Looking back on the Democratic Convention

I am so glad it is over!  Ever since I claimed the right to vote for the candidate who seemed best to me [1] I have voted for Democrats for President and I will this time, too.  I will say, though, that I liked Joe Biden better before the convention than after.

I am not naive about these things.  Conventions—even virtual conventions—should be about achieving certain outcomes for the party and for the ticket.  To do that, you aim the right message at the right target.  I get that.  I am not a target.  I get that.  I’d say 80% of the messaging was aimed either at suburban women, who defected disproportionately to Trump in 2016, or to racial and ethnic minorities, from whom Obama-level turnout will be needed.  I get that.

Still.  It was too much for me.  If I had to summarize the whole pitch, I would name it MR. ROGERS FOR PRESIDENT. [2]

I understand that there is also a party platform.  I will read it carefully.  I will try, as I read it, to remind myself that it is an aspirational document.  I know the goals stated will be genuine, but I know something else about goals.  Genuine though each goal is, each one enters a vicious and heartbreaking process of triage when President Biden and his advisors look at what is actually possible.

And the means of achieving these goals are even worse.  The means that should be used and that will be used are the ones that at the time and in the situation, will be most likely to achieve the goals.  We have no idea—THEY have no idea—what those are at the moment.  So promising to use a particular means is even dicier that promising to achieve a particular goal.

So as I read the platform, I will read it as a fan, cheering “my team” on and hoping they “win the game,”  But I will be critical of each and every goal statement because they are competitors with each other.  President Obama wanted, for instance, a banking regulation bill and a healthcare bill.  When it care right down to it, he couldn’t have both.  That’s not his fault.  That’s just triage.  I will try to keep that in mind as I read the platform.

I will say that “Build Back Better” is an inspired slogan.

Biden urged President Trump to stop lying to the American people.  I think that’s a great idea.  Unlikely, but easy to approve.  The rationale was that “they can take it,” meaning that we, the American people can bear up under the weight of the truth; we don’t need to be lied to.

Well…I am no fan of being lied to, but I am not sure how much truth the American people are prepared to hear during a campaign season.  If I thought the American public as a whole were ready to hear the truth—I don’t—I would urge politicians I care about not to promise things they can’t deliver.  There is very little, for instance, that the Biden/Harris ticket can do about the wealth-creation process inherent in capitalism.  It’s a game and it rewards players who play it well and punishes players who play it poorly. [3]

Most of that game is beyond the reach of any administration.  So “telling the truth” does not include promising to reform the economy in ways no presidency can achieve absent a prolonged national crisis, and I’m not at all sure the COVID-19 crisis is enough.  It includes a progressive tax policy, thoughtful incentives for international trade, and minimum wage support.  It does not include restoring the former strength of the labor unions.  It does not include substituting American-made goods for imported goods that are better and cheaper.

The difference between wealth-creation, which is largely a market function, and wealth distribution, which is open to the deployment of a national consensus is a big difference.  I know the campaign season is not the time to talk about using the tax system to rebalance the distribution of incomes, but that is the part of the process government can affect and our hopes for a fairer and more equal (not the same thing) society are based on that role that only government can play.

I like it that the campaign, particularly Biden’s and Harris’s speeches, went way out in saying what goals they were going to aspire to.  When they shifted over to what they were going to promise to do—to actually accomplish—I think they went way to far and I stopped listening seriously.

On my own behalf, let me say again a) that I know I am not the target audience, and b) that I will read the platform carefully.  The convention speeches are no my only source of information.

Finally, I know it is important to set up character attacks on Donald Trump.  To do that, you have to show that the Democrats who are running for office are not like him.  Even so, the persistent drumbeat of empathy and grief and family and personal values finally got to me.  It was so Oprah.  There was not enough resolution to do what the country needs, not enough for me, at least.

I am entirely committed to the Democratic party as the bearer of my hopes for the country.  Even should the Republicans succeed in rescuing their party from the people who kidnapped it and are holding it for ransom, I will still prefer the perspective of the Democrats.

But really, could we talk about how the govern the country?  Just a little?

[1]  The crisis for me was 1960, when I was strongly attracted to John F. Kennedy and wound up voting for R. Milhous Nixon.  During the campaign I never so much as heard a conversation that included the possibility of voting for a Democrat and a Catholic and as I entered it polls, I said, “Maybe they know something I don’t.”  That was the last time and, although it was 60 years ago, it still embarrasses me.

[2]  I am a big fan of Mr. Rogers.  He did what he did superbly well, but a big part of his success what preventing others from using him for other purposes.

[3]  And/or cheat in any of the approved ways, such as paying no taxes.  So although it is a game, it is a rigged game.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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1 Response to Looking back on the Democratic Convention

  1. thinkydoug says:

    Love your posts. I can hear you as I read them, and see your face scrunching up this way and that as you express your ideas. You make me live up to my handle when I read your stuff.

    Two things:

    1. Isn’t it possible that when the character of your opponent is the main issue, shouldn’t it be that you talk about how different you are? Joe Biden is polling ahead of Agent Orange not because of any agenda or platform, but because he’s not DJT. At all. Do people even want to hear about how Joe would govern? I’m honestly asking.

    2. Your points about hyping up issues they’re never going to be able to accomplish reminds me of going to a fashion show or seeing a concept car from a car manufacturer. In both cases, what you’re seeing is a collection of ideas. In neither case will you actually see that stuff go into production, but it gives you a sense of where they’re headed. Maybe. “Oh, I see feathers will be big this year! Stunning.”

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