August 2, 2016 at 2:27 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
A tale of two conventions
RNC, DNC, gay news, Washington Blade

On left, the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, on right, the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

“Work it harder, make it better, do it faster, makes us stronger, more than ever, hour after, our work is never over.”

That’s the chorus to the 2001 techno hit “Harder Better Faster” from Daft Punk, but it could also apply to the Democratic National Convention in comparison to the Republican confab. (Except for the “do it faster” part.)

As a reporter covering both events and getting — quite literally in some cases — a front-row seat to the speakers representing both parties, the overwhelming sense of bigness and inclusion on the Democratic side compared to the Republicans was inescapable.

That’s, of course, true in sheer numbers. The Republicans had a smaller cadre of 2,472 delegates compared to the 4,765 delegates at the Democratic convention. (The greater number of delegates combined with a more cramped setting presented obstacles to coverage in Philadelphia, but that’s another story.)

It’s also true for the time allotted for speakers on stage. Except for a longer first day, the Republican convention took up only primetime television from around 7-11 p.m., but the Democratic confab took twice that amount of time, gaveling in at 4 p.m. and concluding around 11 p.m.

Don’t forget the magnitude of the speakers on stage. Both conventions had their presidential and vice presidential nominees, but Democrats had former president Bill Clinton (neither Bush 41 nor Bush 43 showed up in Cleveland), President Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the second-place finisher in the Democratic primary, who endorsed the party’s nominee unlike Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on the GOP side.

But the broader coalition of the Democrats was apparent by virtue of the “Stronger Together” message of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and speakers from many different walks of life who presented to make change.

Khizir Khan, along with his wife Ghazala Khan standing beside him, delivered a now famous speech on behalf of their son, a slain Muslim U.S. soldier, and accused Donald Trump of not understanding the Constitution and not having sacrificed anything. Christine Leinonen, mother of one of the 49 victims at the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, also spoke movingly.

For national defense hawks, traditionally a Republican issue, Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, a four-star general who led coalition forces in Afghanistan, declared Clinton would be “exactly the kind of commander-in-chief America needs.”

On the issue of climate change, actress Sigourney Weaver presented a video of the importance of the United States leading the way. On the issue of D.C. statehood, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) called for the District to have “quid pro quo” power in Congress “in exchange for the taxes we pay to support the United States.”

That isn’t to say the Republican convention was lacking in diversity. Speakers of various races and religions appeared on stage, including a pastor who on the third day of convention delivered a benediction that called for an end to discrimination against people “because of who they are or whom they love.”

But generally the speakers were focused on Trump himself and not the breadth of issues facing the country. Aside from that, Republicans on stage encouraged attendees to shout “lock her up” to promote the idea of Clinton as a liar worthy of incarceration.

Take, for example, the LGBT presence on stage. Several speakers at the Republican convention gave LGBT-inclusive remarks, and gay Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel declared he’s “proud to be gay.” But on the Democratic side, the preponderance of speakers, not just several, referenced LGBT people and the convention featured a plethora of LGBT speakers, including transgender activist Sarah McBride who appeared jointly with gay lawmaker Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.).

At the same time, Democrats and Republicans shared a degree of disunity. The “Never Trump” faction of the Republican Party expressed indignation on the floor when convention rules were approved prohibiting delegates from voting their conscience, which Cruz stoked by urging attendees to “vote your conscience” instead of Trump.

For the Democrats, the “Bernie or Bust” crowd disrupted the early part of the convention by booing any mention of Clinton. Although they settled down as the convention proceeded, they held sit-ins in protest of the nomination. Pacifists in the Vermont and California delegation shouted “No More War” during remarks including those of Clinton herself.

Judging by the conventions themselves, the Democrats will be hard to beat in November if they carry a coalition as broad as what was seen in Philadelphia, which may account for why Clinton enjoys a healthy lead between four and nine points in national polls. That coalition should be easier to maintain in this election, given Trump’s penchant for making offensive remarks about various underrepresented groups.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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