After a day in the editing room wrangling testimonials to a noted doctor in town, it was a pleasure to sit down Tuesday night to watch the videos the Democrats are presenting this week at their convention.
For the most part, this requires watching the convention on C-Span or livestreaming on the Internet. Primetime on the major networks is reserved for the big name acts, and the cable “news” networks are so full of themselves that cutting away from their anointed commentators to the convention is little more than speaker support for the talking heads.
In the early hours of the convention, before the networks tune in for the star turns of the convention main speakers, both the Republicans and Democrats try to give “ordinary citizens” a voice in the proceedings via video. But how those voices are choreographed tells you a lot about how the campaign headquarters want to communicate their message.
The Madison Avenue Approach
The Republicans seem to have adopted a Madison Avenue approach. Their stage included a backdrop of 13-digital monitors (“9 million pixels,” they boasted in a press release) designed to capture the eyeballs of a jaded TV watching nation. Their interstitial videos consisted mostly of testimonials from small businessmen that all concluded: “I built this.” If they were not exactly moving, they were tailor-made for later political commercials.
The Democratic stage is refreshingly simple, and its videos––that also lend themselves to commercial excerpts––go out of their way to tell a story. There is a narrative to these short vignettes, a diversity of perspective, and a nuanced use of music that makes the Republican videos sound like they all came from a royalty-free, online stock music library.
Burying the Best
The Republicans did have one standout video: Romney’s biographical video. But for the unfortunate decision to bump it in favor of Clint Eastwood’s 12-minute talk to the empty chair, this intimate portrait of the Republican nominee might have galvanized Romney’s troops. It featured an array of fascinating clips of Romney’s father and mother running for office––with a young Mitt at their side––candid moments with Mitt and Ann, and insights into their relationship with each other, and America, that were sorely lacking in both their speeches.
The Democratic videos on Tuesday night covered an array of issues––economic opportunity, student loans, alternative energy, and health care––that are highlighted planks in the Democratic platform. One particularly poignant video on health care introduced Stacy Lihn, of Phoenix, Arizona, whose daughter Zoe was born with a heart defect.
After her first six months, Zoe had exhausted half the insurance benefits available under the lifetime coverage in their health insurance policy. The passage of the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) eliminated the cap. Seeing Stacy at home ministering to her daughter only amplified her live remarks to the convention. “When you have a sick child, it’s always in the back of your mind, and sometimes in the front,” she said.
Podium Speeches Are Boring
I understand why the TV networks and cable channels don’t want to broadcast every nickel and dime politician on the convention agenda. But the Obama campaign videos at this convention should be given their own channel (as should be Republican videos). They are masterfully crafted, tightly edited and revealing portraits of what the nominees, and their party, stand for.
Even a simple shout-out from the 87-year-old former President Jimmy Carter fit seamlessly into the plan. “One thing I have learned over my lifetime,” he concluded, “is that the biggest problems and challenges we face don’t lend themselves to quick fixes, or the snappy rhetoric of a television commercial. Solutions are complex, and difficult, requiring the judgment, skill and patience to pursue the right policies for the right reasons.”
If the Democrats are willing to throw away this poignant appeal on the cable-only early hours of the first day of the convention, I thought to myself, what do they have coming up next?
Michelle Obama’s capstone speech on the first night of the convention was as good as any Barack has delivered. It deserves its own column, but I’m too far into this one to digress. The set-up video for it was just as good, and probably more effective.
The video introducing Michelle Obama pulled at the heartstrings of America in ways that none of the Republican videos approached. It was a thoughtful, carefully paced, and in many ways delightful (good to see Michelle can do more push-ups than Ellen Degeneris) prelude to a speech by a woman who is more popular than her husband.
At the end of the first night of the Democratic convention, CNN’s commentator James Carville called the evening a complete success. David Gergen, the neutral party in CNN’s panel of pundits, said, “If they do this for the next two nights, they could break this race wide open. They (the Obama campaign) knew what they were doing and they did it very well.”
Videos Set the Scene
It’s easy to dismiss videos that play only to delegates on the floor (and most of them don’t watch). But campaigns spend months producing them, and they are better barometer of the message the nominee wants to convey than most of the speeches.
In this regard, the Democrats won hands down. Although nobody but me may have seen little Zoe Lihn’s video, I’m voting for Barack Obama just to save her life. I could be wrong. But the argument for saving her life sure beats repealing Obamacare on day one. And that’s the effect of a good video.