Saturday, August 22, 2020

Race for the White House # 86

73 Days Until Election Day

One convention is down and another one is about to start. Previously, there would be a time period of at least two weeks in between. In 2012, the last time an incumbent ran, the conventions were back to back. I remember thinking that the ratings for the second straight one would be down, especially with an incumbent party, because "normal people" would want a break from politics. Instead, the second convention, held by Democrats, was quick to push back against any momentum Republicans might have received. Might that be the perception again? The general thinking is that Democrats had a strong week. All things considered, I find that hard to disagree with.

Sure, the television ratings were probably down. It did feel more like a celebrity telethon in parts, but the production value was actually impressive. These are times like none other and all sorts of entities are having to make things up on the fly. It helps of course for Democrats that the media is almost universally on their side. The tightness of the message control in a convention that featured no crowds and many pre-recorded pieces means that the party looked a whole lot more unified than hey were four years ago when Bernie Bros (and some girls) were literally booing Hillary Clinton at her acceptance speech. The party does seem to be more united though, if not behind Joe Biden, then behind defeating Donald Trump.

It is interesting that many on the party's left felt the convention featured too many appeals to Republicans and too many Republicans (past and present alike) given small speaking roles. The most prominent of which was former Ohio Governor and Presidential candidate John Kasich, who spoke from a "crossroads" and endorsed Joe Biden. Whomever did this film did not make Kasich look very good on cam (maybe it is hard to do someone's makeup with social distancing) but it was interesting to hear Kasich say that Biden would not be captive to the far left. Then, Bernie Sanders spoke and basically said that Biden already was. Which will be correct? The convention would also feature appeals from Colin Powell (who has not supported a Republican since at least 2004) and a video narrated by Cindy McCain, in which the widow of the former GOP nominee did not explicitly endorse Biden, but the message was clear.

The biggest "star" from Night One though was Michelle Obama, who delivered a highly effective, and clearly taped appeal. She has always been an extremely effective political communicator even as she makes clear that she hates politics. Clearly, she feels very strongly about the choice this year and if there was regular campaigning, she would be highly demand as a surrogate for the party.

Night two featured a "roll call of the states" like none other. Part of me thought it was done extremely well while part of me missed the tradition of how it was always done. Each delegation had a 30 second or so clip of someone announcing the votes (and wow I must have forgotten that Bernie Sanders would receive so many votes.) It was incredibly notable and a clear sign of our times to see the images of someone speaking from an outdoor location without a mask while two or three people surrounded them silently in masks. It was like some weird alien movie. In one case, there were masked soldiers in Guam in full military uniform taking part, which is a clear violation of military guidelines.

On night two, liberal darling Alexandra Ocasio- Cortez was assigned 30 seconds to second the nomination of Bernie Sanders for President. While she had long ago confirmed she would vote for Biden in November, it was a bit odd to see her only speaking about Bernie and not mentioning Biden. She also said things about "colonialism" and other left-wing buzzwords that would be off-putting to centrist voters. The entire issue theme of the convention was heavily centered on Covid-19, racial injustice, and saving the Post Office.

The nomination of Biden was formalized as he and his wife watched in a school library and acted surprised (perhaps they were) when their masked grandchildren ambushed them with a confetti cannon and some balloons.

Jill Biden ended the evening by speaking live from a classroom in Delaware where she used to teach. The film introducing her was really good (most of the films were) and the visuals of the speech were on point. I cannot really remember what she said though. I think I was mostly watching the Blackhawks final playoff game.

Night Three featured an impassioned speech by Barack Obama about how horrible Donald Trump is. Those who were watching likely had already long ago made up their mind, one way or another. Then, Kamala Harris accepted her historic nomination from an empty room at the Chase Center in Wilmington. The visuals looked good and the video introducing her was extremely strong as well. The first part of her speech, when she talked about how her background was effective, but then as she got into policy matters, it maybe fell a bit flat. I am a conservative though, so I have to keep that in mind. I just do not have a party to belong to at the moment.

The final night was mostly about Joe Biden and his life and family. As someone who has watched Biden's political career since my childhood, I have felt he has had a role in some of the pre-Trump negativity that pervades our  politics. Still, I have tremendous respect for how he has endured what he has and I genuinely think he is a decent empathetic person. For many, the short speech given by a courageous 13 year old boy from New Hampshire was one of the highlights of the convention, as he shared how he like a young Biden suffer from a stuttering problem. Biden worked hard to overcome this affliction and for most of his adult life has never shut up, so young Brayden should indeed feel positive about his future. There was just something very moving about this whole piece and how Joe Biden took a genuine interest in caring about this young man and offering to speak to him and help him whatever way he can. That makes me feel very good about Joe Biden the person, certainly in contrast with his opponent.

Then, it was Biden's turn to speak. Exceptions were low, definitely too low in my opinion, because I have never seen Biden give a bad convention speech. He has a gift for doing the Irish-Catholic old school politician thing. What was different is that he was speaking in an empty room with no applause. That is something he probably did a thousand times as a U.S. Senator though, giving impassioned remarks. Some will debate whether Biden was speaking live or if the video was edited. It was billed as live and unless I see anything serious to suggest otherwise, I believe it was. The fact that Republicans are harping on this know that the claim that old Joe was "Sleepy" or "Slow" did not hold water that evening.

Biden read the speech off the teleprompter nearly flawlessly. At first glance, in a speech like this, he did look old, but that impression sort of fades away after a couple of minutes. He clearly was all in for this moment he had been working 33 years towards. At times, he spoke of policies and liberal talking points that felt more like he was forced to say them. Those portions of the speech made me lose interest. Clearly, there would be much of his Administration that I would find bad on a policy front. I also did not recall hearing a word about supporting law enforcement or fighting the War on Terror. That is always disappointing to me, but perhaps not surprising in a Democrat convention.

There is one thing that Biden does perhaps better than anyone in politics though and that is to empathize. As someone who has known pain in his own life, he is just so good at speaking to others who have or who are also going through a sense of loss. Perhaps, he would have made a great Priest (putting aside the fact that he is ok with abortion), but this made for very powerful television in my view. Trump is always about Trump and what others may be able to do for him while Biden clearly cares about the lives of others and wanting to uplift them at the darkest times. That is an important part of being President that we have been missing for too long.  If Biden is President, being the proud partisan Democrat he is, I hope he keeps his promise to be President for all Americans, including those of us who will not vote for him, and yes, including the decent patriotic (but misguided) Trump voters as well.

Conventions typically end with balloon drops and signs and flags being waved and people hooting and hollering with music blaring. I was not sure how this one would end. Democrats found something to do though. The Bidens and the Harrises (I guess Mr. Emhoff can be referred to that way), walked wearing masks through the lobby to outside of the Chase Center. There, a whole bunch of cars were in the parking lot, having watched the speech on a big screen, their blinkers blinking and horns honking, as these socially distant cars had drivers and passengers outside waving the Red, White, and Blue and cheering for Joe Biden. There were also, for the first time in convention finale history, a fireworks show.

On television, the optics were pretty darn good. It looked like a small town or suburban strip mall parking lot. I do not know who got invited to take part, but it came across like "real people" showing up. Watching this on television, it just felt very patriotic and very American, and after all we have gone through the last several months, hopeful. Someone in the DNC or the Biden campaign deserves a raise. Then, they should pay higher taxes because of their raise.

Starting Monday, the Trump Republicans will have their turn. They said they will do more "live" than the Democrats did. There still will not be large crowds though, so it may just seem more chaotic. I hope Scott "Chachi" Baio is ready for a lot of screen time. This will likely be tougher for me to watch than the Democrat convention. A lot of points will be made, accurately, about how the policies of the Democrats might harm America and good people will speak, in support of a bad person, for whatever reason they have given themselves to justify. We will likely also hear fear-mongering and gaslighting like never before. The Trump Republicans are desperate clearly. If they are to win, they know they can only do so by making Biden and his party unacceptable.

This is the second election for me to experience all these mixed emotions. For reasons of principle, I cannot bring myself to vote for Biden, but I happen to like him more on a personal level than Hillary Clinton, and after four years, my long held deep seated despise of Trump is stronger than ever.

So, "it is what it is." Yes, there is danger associated with electing Biden and the party he is beholden to. There is also danger associated with continuing the Trump era. The difference though relates to a quote from Alexander Hamilton that I often think of.

"A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master and deserves one."

At the least, there may be one candidate of the two left, who will not disgrace us.


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