Emil Guillermo: Survey says Asian Americans love Biden; Bernie and Michelle save Day One of Dems' Zoom convention

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Michelle Obama hit it out of the Zoom room (as we all expected). So did Bernie Sanders, acting like the pole holding up the Dems’ Big Tent. (He actually mentioned “Asian Americans” by name!) But poor Eva Longoria Baston (whom I love maybe a tad bit more than Terri Hatcher). She just seemed like a “Desperate Housewife” given the burden of trying to make the first virtual political convention in America work.

I had a feeling it would go down this way. The previous week, I had attended the first virtual Asian American Journalists Association convention. Zoom, plus a great app (something called Pathable), really wasn’t too bad. And the Washington Post’s Michelle Lee was re-elected AAJA president!

But in the end, was I really doing more than sitting at home watching a screen?

People could still mute you. Or ghost you. Even when you reach out. (Blame the WiFi). And the real charm of a convention–the cute meet of old and new friends among the passive aggressive—doesn’t quite translate in Zoom. My favorite AAJA convention memories of the past revolve around seeing old friends every year, like the late photojournalist Dith Pran, formerly of the New York Times, and the man whose story was “The Killing Fields.” We’d see each other at the bar, and he’d tell me to keep going amok. And then he’d tell me about the Khmer Rouge. If he were alive, I fantasize how we’d be at the bar and he’d tell me why Trump is developing into America’s Pol Pot. (He didn’t like the educated or the “elites” much either.) But that sort of thing doesn’t happen when everyone’s in several pages of Zoom boxes, muted, with video off.

I was still hopeful this week about Zoom convening. On Monday, I attended a webinar that featured Ambassador Gary Locke, the former Governor of Washington and once considered the front-runner for first Asian American president. I wanted to ask him about his reaction to Kamala Harris’ rise, but I wasn’t acknowledged.

AAPI Data was also on the webinar and had some hot news: The majority of Asian Americans are supporting Joe Biden 54 percent to Trump’s 29 percent, according to early polling data compiled by AAPI Data. (Over 800 respondents in a survey conducted in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean, among the six largest Asian American groups. Registered voters only, contacted starting in July 2020, so unclear about Harris’ impact).

There was also still about a 16 percent undecided figure. But AAPI Data’s Janelle Wong, a professor of Asian American Studies at Univ. of Maryland/College Park, said it “gives us a taste of what we might expect come November."

AAPI Data’s Karthick Ramakrishnan said it’s a lower proportion of undecided than we’ve seen in the past. He also pointed out that discounting the undecided, Biden’s share approaches 2/3 of the Asian American vote.

So we can skip the convention, right?

Not exactly.

A casualty of Covid, the political convention in 2020 is dead, dead, dead. Remember Trump’s Tulsa rally and Herman Cain. You want to follow his lead? Convene away.

The Dems tried to make a go of it on Zoom, but Zoom will never capture the electric energy of a political convention.

I’ve been to or covered the majority of political conventions live since 1984. It’s a lot of walking and bumping into people at the right moment, roaming from delegation to delegation. I can recall first meeting Mazie Hirono when she was Lt. Governor of Hawaii. Or seeing Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the walkway and talking about the time we shared a stage at a Lowell High School graduation in San Francisco. Or seeing Elaine Chao as she was about to speak at the 2000 GOP convention. The truth is few people actually watch the videos and programs, especially on Day 1. That’s when people glad hand, connect, and do the politicking that generates the real energy in the arena and on the campaign trail.

On a Zoom cast, all they can think to put on is the boring stuff.

And the talking heads. Politics is fake enough. It’s worse when you have to Zoom in your enthusiasm.

Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, the opening mini-speaker, came on strong from the start and even shouted out to “Sistah Kamala Harris.” It would have been great if she were in an arena full of people. But as the wide shot showed, she was in a room by herself.

Not even George Floyd’s family could save the show early with a moment of silence.

The first one to hit the right key came 40 minutes in: Kristin Urquiza, the San Francisco student whose father, Marc Anthony Urquiza, died in Arizona due to Covid. “He had faith in Donald Trump,” she said. “He voted for him. Listened to him.”

But in May, she said her dad went to a karaoke bar with friends and died a few weeks later.

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“He died alone in the ICU, with a nurse holding his hand,” Urquiza said. “Dad was a healthy 65 year old. His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life.”

At a convention arena, Kristin Urquiza would have been a showstopper for sure. But in a Zoom room, it really brought out the feels. Over the next three days, the Dems need to find that note and hit it over and over again to score with the American public.

They were billed as the stars of the night, and they delivered. Michelle from the heart and Bernie from the left.

I know too many lefties who are sad about Bernie and Medicare For All,,but Bernie paved the way for all to follow tonight.

He was the inclusive Bernie, who said he, a progressive, could work with moderates and conservatives. He was the only one to mention what I call “the litany,” describing all of us in America as “black and white, Latino, Native American, Asian American, gay and straight, native born and immigrant [who] yearn for a nation based on the principles of justice, love and compassion.”

Bernie covered the bases. He pitched for Biden: “He will end the hate and division Trump has created. He will stop the demonization of immigrants, the coddling of white nationalists, the racist dog whistling, the religious bigotry, and the ugly attacks on women.”

And then he laid it on the line for all: “The future of our democracy is at stake,” Sanders said. “We must come together. Defeat Donald Trump and elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. . .My friends, the price of failure is just too great to imagine.”

Big Tent Bernie made the case for democracy, but Michelle Obama, the non-politician, went straight for the heart. And the current administration’s lack of it.

“Whenever we look to this White House for leadership or consolation or any semblance of steadiness, what we get instead is chaos, division and a total lack of empathy.”

We are a “nation that’s underperforming, not simply on matters of policy, but on matters of character… So let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can. Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove 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.”

Harking back to the Trump quote about Covid deaths was a rhetorical dagger.

“So if you take one thing from my words tonight, it is this,” Obama said. “If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can. And they will if we don’t make a change in this election.”

Michelle and the long knives. It was a brilliant speech that saved the Zoom. Hopefully, it will set the tone for the three days of speeches to come.

Speakers just need to remember they’re not in an arena screaming to delegates, whipping them up in a frenzy. They’re in Zoom. Speaking intimately to the heart, connecting where it matters in these physically distant times.

A little goes a long way to move a divided country that’s been lied to over the last four years.

So here come AOC and the future stars on Tuesday. Harris and the Asian American moment on Wednesday. Biden on Thursday.

But maybe the best way to watch the DNC is away from the talking heads. CNN and other networks cut away and didn’t show what may have been a poignant capper to the night. But you saw it on C-SPAN, the national treasure started by Brian Lamb.

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There was the always bedecked Billy Porter, accompanied by Steven Stills, of the original Buffalo Springfield, singing the antiwar song of the ‘60s, “For What It’s Worth.” You know: “It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down.”

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It’s time to look.

I just didn’t get Stills and Porter on my TV. I got Wolf Blitzer.

Hey, conventions can be fun and meaningful. Even in Zoom.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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