In a normal year Joe Biden wouldn’t stand a chance against a decent candidate for president. I’ve watched pretty much every minute of the virtual Democratic National Convention the past 4 days. I have concluded there is nothing that the Republicans can do to produce 4 days of message that can in any way compete with what the Democrats have produced. But if I pull back and try to get some perspective on what I’ve seen, I’ve concluded the Biden is a lightweight when it comes to solid policy.
Basically the message of the Democratic Party is that we’re not going to be the kind of total fuck ups that Trump and his cronies have imposed upon us these past 4 years. There entire message is basically the following:
- We won’t sit by idly while hundreds of thousands of people die in the pandemic.
- We believe in science, medicine, and common sense.
- We won’t lock children in cages.
- We don’t like Nazis.
- We understand suffering and loss and we empathize with you.
Ask yourself would that kind of platform have won a presidential election in any other year? Trump has set the bar so incredibly low that any decent human being can jump over it. And basically that’s all Joe Biden has going for him. He is a very kind, empathetic, decent human being.
At least during the Democratic primary season we had lively debates over the type of universal healthcare we would have. The policy details mattered. Do we completely eliminate private insurance? Do we have a public option but keep private insurance as a possibility? What do we do in concrete terms about racism, police brutality, gun violence. The Democrats still care about health insurance, racism, sexism, reasonable gun reform. But set your “way back machine” to 1984 when Walter Mondale famously said to Gary Hart “Where’s the beef?” quoting a famous Wendy’s hamburger commercial. Where are the details? How are we going to do any of these things?
The only person still talking substance such as $15 minimum wage, universal healthcare, student loan forgiveness, and other issues that were at the forefront of the early Democratic debates is Bernie Sanders. He promises us that Biden will work for all of these things. But his belief is based upon the fact that his people and Biden’s people had task force meetings in which they sat down and worked out compromises on these issues that both candidates could endorse. If not for Sanders pushing Biden to sign on to these policies we have to wonder what substance would exist in the Biden campaign at all?
In any other year, against any other candidate, the lack of policy specifics that we’ve seen over the last 4 days would be unsustainable against a solid Republican with a well thought out set of policies. Fortunately for the Democrats, the opposition is even more disorganized, even emptier of specifics, and even more incapable of defending itself against any sort of reasoned criticism.
Don’t get me wrong… the differences between the candidates could not be greater. The consequences of this election could not be greater. Obama’s warning that the future of our democracy is clearly at stake is absolutely terrifyingly true.
But the primary voters clearly made the right choice. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Andrew Wang all had bold revolutionary ideas about how to fix what is wrong with the country. But America can’t stand a revolution when it’s on the brink of collapse to begin with. Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Kamala Harris were not so radical but were also unproven and in that respect a little scary. We need stability. We need safety. We need nothing more than a kind, decent, empathetic human being who feels our pain and is not an egotistical, vain, narcissist who values appearance over substance and thinks of no one but himself.
In some ways the pandemic was the best thing that could’ve happened to the Democratic Party. The average person doesn’t really care if Trump solicited foreign interference to help his campaign. The average guy is so cynical about politics that they don’t care that if Obama told people the sun rises in the east and sets in the west that Trump would call it fake news. The average guy doesn’t care that Trump is racist, misogynistic, narcissistic, and immoral. But the average guy cares that the country is being ripped apart by a pandemic and Trump is acting like it’s no big deal.
Furthermore the pandemic forced this new virtual format onto the convention and it could not have been a bigger blessing. I think it’s pretty clear that the party convention as we have known it for decades is now a thing of the past. This format gives the party unfiltered access to the airwaves. In a traditional convention when some speakers are speaking or some prepared video is showing, the news channels don’t follow it second by second. They always have floor reporters interviewing people from various delegations. They have their pundits setting up the major speakers and analyzing what they think is going to happen.
Over these past four days with very few exceptions the cable networks (and I’ve only watched MSNBC and CNN) have basically turned over 2+ hours of their programming to the DNC to put up whatever they want. The intimacy of the speakers sitting in a room looking in to the camera as if they are speaking directly to you is so much more powerful than having someone stand at a podium full of raucous drunk delegates wearing funny hats that I don’t think we will ever see a traditional convention again. Even the cross-country tour of America during the roll call vote was so much more compelling than the traditional roll call that if we do return to a convention hall, I think will still take a video tour of the country.
I can’t imagine how on earth the Republicans can produce anything as remotely compelling as what we’ve seen over the past 4 days. Trump, his wife, Pence, nor any other Republican leaders can put forth a narrative the likes of which we’ve seen from the Democrats. This time Republicans can’t hide behind the energy and hoopla of a live convention. The only way the virtual format works is if you can make a personal connection to the voters. Of course there is a base who will follow Trump blindly into hell and of course they will appeal to that. But anything that is remotely a swing voter is in no way going to be able to be swayed by anything they put on the screen next week. If the swing voters have seen anything of the DNC this week it’s going to be impossible to demonize the Democrats for anyone other than the blind followers whom they already have in their camp and cannot be persuaded otherwise.
It will be interesting to see what happens next week but my guess is that the Republican political operatives are all changing their underwear and wondering what the hell they’re going to do.
Their only hope at this point is to do what Obama warned us against. Their only hope is to sow distrust in the electoral process itself. To try to invalidate the election. To destroy Democracy. We can only hope that our democratic (small “d”) institutions survive this assault.
The Republicans are a wounded animal backed into a corner. It remains to be seen if they will indeed destroy our democracy to remain in power. The danger is real. All we can do is hope that the nice guy can prevail.