A Grand Illusion

Democratic Convention Roundup

The Democrats wrapped up their virtual, online convention Thursday night, and I’m sure you watched all of it, right? Of course you didn’t. Nobody does. And a lot of it doesn’t matter, particularly since we’re dealing with someone who is as much of a known quantity as Joe Biden, so we don’t need a convention to get to know him. Nor would a convention be very useful if we did, since these are carefully orchestrated infomercials where the party makes sure to put forward precisely the image it wants voters to remember.

But sometimes that in itself is significant, because it tells us what each party wants to send as its message–and it tells us how effectively they are able to stick to it. Boy, did we ever get an answer to those questions from the Democrats this week.

“The Best of Us”

This week’s Democratic National Convention was a modern marvel of what political consultants call “message discipline”: the ability to craft a single message designed to appeal to voters, and to get everyone to repeat it. The speeches and events have had a clear theme, portraying today’s Democratic Party as totally normal, mainstream, non-combative, and not radical at all.

You only really need to watch (or read) Joe Biden’s acceptance speech, which hit all of these themes marvelously. Here are a few excerpts.

The current president has cloaked America in darkness for much too long. Too much anger. Too much fear. Too much division. Here and now, I give you my word: If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us not the worst. I will be an ally of the light not of the darkness. It’s time for us, for We the People, to come together.

[W]hile I will be a Democratic candidate, I will be an American president. I will work as hard for those who didn’t support me as I will for those who did. That’s the job of a president. To represent all of us, not just our base or our party. This is not a partisan moment. This must be an American moment….

America isn’t just a collection of clashing interests of Red States or Blue States. We’re so much bigger than that. We’re so much better than that.

Notice the repeated motifs: appealing to “the best of us,” healing “division,” showing respect for all of the people and not just for his core supporters. The Democratic Party and the Biden campaign have a very clear notion of what the average voter wants, and it’s not red meat for bitter partisans who get angry on social media as a hobby. They think the average voter wants a break from partisan hatred and wants to return to what they imagine as “normal.” So that’s exactly what Biden is promising.

(This message is reinforced by Biden’s ability to do something a top-level politicians ought to be able to do: provide evidence of some sort of good he has done in the world outside the realm of politics. In this case, it is Biden’s practice of mentoring young people who stutter, one of whom gave a very moving speech in support of Biden. Donald Trump’s life does not provide any comparable testimonials.)

The Democrats are also promising not to be wild-eyed radicals. Note that a few months after leftist protesters were tearing down statues of the Founding Fathers, and radicals at the New York Times were denouncing this country as viciously racist, Biden appeals precisely to our founding ideals.

[W]e have a great purpose as a nation: To open the doors of opportunity to all Americans. To save our democracy. To be a light to the world once again. To finally live up to and make real the words written in the sacred documents that founded this nation that all men and women are created equal. Endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In an era of massive spending and rising support on the left for outright socialism, in a speech sprinkled with passing references to a multitude of welfare-state programs and regulatory interventions, Biden de-emphasizes his Big Government agenda by telling anecdotes about his father.

He worked hard and built a great middle-class life for our family. He used to say, “Joey, I don’t expect the government to solve my problems, but I expect it to understand them.” And then he would say: “Joey, a job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about your dignity. It’s about respect. It’s about your place in your community. It’s about looking your kids in the eye and say, honey, it’s going to be okay.” I’ve never forgotten those lessons.

Or consider his reference to his agenda on education, where he says he is favor of a system “where cost doesn’t prevent young people from going to college, and student debt doesn’t crush them when they get out.” What does that mean? How will it be implemented? Is he endorsing the program for “free college” favored by the left-wing base?

Who knows? All those questions are carefully dodged.

Or consider what he has to say about the current battles over racial politics:

History has thrust one more urgent task on us. Will we be the generation that finally wipes the stain of racism from our national character? I believe we’re up to it. I believe we’re ready.

Actually, this is a substantive rejection of the radical left, because the central tenet of the current “anti-racism” dogma is the idea that we cannot and never will “wipe the stain of racism” from our society. Biden’s confidence that we can do so within a generation, his vision of reaching an end-point for racial conflict, is refreshingly optimistic and benevolent by comparison.

Meanwhile, where was the far left? Mostly hidden away or soft-pedaled. Linda Sarsour, whose anti-semitism helped bring down the Women’s March, was shunted into a “caucus” meeting early one day. Political obsessives know she was there, but nobody else does. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was given a very short speaking slot, but the real stroke of genius is that she was brought on for a pro forma motion in favor of the runner-up, Bernie Sanders, creating the impression that she doesn’t even support Biden. Gosh, what an unfortunate misunderstanding.

But if the far left has been pushed to the sidelines of the convention, doesn’t that raise the risk that they will feel slighted? Michelle Obama had a few words aimed right at them.

[F]our years ago, too many people chose to believe that their votes didn’t matter. Maybe they were fed up. Maybe they thought the outcome wouldn’t be close. Maybe the barriers felt too steep. Whatever the reason, in the end, those choices sent someone to the Oval Office who lost the national popular vote by nearly three million votes.

In one of the states that determined the outcome, the winning margin averaged out to just two votes per precinct–two votes. And we’ve all been living with the consequences.

The message for “progressive” activists was clear: Don’t stay home like you did in 2016, or Trump’s second term will be all your fault.

The rest of the convention was pitched straight at independent voters and disgruntled Republicans, which is exactly where the Democratic Party ought to be aiming. Consider the main theme of the rest of Michelle Obama’s remarks, which was all about taking the high road.

I know the goodness and the grace that is out there in households and neighborhoods all across this nation. And I know that regardless of our race, age, religion, or politics, when we close out the noise and the fear and truly open our hearts, we know that what’s going on in this country is just not right. This is not who we want to be.

So what do we do now? What’s our strategy? Over the past four years, a lot of people have asked me,  “When others are going so low, does going high still really work?” My answer: going high is the only thing that works, because when we go low, when we use those same tactics of degrading and dehumanizing others, we just become part of the ugly noise that’s drowning out everything else.

So the Democratic Party’s big pitch is that they are offering us a respite from “the noise and the fear” of today’s politics.

Do you believe them? I sure hope not! This has been a year of race riots, “cancel culture,” and “anti-racist” harangues about how the entire American system is vicious and corrupt. It’s quite a feat of chutzpah for the party of the left, in that environment, to bill itself as the party that is going to usher in a return to reasoned debate and national comity.

And yet there is something significant about the fact that a large political movement has been able to settle on such a non-repellent political message and actually stick to it. We haven’t seen much of that for the past four years. And the only reason they can get away with it is by contrast to Donald Trump.

To read the rest, see here.

 

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