A recap of this year's political conventions
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E minus 64 – The national political conventions used to be about selecting their respective presidential & VP candidates, but with primaries or conventions now in vogue almost everywhere the outcomes are determined well in advance. Accordingly, these quadrennial events have been reduced to political theater, infomercials, job interviews, or whatever one might choose to call them.
Eight years ago, there was talk about cutting the duration of conventions from three days (which had become the de facto standard that year due a hurricane-delayed opening for the GOP convention) to two days or even just one. Convention slogans express what will be at stake in November, 9/10/12.
No such change has been made, but both of this year’s four-day conventions were streamlined considerably due to concerns about the coronavirus. Thus, many of the speeches were pre-recorded, or delivered by the speakers in essentially empty rooms.
At times the effects were disconcerting, as when Sen. Kamala Harris was shown accepting the VP nomination at the Democratic National Commission (DNC) on August 20 in a big room with stanchions for state delegations but no delegates. At the conclusion of her speech, there was a round of applause from images of on-line viewers displayed on a board The images were quite small, bringing to mind a “clapping billboard” versus appreciative responses from remote viewers.
Adjustments had been made by the following night, when former Vice President Joe Biden delivered his acceptance speech in the same room. Stanchions gone – camera angles that showed the candidate and flags behind without panning the empty space in front of him – a bigger board with larger images of the people who were applauding.
After the speech, Jill Biden, Kamala Harris, and Doug Emhoff (Harris’s husband) entered for a mutually celebratory moment. The two couples (wearing masks) then walked out to the parking lot, where supporters were waiting in their cars to enthusiastically welcome them. The convention concluded with a fireworks display.
Similarly, much of the Republican National Convention (RNC) was pre-recorded or took place in empty rooms. The resulting loss of impact was tempered, however, by conducting key segments of the program before live audiences – opening of the convention in Charlotte, NC with a “surprise appearance” by the president, a speech by Melania Trump in the White House Rose Garden, an acceptance speech by Vice President Mike Pence from Ft. McHenry in Baltimore, and President Trump’s acceptance speech from the south side of the White House with a reported outside audience of about 1,500 people (close seating, not many masks).
The president’s speech on August 27 was followed by a spectacular fireworks display (video, youtube.com, 5:20) and a marvelous concert by opera singer Christopher Maccio (video, youtube.com, 11:07).
Some advantages of virtual productions became evident during these events, and will probably affect the planning for political conventions in 2024. They facilitated getting speakers in and out on a pre-determined time schedule, thereby permitting most of the action to be conducted during prime time (e.g. 9-11 PM in the Eastern Time Zone) on four successive nights. Also, action at different venues could be woven into a seamless final product.
Viewers who wanted to view the entire event without having the flow interrupted by commentators could watch on C-Span or a live streaming service. Sorry Fox News, CNN, et al., but don’t get carried away with your role as gatekeepers, fact-checkers, or whatever because you can be replaced.
The formula for conventions includes several time-honored elements. Contrast your party’s candidates (favorable) with the other party’s candidates (negative) – trash the other party’s policies – present a positive message based on your party’s policies. And here are our impressions of this year’s efforts to achieve these objectives.
I. Contrasting the candidates – The current president was lambasted at the DNC (Aug. 18-21) by numerous speakers, including Michelle Obama, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former GOP presidential candidate John Kasich, Sen. Bernie Sanders, former President Bill Clinton, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, former Secretary of State John Kerry, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former President Barack Obama, multi-billionaire Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Kamala Harries and former Vice President Joe Biden.
The president failed to protect Americans from the coronavirus – wouldn’t listen to the experts – made decisions to benefit himself and his friends versus the American people – expressed racist ideas – displayed no empathy - was erratic and impulsive – lacks an economic plan - cozies up to dictators while disrespecting allies – has politicized the Justice Department - etc.
Many speakers praised the Democratic nominee as a nice person who had been raised in a middle-class family, learning the importance of jobs, dignity, respect and community. Biden had served in Washington long enough to know how things worked, could be counted on to provide reliable, consistent leadership, and always stood up for weak or under-privileged factions of the population.
Above all, said the candidate, the current president had failed – with specific reference to the coronavirus – to protect the country. For his part, Biden would protect Americans from every attack, seen or unseen, without exception, every time.
The overall impression of Biden’s acceptance speech (transcript) was favorable, particularly coming after numerous comments to the effect that he was washed up at 77, unable to string two coherent sentences together or think on his feet, etc. The Democratic Party had clearly selected this man as their presidential candidate, and although he wasn’t likely to match the frenetic pace of Trump’s campaign that didn’t mean he couldn’t be a formidable challenger.
Very different views about the candidates were expressed at the RNC (Aug. 24-27) by numerous speakers (including six Trump family members and the president himself). While Biden might come across as empathetic, it seemed, some of his policies (e.g., unwavering support for late-term adoption) were not so “nice.” Also, he had a habit of saying one thing and then turning around and doing another. If elected, he would support the extreme left wing views that had taken over the Democratic Party.
As for faults that had been attributed to the president, both at the DNC and otherwise, a concerted effort was made to rebut each and every one of them.
Female speakers like former counselor Kelly Anne Conway said Trump had often chosen women for high level positions based on merit and because he valued their contributions. Black speakers (both men and women) said they knew what racism is, and the president was no racist. Middle class Americans in various occupations recounted how Trump had shown a keen interest in their problems and worked tirelessly to make things better.
Family members, in particular, expressed their feelings about how the president and his supporters had been subjected to nonstop attacks from the mainstream media over the past four years. They acknowledged that Trump’s confrontational communication style might not suit everyone, but noted an arguable plus – “you always know what he’s thinking.”
Why did so many people dislike the president? Simple, he had broken an unspoken rule of politics by not only making a lot of promises during the 2016 campaign but working hard to make good on them after getting elected. In the end, said Ivanka Trump in introducing her father on August 27, Washington, DC had not changed the president, he had changed DC – and “the swamp” didn’t like it one bit.
Not only did Trump’s ensuing speech run some 70 minutes, but he had spoken for an hour on the first day of the convention, seemed to be on TV for interviews and announcements on an almost daily basis, and would do an outdoor rally in New Hampshire the following night.
Sometimes, as the saying goes, “less is more” Was the president effectively vindicating claims that he is self-absorbed, views his presidency as all about him, etc.? Some observers (e.g., Chris Wallace of Fox News) panned Trump’s acceptance speech as overly long and a bit flat, more akin to a State of the Union address than to the message called for by the occasion.
Nevertheless, the speech hit all the bases solidly. Transcript. Consider, for example, these charges that Trump leveled at his opponent:
• “At the Democrat convention, you barely heard a word about their agenda. But that’s not because they don’t have one. It’s because their agenda is the most extreme set of proposals ever put forward by a major party nominee. Joe Biden may claim he is an ‘ally of the Light,’ but when it comes to his agenda, Biden wants to keep you completely in the dark.”
•“Biden is a Trojan horse for socialism. If Joe Biden doesn’t have the strength to stand up to wild-eyed Marxists like Bernie Sanders and his fellow radicals, then how is he ever going to stand up for you?”
At the end of the day, it’s doubtful that the conflicting portrayals of the candidates changed many minds. Biden fans will continue to like him while disliking Trump, and vice versa, so let’s move on to more substantive matters.
II. The issues – We don’t get to choose the challenges with which we’re faced in life, said Biden in his acceptance speech at the DNC, but history has brought us a “perfect storm” of historical crises. Here they were, together with the current president’s failed responses and his own proposed solutions. And know that this will be a life-changing election, which will determine America’s fate for a very long time.
#1. The worst pandemic in over 100 years - Trump’s performance should be judged on the facts. Five million Americans infected with COVID-19 to date, more than 170,000 deaths, by far the worst performance of any nation on Earth. And in keeping with his usual leadership style, Trump “takes no responsibility, refuses to lead, and blames others.”
Comment: According to Trump’s acceptance speech, the “United States has among the lowest case fatality rates of any major country in the world. The European Union’s case fatality rate is nearly three times higher than ours. Altogether, the nations of Europe have experienced a 30 percent greater increase in excess mortality than the United States.” If anyone has disputed these claims, we haven’t learned about it.
Biden’s goal would be to get control of the virus that’s ruined so many lives. Nothing good can happen until we do this. Trump seems to be hoping for a miraculous solution, but no miracles are coming so we need a solid plan of action.
Rapid tests, with immediate results – all necessary medical supplies and protective equipment made in America so we won’t be at China’s mercy anymore - ensure schools have the needed resources so they can be open, safe and effective - take the muzzle off our experts, so the public will get the full story about what’s going on - issue a nationwide mask mandate as a reminder of our patriotic duty to protect each other.
Comment: With the exception of a nationwide mask mandate, the Trump administration has supported most of these ideas. See, e.g., FDA Authorizes Near-Instant COVID Test That Only Costs $5, Jack Davis, westernjournal.com, 8/27/20.
#2. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression – FDR led the US through the 1930s depression, even though he was suffering from a virus (polio) himself, and we can recover and prevail today. Over 50 million Americans have filed for unemployment. More than 10 million people will lose healthcare insurance (HCI) this year. Nearly 1/6 of small businesses have closed.
If Trump is reelected, things will keep getting worse. No one will be better off, with the exception of the wealthiest 1% who will get tens of billions of dollars in new tax breaks. The GOP assault on the Affordable Care Act will continue, resulting in over 20 million Americans (including more than 15 million on Medicaid) losing HCI or being deprived of protection for the insurance of preexisting conditions.
So obviously, it’s going to be necessary to rebuild the economy, and we should join together to “build back better.”
#3. The most compelling call for racial justice since the ‘60s – We must stick up for the workers who keep things going, including communities who have known the injustice of the “knee on the neck” and young people who have observed rising inequity and shrinking opportunity. They want racial justice – economic justice – environmental justice. And remember the events in Charlottesville over three years ago.
Neo-Nazis and Klansmen and white supremacists coming out of the fields with lighted torches - veins bulging - spewing the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the '30s - ensuing clash between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it – and the president said there were "very fine people on both sides." It was a wake-up call for us as a country.
Comment: This quote was taken out of context; the president condemned extremists on both sides at the time. In general, moreover, radical leftist activists have exhibited at least as much Nazi-like behavior, probably more, than conservative activists like the Proud Boys, etc.
Perhaps a breaking point was reached by the recent murder of George Floyd or the passing of civil rights icon John Lewis. America's history tells us that it has been in our darkest moments that we've made our greatest progress. And in this dark moment, I believe we are poised to make great progress again.
#4. The undeniable realities and accelerating threats of climate change – Very little was said about this subject, perhaps it was thought to be so obvious as to require no explanation. The candidate did claim, however, that the outlook was basically upbeat.
Here was an enormous “opportunity for America to lead the world in clean energy and create millions of new good-paying jobs in the process,” and the necessary investments could be paid for simply by repealing the president’s “$1.3 trillion tax giveaway [over a decade] to the wealthiest 1 percent and the biggest, most profitable corporations, some of which pay no tax at all.” Time for these folks to pay their “fair share.”
Comment: This statement vastly understates the cost of the proposed energy policies, which would substantially inflate the cost of the power that drives the US economy.
Speakers at the RNC painted a very different picture, which among other things emphasized how well the US economy had been doing before the coronavirus hit, claimed the pandemic had been addressed effectively and would soon be ended by the development and deployment of effective therapeutics and/or vaccines, and predicted a rapid economic recovery.
Yes, civil unrest had become a serious problem as extremists took over the protest action after the George Floyd shooting and engaged in a protracted wave of violence in cities across the country. But this wasn’t the president’s doing, it was basically due to decisions of Democratic mayors and governors to tolerate the situation rather than mobilizing the necessary resources (including federal aid that had been repeatedly offered) and giving the necessary instructions to put a stop to the looting, arson, and shootings that primarily impacted the local residents and wasn’t helping anyone.
It should be noted, by the way, that nothing had been said at the DNC about the need to restore order in US cities. It seemed that the Democrats weren’t really opposed to the violence, and would just as soon see it continue until after the election.
The GOP tax cut and rollback of regulations had been a big help for Americans, and it should be preserved and improved rather than rolled back as would happen if Biden won the election. By dint of foresight and hard work, the US had finally achieved energy independence and it wasn’t about to throw this achievement away for the clean energy jobs that were being imagined.
During his 47 years in politics, Biden had supported terrible trade deals that had cost millions of American jobs and this country’s involvement in endless foreign wars. These were the very problems that the president had been working to solve over the past four years, why he had felt called on to run as president as a matter of fact, and it certainly wouldn’t do to throw away all the progress that had been made.
III. A positive message – Whatever the power of trashing the opposition, it’s generally said that political candidates should give voters a reason to vote for them. See, e.g., Republicans wonder where Trump misplaced his second term agenda, James Antle, Washington Examiner, 6/27/20.
“A strategy of beating up on Joe Biden will bring many of his 2016 supporters back, but it will not get him over 50%,” said Republican pollster Frank Luntz. “He has to look towards the future. He has to tell people what comes next. It's not enough to focus on what he's done.”
Or consider this Democratic perspective: What Biden must do to keep his lead and win, Albert Hunt, thehill.com, 8/14/20.
". . . whenever a candidate tries to unseat an incumbent, like Reagan in 1980 or Bill Clinton in 1992, he has to offer a vision — not Biden's forte — of how he'll make things better."
Critics have claimed that the DNC was very light on specifics, but Biden’s acceptance speech was not simply aspirational. In addition to promising to save the soul of America and lead the country into light, he offered a laundry list of specific commitments.
Restore national infrastructure – create 5 million new manufacturing and technology jobs – expand the Affordable Care Act versus ripping it away – revamp the educational system to train Americans for challenging 21st Century jobs – ensure cost doesn’t prevent young people from going to college and student debt doesn’t crush them afterward. We need an immigration system that powers our economy and reflects our values – newly empowered labor unions – equal pay for women – rising wages (but no mention of a big increase in the minimum wage). In short, we’re not going to just honor our essential workers, “we’re finally going to pay them.”
At the RNC, the president was calling the shots about the second term agenda – which boiled down to continuing or doubling down on everything that had been done since 2016. Here are some of the second-term goals mentioned in his acceptance speech.
Achieve full employment, rising incomes, and record prosperity – defend America against all threats – hold China fully accountable for the coronavirus – cut taxes even further for hardworking moms and dads – provide tax credits to bring jobs that had been offshored to China back to America – impose tariffs on any company that leaves America to produce jobs overseas – expand charter schools and provide School Choice to every family in America – support Right to Life (starting with rules against late-term abortions) – stand with the men and women of law enforcement – create 10 million jobs in the next 10 months – ban deadly sanctuary cities (which block immigration law enforcement) – appoint prosecutors, judges and justices who believe in enforcing the law – protect Medicare and Social Security – win the race for 5G – restore patriotic education to our schools – notch new achievements in space exploration – convey to every child in America that they are part of the most exciting and incredible adventure in human history - show the world that, for America, no dream is beyond our reach.
Comment: One issue was conspicuously not mentioned at either the DNC or RNC, namely whether the fiscal and monetary brakes are going to be hit in order to avert an otherwise inevitable fiscal meltdown. To paraphrase Herbert Stein, “if something is unsustainable it will stop.” We will have more to say about this omission.
#Great summary. Who knows the outcome. If law and order fails we have a very dismal future with heavy regs and wealth taxes. The phony notion that taxes will not raise for those making 400k cannot happen. Middle class has to pay most of the fees and taxes. – SAFE director