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Winners And Losers: Hope And Same Edition

A night of good vibes and a total lack of institutional memory



President Barack Obama, speaking to his party 12 years after his national debut at the 2004 convention, told the crowd that he was feeling good about hope, even after all these years of being in charge. That America was already great, and that “our greatness does not depend on Donald Trump.” That this election could hinge on optimism, even after the Republican convention painted the presidential race as a doom-and-gloom choice. That the fate of the presidency will depend on whether people think that it’s possible to be hopeful about America at this moment. In the middle of the speech, Obama took a moment to make the case for why he thinks the country is worth feeling good about right now by going through a list of all the things he checked off his to-do list. Obama noted several times that he definitely didn’t fix everything. As Vox points out, “You can celebrate or bemoan Obama’s accomplishments ... but no one can deny that the changes Obama has made are enormous in scale.” This speech might be one of his last big ones as president, and it’s probably going to take a long time before anyone can accurately assess his legacy, given how polarized these years have been.

But more than his list of specific accomplishments, Obama returned to his favorite theme: the idea of America. Who we are when we are our best selves and what we can be when we live up to our ideals. Obama loves all that classic Americana stuff, and that’s why it seemed so natural for him to take up traditionally Republican appeals like Reagan’s shining city on a hill. It also made it painfully obvious how little Trump believes in the country that he wants to lead.

Regardless of what you think of the Democratic Party, it was nice to hear someone say that an election cycle featuring the two least-liked presidential candidates in history and an electorate that doesn’t trust government too much could not be depressing. That feeling won’t last long — this general election is going to be so hellishly nasty.

Joe Biden

He went out and gave a speech defending Clinton and taking on Trump in a way that is patented by Middle-Class Joe℗. It was like watching your grandpa morph into an American flag that just watched a YouTube video of Whitney Houston singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and wanted to get you psyched for the touch football game out in the yard after Thanksgiving. It was a bald eagle that transforms into a B-12 bomber that only drops baseballs and apple pie.

There was the empathy, which, as Biden made clear in his riveting interview with Stephen Colbert, is one of humanity’s most essential ingredients. There was the dad telling you to be quiet while he tries to tell you a story about what the world is really like. There were the Bidenisms (yes, he did say the word “malarkey” again). And then there were the lines that were supposed to make you feel like you were freebasing Bud Light while doing Lee Greenwood karaoke with animated hot dogs. Like, “We are America, second to none, and we own the finish line!” We may never know what owning the finish line means, but the audience was feeling it.

Martin O’Malley

He was really feeling this speech.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

He thinks he did such a good job!

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Tim Kaine’s Donald Trump Impression

Tim Kaine’s one-note impression of The Donald consists of him saying “believe me!” in a terrible imitation of Trump’s voice. It was at the heart of his attack on Trump, and its humor lay in how awful it was. In a way, it worked because it seemed to treat Trump as a person not worthy of a nuanced and subtle impression. It’s one of those jokes that’s humanizing because it’s so labored while being so sincere. Kaine is not funny, and neither am I, and so when I hear Kaine trying so gamely to be funny and failing, he reminded me of myself. And so I laughed, and my ears perked up, and I listened a little closer to what he was saying. Which meant that the impression won because it lost, which is a neat trick.


Donald Trump successfully derailed the entire news cycle by talking about emails at a press conference on the morning of the third day of the DNC. To be specific, he said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” a reference to the professional emails that Clinton had illegally stored on a private server and deleted rather than handing over to the State Department. In other words, the Republican presidential candidate was openly encouraging a foreign military power to conduct a cyberattack on an official of the federal government. I mean, I’m sure the Russians are already trying to hack the emails and weren’t waiting for Cheeto Carrot Top’s invitation, but it’s still incredibly out of bounds for a presidential candidate. And it had the effect of sucking up all of the oxygen in the room, denying it to Clinton’s formal nomination. E-MAILS will never die.

The Specter of Dystopia

This seems like a bad idea.

This Joke

A former judge advocate general — a.k.a. a JAG — made the joke, “That's not law and order — that’s criminal intent.” Your dad laughed so hard, and you want your dad to be happy, so we’re going to give this a win. Your dad probably also laughed at Tim Kaine’s Donald Trump impression. Just let them have those.


The Bar

The bar is so low these days that the Democratic Party thought it was a good idea to bring a billionaire plutocrat onstage in a time of economic anxiety, revolt from elites, and income inequality. The bar is so low that in the age of Black Lives Matter, they thought it a good idea to roll out the mastermind of the racist stop-and-frisk policing strategy. The bar is so low that in an era in which we worry about surveillance from private industry as well as governments foreign and domestic, the DNC invited the guy who instituted a domestic spying program on Muslims. Yes, the Democrats brought out Michael Bloomberg. They brought out Michael Bloomberg to say that Clinton is “sane and competent,” and Trump is not. They brought out Michael Bloomberg because, as unpalatable as he is, he looks possibly delectable next to the fermenting garbage feast that is Donald Trump.

That’s what the bar is. We’re not looking for someone we agree with, someone who inspires us, or someone we like. We’re looking for the bare minimum. We’re looking for C+. We’re looking for someone who’ll pay the electricity bill on time and not burn down the house. That’s the bar.

John Quincy Adams

“Look. I’m not mad. Really, I’m not. But I’ve been following this election very closely, and I keep seeing people say that Hillary Clinton is ‘the most well-prepared nominee of all time.’ I’ve been keeping track on the Notes app on my phone, and by my count, this has been said roughly four times during the past two days of the Democratic National Convention alone. It doesn’t really bother me, but I feel like I had a pretty, you know, decent résumé myself. Like madam secretary, by the time I was nominated for president, I’d gone to law school and become a lawyer. And like Clinton, I’d been a U.S. senator and Secretary of State. That’s all good stuff. Great preparation. I’m glad she (and I) did that before becoming presidential nominees. Wonderful.

“Just want to point out though, before I was even Secretary of State, I negotiated the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812. You might have heard of it — there’s a little ditty about it called ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ And, I, like, really ended the war, not one of those things where it slowly peters out but you still have fighting and soldiers dying. I shaped the direction of our foreign policy for the next two centuries. I also literally shaped the country, because I annexed Florida and drew our northern border.

“But you know, I was also a professor of logic at Harvard. I was fluent in three languages and had lived in eight different countries. I was minister to the Netherlands. And to Prussia. And to Russia. Wanna talk bipartisanship? I’d actually been a member of two different parties. And you know, I was also related to a president. I was the son of John Adams and Abigail Adams. You know, John ‘Founding Father’ Adams. That guy.”

Institutional Memory

During former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s speech, Bernie Sanders supporters chanted, “No more war.” Other delegates tried to out-yell them by chanting, “USA! USA!” The Democrats’ gun control push involves the no-fly list — something that the party unequivocally hated a decade ago. Michael Bloomberg gave a speech, and people cheered.

The passage of time is strange. Don’t tell 2004 what happened.


“Fight Song”

Nope. Stop it. Don’t play it on Thursday. In fact, never play it again. Destroy the master tapes. Just Auto-Tune Joe Biden saying “malarkey” and make that your official campaign song.