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August 18, 2020

Michelle Obama caps off first night of Democratic National Convention


Directions: Read the summary, watch the video (full 18-minutes; transcript) and answer the discussion questions. If you want to watch shorter clips of Michelle Obama’s speech, check out this clip or this clip

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Summary: Monday, August 17, marked the first night of the Democratic National Convention, which will take place throughout the week culminating in the formal nomination of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as Democratic candidates for president and vice president, respectively. The first night was capped with a nearly 20-minute speech by former first lady Michelle Obama, who emphasized what she characterized as the empathy and experience of Joe Biden.

  • The Democratic convention featured speakers from a wide range of political ideologies, from former Republican Ohio governor John Kasich to Democratic primary opponent Bernie Sanders.
  • Obama characterized Joe Biden as valuing “empathy,” or the ability to sympathize with the feelings and anxieties of others.
  • Obama contrasted Biden’s “empathy” with what she characterized as the divisiveness of the current president. Obama described Trump as “the wrong president for the country” who “could not meet this moment” of health, economic and social crises.

A. Warm up questions:

  1. What events take place at political party conventions?
  2. Who is Michelle Obama? Why do you think she was chosen to headline the first night of the Democratic convention?

B. Focus questions:

  1. What do you think is the purpose of political party nominating conventions?
  2. In this speech, how has Obama characterized the values of the Democratic ticket?
  3. How did Obama contrast a potential Biden presidency with a Trump presidency?

C. Media literacy: Part of the party convention process is the development of official party platforms. These platforms explain policy positions and are presented to appeal to the hopes and desires of voters. While voters may not read entire party platforms, their presentation is still a critical aspect of winning voter trust. Examine the Democratic party platform from 2016. Without yet reading deeply into the policies themselves, make notes about the choices made to appeal to voters, including images used, the text in the website banner and other prominently placed text. 

    • What appeals to voters do you think the Democratic platform is making through the presentation of their platform? What sort of values do you think the platform is promoting?
    • Do the same with the Republican party platform. What values is the Republican party emphasizing, and how are they appealing to voters through the presentation of their platform?

Extension activity:

Want to dig deeper into the ways the presidential nominating process works from primary to convention? Use this resource from iCivics to learn more about the presidential nomination process. Note: You’ll need to register for a free iCivics account in order to access the lesson plan. In this lesson, students will learn:

  • Describe the role of political parties.
  • Explain the role of national conventions in the political process.
  • Identify key dates for national elections.
  • Contrast primaries and caucuses as ways to nominate someone within a political party.
  • Describe the electoral process in primary elections.


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