A Tale of Two Convention Weeks: Biden Acceptable Under the Circumstances?

by on August 24, 2020 · 2 comments

in Election, Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

As we gear up for the horror show that will be the Republican National Convention, a few thoughts on last week’s Democratic affair.

Those of us who, like me, think it is imperative to defeat Donald Trump in the upcoming election, breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday when Joe Biden delivered the speech of his lifetime and signaled that he might just see himself as a candidate on the cusp of a New Deal moment.  Clearly, he is right to view the COVID-19 crisis and the subsequent economic disaster as a moment of profound threat and opportunity.

Biden is similarly spot on to point to the climate crisis and what we need to do to address it as deeply linked to creating a better economy in the wake of this dark moment.  And he and his fellow Democrats are also correct to underline the threat that Trump poses to democracy as we know it. The embrace of the nationwide protest movement for racial justice was encouraging as well.  In sum, if you choose to be optimistic, you can squint and see a way forward to build an electoral coalition that might open the door for broader progressive change in the coming years.

In this way, Biden’s speech along with the key addresses by Harris, Obama, and Sanders hit the right notes and framed the choice in appropriately stark terms.  Biden and the Democrats met the moment and gave those of us for whom Biden was not even a 3rd choice some reason for hope.  At worst, they appeared to do no harm.

All of that said, there were still a good number of moments last week that made some of us throw up in our mouths a little during the convention and subsequently might dampen the enthusiasm of progressives, particularly those with an awareness of the recent, deeply underwhelming  history of the national Democratic party.  A brief list of the lowlights during and just after the convention includes:

1)      The pathetic embrace of Republicans against Trump.  The fantasy that significant numbers of Republicans will suddenly come to their senses and become nice suburban moderates persists despite all the historical evidence. The Trump administration, contrary to this fantasy, is not a strange aberration but the pure product of decades of drift to the hard right in the Republican Party.

All Trump has done is turn dog whistles into shouts, but the racism, reactionary culture wars, and embrace of fascistic corporate nationalism have been there in plain sight forever, no matter how many George W. Bush aides get hired on MSNBC.  Spare me.  Better to mobilize the base.

2)      Giving Michael Bloomberg the prime spot before Biden’s acceptance speech reeks of a party for sale.  It signals that the Democrats are still unapologetically wedded to the billionaire boys club and all the anti-democratic tendencies that come with the corrupting influence of the ocean of money they have brought into our politics.  Bloomberg et al are simply the other side of the Koch brothers coin.

As Anand Giridharadas deftly illustrates in his brilliant book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, the new Robber Barons are not the solution to our problems, they ARE the problem.  If you are prone to thinking that American democracy has irredeemably slid into plutocracy, this didn’t do much to change your mind.

3)      The marginalization of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to a minute or so while Bill Clinton (what ever happened to #MeToo?) and a parade of white Republicans all got much more time was a not-too-subtle signal that young progressives who want bolder policy and more transformational change are not particularly welcome in the party.  Perhaps folks in the mold of AOC think they need to kick down the door because they DO need to kick down the door.

It seems as if the only young Democrat the party establishment liked last week was Joe Kennedy, who Nancy Pelosi endorsed over her old friend Ed Markey in the race for Senate in Massachusetts. Why? Markey just so happens to be one of the co-sponsors of the Green New Deal with AOC.  This move by the Speaker, along with the Democrats’ refusal to unambiguously call for a full transition away from fossil fuels is cause for well-founded skepticism about whether they’ll be up for the task of battling the existential threats we face.

4)      The neutering of the case for real economic populism.  Trump’s populist anger is a pathetic hoax, but the Democrats just didn’t seem to have it in them anymore to take the fight to the greedy rich in an effective manner.  In the midst of a moment where the rich are obscenely raking it in while millions suffer and a host of deadly inequities are being laid bare by COVID-19, saying you don’t want to “punish” the wealthy is tone deaf unless your audience is more Wall Street than Main Street.  Whiffing on this issue is, in fact, what helped give us Trump in the first place.  It’s unlikely to work again, but why give him another opening?

5)      When one of Biden’s key advisors says the deficit will limit big spending if he is elected it undermines the hopeful case for a Biden Presidency.  I get that neoliberalism is the pledged faith of corporate Democrats, but stale, recycled austerity politics prettied up with liberal window dressing is not what the moment calls for, and, more importantly, it’s political malpractice.  #VoteforUsWeWon’tDoMuchtoHelp.

Thus, it was a tale of two convention weeks, one that gave Trump-weary progressives reason to dream that our dire circumstances might give rise to a historic moment of opportunity, and one that inspired skepticism that the establishment of the Democratic party still talks hope but walks corporate.

In sum, getting “back to normal” would be a huge mistake.  Given all this, I guess I’m on board with the Daily Show clip going around social media: “Joe Biden, Acceptable Under the Circumstances” . Win this fight against Trump, and then push to make Biden and company do things they probably don’t really want to do.

C’mon, man!




{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

retired botanist August 24, 2020 at 2:59 pm

Couldn’t agree more!! Those of us on the far end of the liberal spectrum, including all the ‘Bernie bros’ (so am I a ‘Warren gal’ ? :), have swallowed hard to support a party that we don’t feel is all that different from the GOP, in the interest of removing at least some of the far right reactionary faction (not just the baby in the WH) that swamps our Govt and threatens any hope of restoring democracy.
Make no mistake, there cannot be a “return to normalcy” if that’s what we had going on before Trump. If the Democratic party doesn’t fully embrace the new wave and generation of global, environmental and social justice thinkers, then it will definitely be “doors broken down” next time.
Clinton (both of them) and Bloomberg added ZERO….surprised they didn’t throw Bezos in for a chaser of billionaireism…


Frances O'Neill Zimmerman August 24, 2020 at 11:03 pm

Even my 16-year-old grandson was worried that Joe Biden was going to flub his Big Speech, but he managed to carry it off without a single gaffe. Good job, Joey! I was struck by his ability to produce an electric winning smile while addressing the void. He really IS a seasoned pol.

The roll-call of states was neat — great squash-blossom necklace on the Native Pueblan Congresswoman from New Mexico; music was good; Bernie was brilliant; Joe’s granddaughters were charming; serious ex-Surgeon-General Vivek Murthy should come back to service; women emcees were excellent; but stuttering boy was valiant though probably exploited; Latinos were shockingly MIA while Black matters dominated the program over four nights.

I think the old-school Democratic National Committee has a tough sell in its old-seeming old-school Joe Biden. Even with the Pandemic, the economy and the racial reckoning, Biden only leads Trump by 10 points or less. And the televised debates still lie ahead.


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