Thoughts On The Democratic Convention

Given how many pundits were predicting Armageddon at the Republican Convention, it seems odd that the Democratic Convention started in chaos with an email hack that revealed the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was working to—no real surprise here, folks—advance the candidacy of Hillary Clinton at the expense of Bernie Sanders and the Progressive wing of the party. This revelation led to the abrupt and humiliating resignation of the head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. To top it all off, Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight started off the first day of the Convention with a bang, revealing that his latest projections showed Donald Trump now had a better chance than Hillary Clinton of winning the election.

And did I mention that the Bernie Sanders delegates were really, really angry—and plenty loud about it? In addition, many of his supporters were clearly unpersuaded that switching their allegiance to Hillary Clinton was the right thing to do. Michelle Obama gave a great and uplifting speech, and this helped to smooth some of the sharp edges off a rough and distressing start, but the day still was nowhere near the positive and empowering Hillary-fest that her many backers hoped for.

Day 2 just had to be better, and it was. Although the Sanders delegates and partisans were still less than totally mollified, Bernie Sanders showed real class during the roll call of delegates leading up to Hillary Clinton’s nomination. I was, however, less than impressed with Bill Clinton’s smoochy Valentine to his wife—isn’t this the same guy who has been jumping on anything wearing a skirt during much of his marriage? I suppose it was wonderful stagecraft, but it seemed just too smarmy and disconnected from reality to take entirely seriously.

On Day 3 the Trump bomb landed and sucked up all the news coverage again—in this case with his suggestion that Vladimir Putin should release the deleted Hillary Clinton emails that the Russians have most certainly stolen from her utterly bizarre home-brew server. As public policy, it seemed both churlish and ill-advised; as a strategy to draw away news coverage from the Democratic Convention—and once again put Hillary’s email problems back in the public eye—it was sneakily brilliant. Either this guy is utterly insane or he will make his opponents insane—or perhaps both. Either way, Trump once again owned the news cycle, which seems to have been a winning strategy for him heretofore.

In case anyone has not yet noticed, this year is Bizarro World in the realm of politics. On the one side we have Hillary Clinton—flinty, dogged, and methodical in her quest for the White House—and dragging along in her wake a busload of personal and political baggage that calls into serious question both her character and judgement. Facing her on the other side we have a political novice who crushed 16 veteran politicians in the primary and is now running neck and neck with someone who was supposed to waltz into the Oval Office—all this while exhibiting the charm and grace of a schoolyard bully. Anyone who claims to be able to figure out this election is kidding themselves.

Which bring us to Hillary Clinton’s Acceptance Speech on the last day of the Convention, one where she had to sell the idea that all is well—and she is the person to keep it that way—after President Obama teed up the ball, telling the Convention he is “ready to pass the baton” to her so she can carry out another four years of his agenda.

My opinion—and many pundits have come to this same conclusion—is that her speech was a “swing and a miss”.

Only time will tell whether this was strike three, but although it was generally well-crafted and did a fine job checking off utterly predictable appeals to a variety of Democratic-leaning interest groups, I am not certain whether preaching to the converted was such a good idea. Those in the hall certainly ate up the one-liners and criticisms of Donald Trump, but it was broadly an appeal for a staid continuation of the status quo—and this could be fatal for her candidacy in a decidedly non-status quo election cycle.

If we were now enjoying a broad prosperity at home and peace abroad, Hillary Clinton’s message to voters would be far more compelling. However, given the deep economic and social fault lines exposed by the noisy insurgent campaigns of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, I can’t really see this as a message that will resonate beyond those who are already planning to vote for her anyway. Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic is not going to appeal to those hungering for a bold change that will improve their own increasingly fragile lives and save a nation they feel is beset by problems that demand strong action.

Any election is, of course, captive to events far beyond anyone’s control, but I strongly suspect that the outcome of this one is now going to swing on the head-to-head debates between Clinton and Trump—and the competing visions and styles each candidate offers to the voters. Cautious Hillary and her focus groups vs. High Wire Donald and his media circus. It certainly won’t be dull.

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