying away, an unprecedented move denying gravitas and continuity to the message of the party. Party notables stayed away in droves. I suppose it’s hard for the likes of Mitt Romney to show up after calling his own party’s nominee a “phony” and a “fraud.” Trump’s closest rival embarrassed him from the podium. Clinton’s introduced a motion that she be nominated by acclimation (a sign of great unity) and gave an amazing speech on her behalf.
Even in terms of star power, the comparison between the two conventions was almost awkward. The RNC “stars” looked like the cast of Celebrity Apprentice with the two most notable ones being Scott Baio and the guy from Duck Dynasty. (And for those that say the reason for that is that Hollywood is in the tank for the Dems, remember Clint Eastwood and that chair? There are plenty of conservative A-listers who stayed away because Trump is radioactive). In comparison, the DNC had almost an embarrassment of riches: Meryl Streep (whom I love, but who wore the wackiest dress ever), Debra Messing, Sarah Silverman, Lady Gaga, Eva Longoria, Elizabeth Banks, Lena Dunham, Katy Perry and Fergie, to name a few. And then there were the video shorts produced by some of the greatest talent working in film today.
Honestly, the comparison that has been occurring to me has been this. Last week was like watching a video produced by sixth graders and thinking, “Not bad. These are some pretty talented sixth graders.” And then this week, it was seeing that juxtaposed to a video produced by professionals, and seeing just how amateurish the sixth grade video looked in comparison.
I note that I’ve been watching with friends and going to viewing parties because I find myself mentioning the stylistic differences to them over and over again and feeling a little bad about it. After all, this is not a superficial thing. I should focus on substance. And I have loved the message of hope and focus on the future that I’ve been hearing from the Democratic Convention, particularly in stark contrast to the pessimism and demagoguery I was subjected to by the Republican Convention. (Honestly, I was so depressed after that). But I can’t help but compare the production values.
Last night, it finally occurred to me why. Because how you do something is also important. Yes, it’s great that the Democrats are saying all the right things. It’s the main thing, frankly. But the fact that they are so disciplined on message, so well-organized, so surrounded by the top talent, and nothing is left to chance says something about the differences in the styles of the nominees. Clinton is a nerd, who gets up before everyone and stays up later than everyone, does her homework and sits there reading briefings after everyone else has gone to play golf. She’s a planner and a doer and a workaholic. That’s who she is. Trump is a spoiled rich kid who is used to being able to wing it and have things mostly turn out okay for him (although he’s left a lot of wreckage in his wake). He doesn’t like the details.
How they run conventions is a small indication of their organizational skills. She pays attention to every detail and has her staff obsessively sweat the small stuff. He invites his buddies and, by all accounts, doesn’t really want to hear advice.
This is not a contest between progressive and conservative. In fact, I heartily feel for my conservative friends. They are orphans in this election. Their party has been hijacked by a dangerous demagogue.
Here’s the thing: the job both these candidates are auditioning for has a whole lot of “small stuff,” except it’s really huge stuff that has the power of life and death over millions of people. It’s got a lot of details, a lot of players, a lot of moving parts. It’s hard. It’s complicated, without much black and white. I would consider myself more politically informed than the average bear and yet I am staggered by the sheer number of details there are to keep straight in the complex geopolitical struggles of the day. Who are the Kurds again? Which Middle Eastern countries are Sunni and which Shiite? Who was that guy in Ukraine, and do we consider him friend or foe? I read news obsessively and I can’t always keep it all straight. And that’s not to mention all the domestic struggles, paying attention to the micro-needs of displaced West Virginian coal miners and Oregon ranchers and remembering which counties in Indiana are vulnerable electorally.
Whew. I need a nap just writing all that.
So, yeah, style does matter. Substance is key, and in that regard the Democrats are crushing it. Obama’s speech last night was one of the most uplifting things I’ve ever heard from a political convention. Biden kicked butt on blue collar and middle class issues, Kaine was adorable (I read one account that described him as “the dad in every sitcom, ever”) but he was also an attack dog, putting to bed any concern that he wasn’t tough enough to the be VP choice. From luminary to A-lister, Democrats have painted a future of a country that’s diverse yet united, challenged yet triumphant. As Biden said, “We’re America, and we own the finish line.” It made me so proud.
Here’s the cocktail recipe I learned last night. It’s called the Obama is a Rock Star Mojito:
- 10 mint leaves (my host grew his right on the balcony of his fabulous Manhattan apartment, but you may prefer yours with a little less New York smog)
- Half a lime, cut into fours
- 2 teaspoons of sugar
- One and a half ounce of white rum
- Rock Star Energy Drink
Here’s how the process of making them was explained to me:
Muddle the mint leaves, sugar and lime in a glass with ice (muddling means beating it to death with a wooden implement)
Add the rum
Top off with the Rock Star Energy Drink (basically, you’re replacing the seltzer with Rock Star).
And drink up! You’re officially a Rock Star. They were the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted. Or maybe that was victory I was tasting. Fingers crossed.