The 2016 Democratic National Convention will go down as one of the critical turning points in American history. A major party nominated a presidential candidate for the first time – which is huge. But that’s not all. The liberal party successfully captured the hearts and minds of the American people, distilling into words what we love about America – its work ethic, its ingenuity and its optimism. It was four days of brilliant branding by the Democratic party.
Even conservatives, who are loathe to credit their opponents, praised the DNC for taking advantage of the nationally televised, prime-time event to pull off one of the best-scripted and best-executed political conventions in three decades.
The Democratic party executed well on many fronts. Here are my top 5 things the DNC got right.
- Offer contrast. The Democrats’ positive message of toughness and togetherness was a stark contrast to the Republican’s cynical message of dysfunction and dispossession. Both parties appealed to base emotions that drive voters to the polls. Democrats chose to empathy and camaraderie. Republicans chose fear and panic. The Republicans came across as the party of doom and gloom in desperate need of the only who can save them, Donald Trump. The Democrats came across as the party of collaboration and compromise in search of answers together.
- Interpret diversity as strength. Instead of appeasing cynics who decry the efforts as pandering and letting political correctness run amok, the Democrats doubled down on their support of diversity in all its forms. The party offered prime speaking opportunities to members of the LBGT, women, minority, disabled, military, police and business communities. Instead of producing a cacophonous chorus of demands, the diverse speakers delivered an impressively consistent message: we are better together. This emotionally-gratifying appeal was especially effective as delivered by the pragmatism of former Republican governor of New York Michael Bloomberg and the heart-wrenching plea of American Muslim Khizr Khan, an immigrant whose son died protecting fellow Americans in Iraq. Those two speeches will be among the most emotionally memorable convention speeches of all time. In total, the Democrats’ embrace of diversity aligned perfectly with the repeated refrain of “the America I know” uttered by one speaker after another. The Democrats, in effect, redefined what is American. And, that may be the single most impressive accomplishment of the entire convention.
- Put Americans first. The Democrats have been, fairly or unfairly, burdened with the “blame America first” label. For the first time since the 1960’s, the DNC successfully eluded that description with an unrelenting torrent of optimism. The Democrats effectively positioned social problems such as immigration, gun control, black lives matter/blue lives matter, and LGBT rights as human conditions that Americans can fix – an optimism that is not just wishful thinking but backed by significant progress under the policies of President Barack Obama.
- Be human. The roster of speakers included many non-politicians who lent credibility to the progressive message by putting face and feelings to the party’s platform. These included mothers who lost children to gun violence, an undocumented girl and her mother and an immigrant medal of honor winner. Even the professional speakers and politicians (like Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL) made their messages intensely personal. First Lady Michelle Obama’s near-cry at the podium inspired a collective emotional outpouring in the arena as the cameras captured many delegates openly sobbing. Hers was easily the best-written and best-delivered remarks of the four-day event. And it wasn’t just the women. Vice President Joe Biden delivered an emotion-laden appeal, with cracked voice and moist eyes. In a video that introduced him, President Obama was shown crying at a podium while sharing his disappointment in the failure to pass gun control laws.
- Give your opponents enough rope to hang themselves. Traditionally, the opposing party goes quiet during the opposite party’s convention. That didn’t happen this year. The Democratic party was responding in real time to RNC comments. And Republicans repaid in kind. Unfortunately, the loudest Republican is Donald Trump, admirer of Vladimir Putin. Enough said.