Dispatches From the Democratic National Convention
Entry 22: The Democrats know how to put on a better convention.
Richard Kalvar/Magnum Photos for Slate.
As we approach the end of two weeks together, I’ll start the conversation: The Democrats know how to put on a better convention. And I’ll cite an unexpected piece of evidence: Charlie Crist’s speech.
Last week I asked if there was any way for anyone to successfully play the convention apostate without exposing the opportunist inevitably hiding beneath the surface. Artur Davis clearly failed the test in Tampa: He attacked Obama and Democrats with the zeal of the most craven convert. He sounded like any angry Obama-hating Republican.
He didn’t tell a story of how he got from there to here, even though the fact that he had made that migration was the only reason he was on stage at all.
Crist began with the tiresome “the party left me” bit, but actually told it as a story. He explained why he supported the stimulus when others in his party didn’t. (It wasn’t necessarily a moment of great courage, just that Crist was oblivious to the opprobrium that would come, to him and the bill he endorsed.) He talked about the hug with which he greeted Obama when the new president came to the state, an image that became conservative critics’ favorite symbol of Crist’s accommodationism. “That hug caused me more grief from my former party than you can ever imagine,” he said.
The speech was dour by the standards of the usually sunny Crist. There was none of the fury that has become the signature of Davis’ attacks on his former party. And he started off with a necessary concession, but one that made him a plausible narrator: “I’ll be honest with you, I don’t agree with President Obama about everything.”
The speech was unremarkable but dutiful. Here was a liberal former Republican testifying to his personal experience with what Bill Clinton and other speakers have argued throughout the week: that Republicans had lost their way. Nothing he said is likely to make news on its own, but it offered detail and example to buttress one of the week’s recurring secondary themes. Its speaker made one point for which he was uniquely qualified, and he nailed the tone.
I speculated earlier in the week that the incoherence of Tampa may have been tactical. If breaking a convention into a lot of unconnected nuggets is the tactic, Democrats aren’t going along. They’ve tried to tell a story, and the secondary characters played their roles.
Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Democratic National Convention.
Sasha Issenberg is the author of The Victory Lab about the new science of political campaigns.