By Lisa Lerer and
Hi. Welcome to a special convention recap edition of On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics.
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It was a national political convention unlike any before: virtual and video-only, with speeches cut down to mere minutes, pretaped montages straining to create moments, a celebrity M.C. running the show and the strange, asynchronous applause of families watching at home.
But at the end of a very unconventional night on Monday, Bernie Sanders and Michelle Obama, the two final speakers, provided a more traditional coda.
From vastly different starting points, they arrived at the same conclusion: The stakes are too high for Democrats to sit this election out.
Here’s our take on both of the marquee speeches from Night 1 of the Democratic National Convention and what they tell us about the party’s message:
Mrs. Obama doesn’t speak like a politician. She doesn’t even like politics, as she said in her remarks.
“He is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment,” she said of President Trump. “He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.”
Mrs. Obama bridges politics and pop culture. Her book “Becoming” sold more than 10 million copies, spending weeks piled on the shelves of Costcos across the country. And her words were aimed at a very different audience than the politically engaged liberals taking cues from Mr. Sanders.
With her delicate gold V-O-T-E necklace (already lighting up the internet) and her smooth, talk-show-host intimacy, Mrs. Obama was speaking to swing-district suburban women and sporadic voters — the “rage moms.” In the Trump era, Democrats’ success has depended on those voters turning out on Election Day.
While Mr. Sanders worried about a slide into authoritarianism under Mr. Trump, Mrs. Obama warned of a decline of empathy and its impact on the country’s children. While he contrasted health care plans, she called for political leaders to “reflect our truth.” Women’s activist groups started sending around clips of her speech within minutes.
Yet the core of her message was the same as that of the cranky Vermont democratic socialist: Mr. Trump can’t do the job, and if he wins re-election the decline will be steep and swift.
“If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don’t make a change,” she said. “If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.”
Mr. Sanders was criticized by many mainstream Democrats in 2016 for not effusively endorsing Hillary Clinton, instead letting wounds from a blistering primary fester and, they argued, ultimately hurting her chances in the general election.
Last night, Mr. Sanders left no room for ambiguity, making clear he is all in for Mr. Biden.
His remarks, tailored for his fervent progressive base, were the most policy-specific endorsements for Mr. Biden of the night. By the end, Mr. Sanders left his supporters no excuses for staying home.
A Biden administration, Mr. Sanders proclaimed, would fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, make it easier for workers to join unions, create 12 weeks of paid family leave, fund universal prekindergarten and transition the country to 100 percent clean electricity over 15 years.
Mr. Sanders even conceded, slightly, on his central health care proposal, “Medicare for all.”
“While Joe and I disagree on the best path to get universal coverage, he has a plan that will greatly expand health care and cut the cost of prescription drugs,” he said. “Further, he will lower the eligibility age of Medicare from 65 to 60.”
By making policy proposals the underpinning of his support for Mr. Biden, rather than the character affirmations found in many other speeches on Monday, Mr. Sanders was speaking directly to his legion of loyal followers, whom Mr. Biden desperately needs to shore up in November.
Mr. Sanders wasn’t all policy — he trotted out a few new one-liners, too. “Nero fiddled while Rome burned,” he said, pausing for the briefest moment before adding: “Trump golfs.”
But his closing line was perhaps the most revealing about the man who ushered in a new era of progressive power in the Democratic Party but also watched Mr. Trump rise to power.
“My friends,” Mr. Sanders said, “the price of failure is just too great to imagine.”
One more speech worth mentioning came from Kristin Urquiza, the Arizona student who wrote an impassioned obituary for her father that offered two causes of death: the coronavirus and ineptitude on the part of government officials.
Her most memorable line last night, speaking about her father: “His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that he paid with his life.”
We suspect this is not the last time voters will hear Ms. Urquiza’s story.
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A New York Times event: The unsung heroes of suffrage
They were tireless organizers. Tenacious fighters. And political geniuses. They were Black and Latinx. Indigenous and immigrant. Together, they helped women win the right to vote and laid the cornerstone for gender equality in the United States. Yet their stories have rarely been told. Until now.
The New York Times has commissioned “Finish the Fight,” a new production bringing to theatrical life the biographies of lesser-known suffrage activists. Watch it for free today at 7 p.m. Eastern time — R.S.V.P. here.
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