a blog, newsletter, and kaleidoscope notebook about politics, the media, and culture
by tom bunting, a Real Journalist

This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.

DNC Night One: Searching for Joe Biden

August 18, 2020 12:57 AM
This is some text inside of a div block.

DNC Night One: Searching for Joe Biden

As the first night of the virtual Democratic National Convention unfolded with the intensity and tenor of a PBS telethon, the same theme kept coming up: this will be one of the most difficult elections in modern history to participate in. “We have got to grab our comfortable shoes, put on our masks, pack a brown bag dinner and maybe breakfast too, because we’ve got to be willing to stand in line all night if we have to,” Michelle Obama said in one of the more affecting speeches of the night. The stakes of this election are immensely high. “Under this administration, authoritarianism has taken root in country,” Bernie Sanders said in the previous speech, “I and my family, and many of yours, know the insidious way authoritarianism destroys democracy, decency, and humanity.”

Tonight, the Democrats did a good job painting Trump as a historically dismal President, a legitimate threat to a country that has spent its history trying and failing to live up to the lofty ideals of democracy. It was powerful seeing Sanders, a politician notoriously private with his personal live, invoke his family’s tragic history in the Holocaust to underline the importance of defeating Trump. Kristin Urquiza’s emotionally charged story of losing her father to coronavirus was genuinely infuriating.

The problem is that the Democrats are not simply running against Trump. They are, ostensibly, asking voters to brave the laborious and dangerous process of voting in November not just to send Trump home, but to empower Joe Biden to confront the fallout of Trump’s administration. On this front, they meandered.

We heard a lot about Joe Biden’s character tonight. Very little of it rose above the most blasé characteristics. “Joe ran for the same reasons I did,” Amy Klobachar said early in the night, “to cross the river of our divides, to bring this nation together, to be a president for all America.” Often, it felt like the speakers were setting the standards for the Presidency impossibly low to demonstrate Biden cleared the bar. “I know Joe,” Michelle Obama said, “he is a profoundly decent man guided by faith.” “Joe Biden is what I call American Tough” was the best New York Governor Andrew Cuomo could come up with.

Even stranger, some speakers trying to define Biden reached opposite conclusions. “I’m sure there are Republicans and independents who couldn’t imagine crossing over to support a Democrat,” former Republican governor John Kasich said. “They believe he may turn sharp left and leave them behind. I don’t believe that.” Minutes later, Bernie Sanders tried to rally his supporters by saying he knew Biden “will begin [the] fight on day one” towards building a more equitable and progressive country.

There’s a void at the heart of the Joe Biden candidacy, and it is because the Democratic Party seems terrified to commit to any kind of policy agenda. Again and again tonight, we heard about the dismal state of the country. And again and again, we heard Joe Biden was the man qualified to bring America back to normal. But how? Elected Democrats may have learned the words “racial justice” from the George Floyd protests this summer, but they do not seem to understand what policies could actually achieve that lofty language. If they do, they certainly didn’t outline any steps tonight.

Only Sanders spoke of Biden’s policy agenda at any serious length. And to the nominee’s credit, it is robust and significantly more progressive than what the party supported four years ago. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would change the lives of many struggling Americans, and Biden’s robust climate policies would at least prepare the nation for the devastating climate cataclysm to come. But it is an agenda that the party seems completely uninterested in trying to convey to voters, preferring instead to circle back to the horrors of Trumpism. They are horrors indeed, but haven’t we done this already? Haven’t the Democrats already lost an election by coasting on the idea that the other candidate is so uniquely repulsive that voters will become motivated out of sheer disgust? Haven’t they already learned that you need to inspire people to get them to vote?

There was very little inspiration tonight. The Democrats are promising to take us back to 2016, exactly where they left us before. They are promising a return to a normalcy that was untenable for millions in this country, and they are doing so on the back of a candidate that they cannot singularly or coherently praise. Jim Clyburn, the Man Who Created This All, says that “we know Joe,” but do we really? Tonight’s programming taught us very little about Biden, his concrete values, or how he would save us from the disastrous situation the country finds itself in.

Yes, Joe Biden is not Trump, but that can’t be enough.

More notes

The production on this was really weird. The transitions literally feel like an informercial at points. Why was Eva Longoria hosting? The whole thing just lacked excitement. No massive technical issues though, so that’s good!

The best pre-recorded segment of the night was the Amtrak bit. It was one of the few times Biden’s biography moved beyond cliches.

Obama’s speech was great Sanders was also quite good. They felt like the only speeches that truly succeeded in demonstrating the importance of the election and what Joe Biden will do if he wins.

Most broadcast networks cut away, but what the fuck was that last musical bit? Who came up with that?

Warren’s absence was weird. She’s not scheduled to speak until later in the week, but she was the third most successful candidate and its odd she wasn’t mentioned at all.