Performances Outshine the Star of the Democratic Convention

The choreography of the Democratic convention wears a reality that potentially undermines its brilliance. Powerful speeches and expressions of adoration of those delivering them suck the life out of the event because of the uncertainty over the main act–Hillary Clinton. In some ways, the speeches largely reinforce the popularity of the speakers without translating into winning over the very people the party needs to reach to beat Donald Trump in November.
Ernie Di Sioro is one of the voters in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. He is a single father, uber driver, and DJ in North Philadelphia. He voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, and still loves the president. “I would vote for him again,” he said.
However he did not have that choice in the Pennsylvania primary last June. So he voted for Donald Trump and leans towards him now. “I think that he has brought up a lot really great points. I feel like if he is elected then he will put the right person into the right position for who that person is and not for what that person gave him. But I’m also scared because I don’t know if he can control his anger or his mouth. Part of me says that is what America needs, that push and that edge. But another part of me says ‘hey if he does that to the wrong person, where are we going to end up?’ He has a lot of positives, but there’s a lot of downs too so I just don’t know how it’s going to end up.”
What is it that brings someone to Obama and to Trump? For Earnie, his sense of their honesty draws him to vote–and such honesty and authenticity is something he does not see in Clinton. He abstained from pulling the ballot in 2000 and 2004 as honesty was out of sight. It took Obama in 2008 for Ernie to see any semblance of candor and vote.
In his own words, “my cousin was very much into the whole scene and would ask me who I was voting for? And I would say, our vote doesn’t count. I wasn’t even registered in my twenties. I got excited to register to vote for Obama. And Obama had great views and talked very well and he inspired me to go out and vote.”
To Di Soro, Bill Clinton’s speech on Tuesday reinforced the couple’s dishonesty. “It was nice,” he says with a hint of sarcasm in his voice. “Nice for someone who almost got impeached out of the office.” Yet he loved Michelle Obama’s speech on Monday night but his reaction is not quite what the Clinton campaign wants to hear. “Michelle Obama should be the first woman president, I would vote for her in a minute.The way she talked and the her whole speech the other night was amazing. And I was thinking, man if I were to hire someone for the job and it was going to be the first women president, I wouldn’t vote for Hillary.”
It is easy to find fans of Michelle Obama inside the hall and actually protesting outside. dentpic2When Ariella Riapos, a twenty-one year old Bernie supporter and socialist, ran into Joshua Thifault,23 a Trump supporter from West Palm Beach, an argument commenced (Florida waving a pro capitalism sign). Although they both could agree on one thing–Michelle Obama.
“I think it was great to see a First lady deliver a speech like that,” Thifault said
“I love Michelle Obama, “ adds Ariella. “I think she’s beautiful, she’s intelligent, she’s, you know, she’s the best First Lady we’ve ever had. Or one of the best. I mean, she’s the most educated First Lady. She’s just so classy, like, the Obamas are a beautiful family. So, you know, I can’t think highly enough of her; it’s very powerful for her to say that and to acknowledge that, and speak, you know, as a black woman what that means to her.”
Ariella, however, refuses to support Hillary and is planning to vote for Jill Stein. She is not moved to Clinton by Bernie Sanders appeals to voters like her. “it’s my duty to vote for who speaks for me and who has my best interest at heart. And not to vote for what someone’s telling me…. If we keep voting for the lesser of two evils, we’re going to end up in the same situation. And the evils are just going to keep getting worse and worse, as we see with this election.”
davidpic4South Carolina State Senator Marlon Kimpson, a strong Clinton supporter, is not surprised to hear about voters like Riapos. As he begins his journey to the Well’s Fargo Center, he sees something he did not witness at the previous two Democratic conventions, the absence of the forceful and genuine unity. “I just saw 5 people while we were talking, walk past here with Bernie signs. I mean these people are still fighting. Many of them are just not familiar with how this process works.”
Kimpson, who represents a district in Charleston, a swing Bush-Obama county, came to the Democratic Conventions in Denver in 2008 and Charlotte in 2012 as a guest. This is his first one as a delegate. Kimpson sponsored three voter forums featuring the Democratic primary in South Carolina in February before endorsing Hillary Clinton, and was shocked by the response of some Bernie supporters. “I posted my endorsement and I started immediately getting hate mail from Democrats. And some were very nasty.”
Kimpson, who was at the helm of the legislative efforts to take down the Confederate flag, says the anger over his endorsement rivalled the “e-mails I got from when we were in the process of taking down the Confederate Flag.”
Now it must become Hillary Clinton’s mission to reach Bernie voters like Riapos and undecideds like Di Siori. However her style of campaigning is her biggest hurdle.
Kimpson says he saw the challenges Clinton faces at the rally in Charlotte when President Obama endorsed her. Her greatest strengths became liabilities. “She introduces the president, she lays out a five-point policy plan. Now this a political rally before one of the most energetic speakers in our nation’s history. This is not the time to lay out a very complicated plan, we know she has the depth. What we have to do is speak to those groups I talked about in a very concise fashion.”
“Her challenge is to contrast her ideas in a clear and precise fashion. And that is an enormous challenge because I don’t believe that is her form of communication. She is a more policy oriented intellectual. And in this day in social media, you have to, with short attention spans, you have to take big ideas that are meaningful and reduce them to where the average Joe voter and Jamal voter. Particularly, Jamal. Not just Joe, but Jamal. And then Mary. And then Marguerita. And then the Carlos’s. She has to speak to the first group audience in a clear and precise manner and that’s not a strong point for her in my view. She’s clearly the most qualified. But she has to master the art of the sound bite. Because that’s what people take away from the debate.”
Kimpson is still bullish on Hillary and hopes she can evolve as a campaigner who can employ the kind of message to reach voters like Di Sioro.dentpic

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About Author: David J Dent

David J. Dent is an Associate Professor at New York University where he holds a joint appointment at the Arthur Carter Journalism Institute and in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis. He created the course “Deconstructing Obama” and teaches courses in journalism and non-fiction writing. He is the author of In Search of Black America which was a New York Times Notable Book of 2000. He has written for The New York Times Magazine, Book Review and Education Life supplements, Playboy, GQ, Salon, The Washington Post and many other publications. He and his wife Valerie are Co-Founders of Write for the Future, an organization that focuses on ways college admissions essays can help students become better writers.

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