Zoom chats, no funny hats, at first night of Democratic National Convention

The 18,000-seat arena, the funny hats, signs and balloons are all missing from this year’s COVID-tinged national conventions. Instead, viewers got a made-for-TV production hosted by actor and activist Eva Longoria.

“You know, I think one of the biggest risks is that it turns into either an infommercial or a telethon, and I think there were moments of that where it felt like both. I sort of expected Jerry Lewis to come out at one point,” said Seton Hall University Associate Professor of Political Science Matt Hale.

In the age of Zoom, the Democrats offered a mix of live and pre-recorded speeches, and even a Zoom chat hosted by presumptive nominee Joe Biden. If you’ve ever been on a Zoom call you know how fraught they can be, but, by and large, Democrats avoided any major glitches.

The theme, “We the People,” was featured in several video vignettes. The speakers even featured Republicans, including former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman.

“This isn’t about a Republican or a Democrat, it’s about a person. A person decent enough, stable enough, strong enough to get our economy back on track. A person who can work with anyone, Democrats and Republicans, to get things done. Donald Trump isn’t that person. Joe Biden is,” Whitman said.

Republican convention delegate Bill Palatucci downplayed their impact.

“I don’t know how much affect that they have. I know Gov. Whitman well and she hasn’t been particularly active in the party to begin with so, you know, it’s a free country, free speech. She can do and say what she wants,” Palatucci said.

The meat of the telecast was in the 10 o’clock hour when the show shifted to drawing sharp distinctions between Biden and Donald Trump.

“Together we must build a nation that is more equitable, more compassionate and more inclusive. I know that Joe Biden will begin that fight on Day 1,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said.

New Jersey’s Analilia Mejia was the Sanders campaign national political director. She says Biden and Sanders still don’t agree on everything, but they’re unified on one thing.

“The reality is that during a campaign you’re very focused on getting your candidate and your issues to reach the top. But I think the Democratic Party is in fact very unified behind this idea of we must defeat one of the most dangerous presidents in U.S. history,” Mejia said.

But everyone agreed the highlight of the night was former first lady Michelle Obama’s speech which delivered a stinging rebuke of the president.

“Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is,” she said.

What the future holds for political conventions is anyone’s guess. Those NJTV News spoke to believe that some sort of large public gathering with funny hats and signs is inevitable in 2024. It’s part of the American political fabric and, assuming we haven’t torn it to shreds by then, would be seen as a welcome symbol of the strength of our democracy.