Are All Presidential Conventions Going to Be Infomercials Now?

August 17, 2020 Updated: August 18, 2020


Had I not already finished all three seasons of the Israeli thriller “Fauda” on Netflix, I doubt I would have made it through even the first 2-hour segment of the virtual Democratic National Convention.

It was like watching an infomercial. For the first five minutes, when you’re learning what the product is and sitting through one or two glowing testimonials from “experts,” it might be moderately interesting. But the last 1 hour and 55 minutes are like a quadruple dose of Ambien. Either you’re dead asleep or long gone to another network.

I should have known—forewarned is forearmed—after I dialed in (on Zoom, of course; how else these days?) for the Democrats’ pre-convention press briefing the morning of Aug. 17.

Holding the briefing on behalf of the party were a white male, a white female, a black female, a black male, and a Hispanic female, but no Asian. For shame!

This embarrassing diversity miscue probably wasn’t fatal, however, because I sensed that few members of the Fourth Estate had actually bothered to watch. As it turned out, almost all of what the briefers had to say, the order of events, was already in an email everyone received.

Further, when it came to substance, such as it was, all I heard for those 10 or 12 minutes, a harbinger of things to come, was endless blame of Trump for the pandemic. (Silly me—I thought it had something to do with communist China.)

After that, the briefers called for questions. A longer-than-expected silence ensued, suggesting low attendance, when finally a lady reporter from ABC—“bless her heart,” as we say in the South—chimed in with this toughie: “What do you think the vice-president’s main points are going to be during the week?”

The same gentlewoman, at a White House press conference, would have asked Trump the equivalent of “When did you stop beating your wife?” if past performance is any indication.

Virtual Convention

Not that I expect the Republican convention to be much better. Virtual is virtual and, as most online students can tell you, it’s a bore and a chore and doesn’t add up too much.

It strikes me that one of the real outgrowths of the pandemic—not the Orange Man Bad palaver—is that, as with education, we may be moving into the era of the virtual convention and all that entails.

People are used to living online now—a bad thing on balance, although a reality. It’s a habit that’s going to be hard to break, like clicking on Amazon when you need toothpaste instead of walking or driving to the store.

For the politicians, this maximizes control and minimizes risk (gaffes)—something they will probably prefer, those who break through anyway, to going among the voters, pressing flesh, and kissing babies.

This control doesn’t augur well for democracy, which functions best, and ultimately more fairly, with a bit of hurly-burly unpredictability thrown into the mix.

We need applause, not a curious silence at the end of speeches. We need an audience reacting, something that was curiously lacking from this virtual convention. Call it the human factor.

We are electing a human—no?—not a cyborg, at least not yet.

So speaking of control and the human factor, or lack thereof, only an hour or two after I disconnected from Zoom, an email with selected verbatim quotes from that evening’s speeches—which, after all, were canned, even more than most infomercials—arrived in my inbox.

Most of quotes were variations on the theme of the aforementioned Orange Man Bad. And the transcripts were accurate, I saw that evening, when actress Eva Longoria hosted the festivities in a curiously bland manner seemingly designed not to offend anyone. With an entertainer, you would have expected a joke or two, but it was a determinedly humorless evening.

Only the most devoted, those already convinced, would want to watch this for four nights or even one to the end. It was weirdly disembodied, preaching to a choir without applause or even an amen.

Blaming Trump

Between the feel-good montages and cable news chit-chat, Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington, warned us:

“But while we were peacefully protesting, Donald Trump was plotting. He stood in front of one of our most treasured houses of worship and held a Bible for a photo op. He sent troops in camouflage into our streets. He sent tear gas into the air—federal helicopters, too. I knew if he did this to D.C., he would do it to your city or your town.”

Kristin Urquiza, a woman who lost her father to COVID-19, informed us:

“My dad was a healthy 65-year-old. His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada assured us, “Mr. President: Nevada is not intimidated by you.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former First Lady Michelle Obama were somewhat more restrained in their attacks.

Said Cuomo: “Only a strong body can fight off the virus, and America’s divisions weakened it. Donald Trump didn’t create the initial division. The division created Trump; he only made it worse.” (This although Trump saved Cuomo’s bacon for months with ventilators and the rest. The president even arranged to convert the Javits Center in Manhattan into a hospital that somehow Cuomo never used.)

Obama put it this way: Her friend Joe, as opposed to Trump, “lives a life the rest of us can recognize.” (Like his son making millions off China and Ukraine? And how much was Michelle’s book advance exactly? Sixty-five million? Oh, well, this is an infomercial. We expect a little exaggeration.)

Everyone got his or her innings, mercifully short, especially Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), who was allowed 1 minute. However, the keynote speaker of the night, at all of 8 or 9 minutes, was Bernie Sanders himself, who didn’t, as ever, mince words:

“My friends, I say to you, and to everyone who supported other candidates in this primary and to those who may have voted for Donald Trump in the last election. The future of our democracy is at stake. The future of our economy is at stake. The future of our planet is at stake. We must come together, defeat Donald Trump and elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as our next president and vice president. My friends, the price of failure is just too great to imagine.”

What was that price, I wondered? Maintaining a low tax rate for a renewed economic boom? Peace in the Middle East? Or, even worse, safety in our streets?

No matter. It’s all, as I said, an infomercial. Bernie’s just a huckster for socialism with Biden a sub-huckster. Buy one, get two, and we add … free shipping! Our operators are waiting for your call!

One more thing: I would like to add, by way of urging the elimination of these infomercials, Democrat and Republican, after their one-time necessary appearance, that real, live conventions are great fun and are actually spirited events of some consequence. (You meet live people and talk to them.) I have attended three—Minneapolis, Tampa, and Cleveland—in the press corps and can attest to it.

Roger L. Simon is an award-winning novelist, Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, co-founder of PJ Media, and now columnist for The Epoch Times. Find him on Twitter and Parler @rogerlsimon.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.