4:40 p.m. Tonight was supposed to be big, 60,000 voices screaming in unison, the Super Bowl of entitlement policy and Romney-bashing. But instead, under the threat of lightning, something like 20,000 gather indoors where James Taylor sits onstage, singing songs other than “Fire and Rain.” “I’m an old white guy, and I love Barack Obama,” he says instead.
5:38 p.m. The usual convention formalities — colors, anthem, benediction — introduce Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, who goes off prompter and over his time talking about “Myth Romney,” the political superstar that Mitt Romney will never be. Then comes Georgia Representative John Lewis, one of the original freedom riders, who tells his story of coming through Charlotte in 1961, the year that Obama was born. He explains the current campaign as a natural extension of Civil Rights, right down to the voting-access struggles. “I’ve seen this before,” he warns. “I’ve lived this before.”
6:13 p.m. Vocalist Mary J. Blige sings in front of a giant picture of the Constitution. “Let’s get it crunk for President Obama for four more years,” she says. But don’t get excited. Political conventions, like the Home Shopping Network, are not designed to be watched in their entirety. So the repetition begins. Once again, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says the Democrats are “honest” and “the truth is hard to find” near Republicans. Tammy Baldwin does the “more tax cuts for the very top” thing. Michael Nutter repeats the corporations-aren’t-people thing.
6:51 p.m. More grab bag. Zach Walls, who has two mothers, says he is “awesome at putting the seat down” and that Romney is wrong to say the best families for children are the ones with a mother and a father. “Every family deserves a family as loving as mine.” Campaign manager Jim Messina explains how everyone can donate to the campaign by text message. Videos play. Joe Biden is nominated as Vice President by his son. He tears up. The Foo Fighters bring the foo. South Carolina Representative James Clyburn does not.
(PHOTOS: Democratic National Convention)
7:43 p.m. Two pretty actresses take their turns. Kerry Washington says, “The other side wants to take our voices away and render us invisible,” even though this is not really a concern for her. Scarlett Johansson tries to get young people to the voting booth. She says, “I remember that excitement I felt in that secret box.”
7:57 p.m. A touching moment. Former Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords, still recovering from a madman’s bullet to her head, limps onto the stage and recites the Pledge of Allegiance. The crowd chants her name, some cry. Then, hall is filled with repetitions of “fired up, ready to go.”
8:00 p.m. Caroline Kennedy sounds like she just woke up from a nap. Representative Xavier Becerra calls Ryan’s entitlement plan “Couponcare.” The repetitiveness of the speakers is bad enough, but the drowsy deliveries have put the crowd in a stupor. So former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm saves the day. “In Romney’s world, cars get the elevator and workers get the shaft,” she says. Then she lists how many automaker jobs were saved in each swing state. She slices the air with her hands, as the noise builds. By Ohio, she’s bright red and the audience is too loud to continue, so she just leans on lectern and furiously pumps her fist for a while. The Internet’s GIF makers rejoice.
8:19 p.m. Another hour, another gorgeous multimillionaire actress. This one cops to being extraordinary. “The Eva Longoria who worked at Wendy’s flipping burgers — she needed a tax break,” she says. “But the Eva Longoria who works on movie sets does not.” Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer comes out in blue jeans and a bolo tie and drops the phrase “git ’er done.” “Mitt’s a good family man and a loyal American,” Schweitzer says. Then he explains why everything else about Romney is bad and wrong.
8:34 p.m. It’s time for the token party turncoat, former Republican governor Charlie Crist of Florida. He looks like a younger George Hamilton, with eyebrows that dance every time he makes a point. Republicans are “beholden to ‘my way or the highway’ bullies, indebted to billionaires who bankroll ads and allergic to the idea of compromise,” he says, so now he likes Obama. He has a portable fan placed at his feet to cool him as he talks.
8:42 p.m. Craggy-faced Senator John Kerry reporting for duty. The mission: audition for Secretary of State. “Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago,” Kerry says. Republicans called him a hapless flip-flopper when he ran for President, so Kerry relishes turning the charge on someone else. “For Mitt Romney, an overseas trip is what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas.” Most of the digs are good humored and he even razzes himself. “Talk about being for it before you were against it,” he says of Romney’s position on Libya.
9:29 p.m. After some video walk-up, Joe Biden works the stage, waving to this person and that. The crowd holds “Fired Up” and “Ready for Joe” signs. “I want to take you inside the White House to see the President as I see him every day.” But the inside story sounds a lot like the official story, with heavy emphasis on character. “He always asks the same critical question, ‘How is this going to affect the average American … That is what’s inside this man. That’s what makes him tick. That’s who he is.”
9:45 p.m. Biden tells a contrast story wrapped around a bumper sticker: “Osama bin Laden is dead. And General Motors is alive.” Biden doesn’t think Romney is “a bad guy.” But Biden thinks Romney would have let Detroit fail, and he would not have killed bin Laden.
9:59 p.m. Now he has pivoted to the Republicans. Biden thinks they are betting against the American people, which is a mistake. He shouts, then whispers, then shouts again. As the networks cut in to live coverage, he is talking about those who have been killed and wounded in recent wars. Then he is shouting again. “Re-elect President Barack Obama.” Crowd roars. His wife Jill comes onstage. They hug. Biden leaves victorious.
10:09 p.m. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin gives the network anchors a chance to be pundits, or cut to commercial. Then there is a video, which allows American flags to be distributed to the crowd. Then Michelle is back. She introduces “the love of my life, the father of our two girls and the President of the United States,” which is probably a fun thing to be able to say. They embrace. “You’re good,” her lips seem to say to him as they part.
10:25 p.m. Here it is. The big moment. After two rousing nights, with speeches that made the hall wild, the President has his chance. But from the beginning it’s clear that this will be prose, not poetry. He has a job to get done, a need to explain his plans for the next four years. The inspiration part of the week has been outsourced. “I won’t pretend the path we are on is quick or easy. I never have,” he says. “But know this America, our problems can be solved, our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder but it leads to a better place.” This is not Obama the savior. This is Obama the public servant.
10:39 p.m. Obama’s refrain is “You can choose.” He repeats it as he lays out his priorities, which are predictable: more manufacturing jobs, better education, tax reform, greater energy independence. “In this election, you can do something about it,” he says. It is a speech written mostly in the second person.
10:55 p.m. After some restrained Romney and Republican bashing, the President extends the second person into another tense. You are not just the future. You were the past. “You see, the election four years ago wasn’t about me,” he says. “It was about you. My fellow citizens, you were the change.” He is attempting to reclaim the feeling of ownership in the Obama project that has faded over the years. Then he admits to his own failures. “While I am proud of what we have achieved together, I’m far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, ‘I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place to go.’” This is the opposite of red meat for a partisan crowd waiting to be whipped into a fury. The President is playing a longer game. He is trying for candor.
11:02 p.m. As he rounds the bend, the bad keeps coming with the good. “Our path is harder, but it leads to a better place,” he says. “We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes.” The crowd hardly seems to notice. The noise in the room overwhelms his voice. Then confetti shoots from cannons. Obama’s wife and daughters take the stage. “Good job,” Sasha seems to say to him. The waves, the hugs, the cheers, the end.