FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Notes From the Great Democratic Infomercial

Image Source: Screenshot of PBS cast of the DNC – Free Use

I can’t say I was surprised that the Democrats led off their four-day Zoom summer jamboree with one of the Desperate Housewives acting as the moderator. On the same day there appeared a newspaper picture of former president Bill Clinton getting a back rub from a young blonde while both were waiting to board pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s Lolita Express plane. (As early Democrat Thomas Jefferson liked to say: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”)

Presumably if the Democrats had given the gavel to someone less glamorous than Eva Longoria or someone more eager to ask questions about Social Security funding or the Israel’s deal with the United Arab Emirates, the ratings for the video national convention (already wobbly) would have gone in the tank.

Instead all the moderators and party front men pitched the 2020 election as democracy’s last chance to rescue the republic from the clutches of the Trump gang, and each one (save for AOC) emphasized that no one in the country was more qualified than Joe Biden to lead the United States out of Covid’s wilderness.

During the endless loop of what felt like Chevy ads (featuring mayors, Senators, governors, members of Congress, school kids, grandchildren, wayward Republicans, vets, union members, and all sorts of common men and women), whatever the story of hardship, and there were many, the cure-all was always the presidential election of Joe Biden, who was transformed from hack politician into A Great Tribal Chief, someone who, once in office, would comfort the sick, give hope to the unemployed, bring peace to the Middle East, end terrorism, fight racism, create jobs, fight for civil rights, clean dirty air, and redeem the nation, just as he raised his sons after unimaginable loss.

Over four days, the Democrats screened what amounted to a nine-hour infomercial on the life and times of the Scranton PA altar boy who has been chosen to carry the cross to Washington to save the American soul. —M.S.

Branding the Democrats

Before all the witnessing testimony, there was a branding exercise for the Democratic Party, in which it positioned itself in the pantheon of great American consumer companies, alongside the likes of Google, Southwest Airlines, CVS, and Ford.

The videos reminded me of halftime ads during the Super Bowl, only instead of happy Christmas shoppers at Walmart, Democrats were shown having social media inspiration from the likes of FDR, JFK, and Black Lives Matter.

“We are Democrats and we are ready to lead again…” was the outro line, said much the way that Exxon or BP ads end with the voiceover, “We stand for a renewable future” (cut to gleeful children in a playground…).

Otherwise the Democratic Party has the look and feel of a Johnny Carson Show in the late 1970s, although Biden himself has the aura of a Big Band leader at the Copacabana, getting ready to break into a Charleston.

A Senate Roll Call

Doug Jones, a senator from Alabama, was beamed in from an office somewhere, to make the point that “I’ve known Joe Biden for forty years” and that Joe “gets things done,” although I suspect one of the things Joe will not get done is to help Jones get re-elected to the Senate from Alabama.

Jones is running against a retired football coach (from such SEC schools as Ole Miss and Auburn) who wants to come back as one of Trump’s pulling guards, and in that game Jones is a tackling dummy.

Another Democratic Senate hopeful on the feed was Sara Gideon from Maine, who is running against incumbent Republican Senator Susan Collins, whose great contribution to the republic was to state that while she believed someone raped Christine Blasey Ford she was pretty sure it wasn’t the human kegerator and future justice Brett Kavanaugh.

A Wake for George Floyd

It tells you something about the quality of Democratic speakers that the most eloquent speech of day one came from one of the brothers of George Floyd, the Black man who was murdered by that police officer on the streets of Minneapolis.

Two of the Floyd brothers stood in what felt like their family’s living room, and their calm demeanor and moving remembrance of their brother made that tragedy all the more difficult to fathom, although I am sure that at the Republican convention George will be reincarnated as Willie Horton.

Chainsaw Bernie

I have heard Bernie speak in person about half a dozen times, and while I like what he says, and the conviction of his delivery, I will say that Bernie is also a broken record who says the same thing every time he gets in front of a microphone.

Here, to echo his log cabin affiliations, the DNC choreographers had him standing in front of a wall of chopped firewood, as though Bernie had come to the convention after just setting aside his chain saw.

In a dutiful way, although without much emotion, Bernie repeated the Sanders liturgy and even spread some incense in Biden’s direction, holding out the hope that it wasn’t too late for “my friend Joe” to see light on the road to socialism. (Lottery tickets have better odds.)

Listening to Bernie, I got the impression that he will be happier when this election is over (whoever wins), and he can go back to his rustic state of independence. Party loyalty doesn’t really suit him.

Kasich Heads North by Northwest

The weirdest stage set for a convention address was given to the former Republican governor of Ohio, John Kasich, who somehow scored face time at the Democratic National Convention (presumably in exchange for a job in a Biden administration).

In case you are weak on Republican presidential candidates who flamed out in the 2016 primaries, Kasich ran on a folksy ticket of midwestern optimism, although when you dig into his core beliefs you discover a clone of Richard Nixon and other dark princes of the right.

On Day One of this convention, he was recruited to raise Biden’s big tent of inclusivity, and he appeared on screen standing at a fork in the road in an Ohio corn field (the metaphorical divide for the nation).

He looked like Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) in North by Northwest, about to be crop-dusted in the fields outside Chicago. As was said of the plane in the Hitchcock movie: “That fella’s dusting crops where there ain’t no crops.”

The View of Michelle Obama

I confess I can’t understand the national obsession with the greatness and goodness of Michelle Obama. I was happy, when she was first lady, that she championed the causes of kid’s exercise and nutritional school lunches (I was never really convinced that Reagan’s ketchup was a vegetable). But in the republic of ideas, I don’t see Michelle as one of the Corinthian columns.

Here her Zoom handlers had her aggressively forward on the screen (there was no chance of a cat strolling across her desk), and she lectured the Trump presidency for what sounded like bad taste and manners. (“He’s the wrong president for our country…. He’s just not up to the job.”)

She also spoke in the tones of a dowager on Downton Abbey, complaining that the family manor house had been sold off to a car dealer.

Michelle got a little misty-eyed in whispering that she hates politics—leaving aside that backroom deals paid for her beach house on Martha’s Vineyard and her husband’s $60 million book advance—and implored everyone in almost biblical tones (“we’re one nation under God…”) to vote.

Toward the end of her soliloquy she sounded liked a weary guest on The View confessing that she could be ready for that glass of chardonnay.

On the Waterfront with Chuck Schumer

The emcee for hagiography’s Day Two was TV star Tracee Ellis Ross (Girlfriends, Black-ish) who praised Biden’s “steady, inclusive leadership” and passed the baton to the likes of Sally Yates, Chuck Schumer, John Kerry, Colin Powell, Bill Clinton, Caroline Kennedy, Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, Jill Biden, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who stole the show just because she isn’t collecting social security.

Senator Chuck Schumer, among those lionizing “my friend Joe”, spoke to the convention from the waterfront in Red Hook, Brooklyn, so that the viewers could commune with the egalitarian sentiments of the Statue of Liberty.

Schumer began by saying, “Behind me is a sight I see out of my window every night, the Statue of Liberty,” although like a good New York real estate booster (his one-time benefactor, Donald Trump, is another) Schumer was stretching the truth of his waterfront access, as he lives in Park Slope, some miles to the east.

Bill Clinton Kicks Back on his Sofa

When the DNC kiss cam caught up with former President Bill Clinton at his suburban New York home, he was seated on a sofa in his living room, although such was his cadaverous appearance that the DNC production room saw fit to add the words “Live Chappaqua, NY” to the upper right-hand corner of the TV screen, I guess so that viewers would be reassured that he was still breathing.

I cannot imagine that Clinton appreciated the lines he was asked to deliver during the national Zoom chat, as it was left to Bill—perhaps with a dollop of Shakespearean irony from some irreverent Democratic advisor?—to ridicule Trump’s Animal White House. Bill said:

At a time like this, the Oval Office should be a command center. Instead, it’s a storm center. There’s only chaos. Just one thing never changes—his determination to deny responsibility and shift the blame. The buck never stops there.

Imagine John Blutarsky delivering a lecture at Faber College on etiquette, although the Clintons can console themselves that while the Obamas appointed one member of the Democratic ticket (Biden) they got to select the vice-presidential nominee (Kamala Harris) who several years ago had received the Clinton seal of approval.

Will we ever be done with the Clintons? I suspect not. As Bluto said: “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!”

AOC’s Ninety Seconds of Wonder

Clearly Nancy Pelosi’s parental control had a hand in limiting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s screen time to 90 seconds, but the member of Congress from the Bronx and Queens made the most of her spot by never mentioning Biden and using her time to second the nomination of “Bernard Sanders” for president.

AOC did mention the lack of basic health care for many Americans, although in the four days of the Democratic convention no one ever bridged the gap between Obama’s Affordable Care Act (once billed as “health care for all”) and the some 80 million Americans (it’s the figure that Sanders and Warren use in their speeches) who lack decent health insurance.

An Express Elevator to the Nomination

I realize that there was a common-man touch in having a Black elevator operator (ironically she works at the New York Times) place Joe Biden’s name in nomination for president.

Maybe it’s to Biden’s credit that at the Times he formed a better bond with an elevator operator than he did with the editorial board (in the primaries it endorsed both Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar).

At the same time Biden owes his nomination to the marked cards of Democratic power brokers (not elevator operators), who decided that Bernie, with all his talk about universal health care and cuts to military spending, was taking things “a little too far…”

Caroline Kennedy Collects Some More IOUs

The Democrats wheeled out two members of the Kennedy clan, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and her son Jack, who repeated the Biden catechism while standing in front of some Cape Cod grey shingles—the siding of choice in Hyannis Port and Camelot.

Caroline dropped in a humble brag to let us know that she had “helped to pick Joe” as Barack Obama’s running mate in 2008 (in the Kennedy world, the favor bank is about the size of J.P. Morgan).

It led to the slightly awkward passage when she talk about how she had “admired Joe since she was a Senate intern in 1974” (not exactly what you want on your CV these days) when he was pals with “Uncle Teddy”.

At that moment the Dems flashed up on the screen a flushed picture of the two womanizers-in-arms, attending to state affairs.

The Carters Speak Gravely

For a while I appreciated hearing the disembodied voices of Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter, who spoke with only place-holding photographs flipping on screen (a bit like those pictures used on cable TV to market life insurance coverage, which show sincere older couples happy with their caregivers) .

Yes, the Carters did sound as though they were speaking from the grave, but I admired the resonance of integrity in their voices, until Jimmy said Joe was “the right person for this moment in our nation’s history,” and I remembered how Jimmy’s erratic judgement in crises brought down his presidency.

Good Soldiers Powell and Kerry

To make the point that Biden will be a rock of stability in foreign affairs and a beacon of light in a world of shadows, the Democrats summoned two more ghosts from the American past, former secretaries of state Colin Powell and John Kerry, perhaps on the off chance that Biden wants another crack at winning either the Vietnam or Iraq wars.

Powell was on display as a lapsed Republican, a Bush family retainer who has seen the light on Trump and his deferment bone spurs.

Powell talked about growing up in the Bronx, his faith in the American dream, and his love of military service, and he had the good manners not to mention that he counseled Obama and Biden to stay out of Afghanistan, something they ignored.

I suspect the fix is already in for John Kerry to return as Biden’s secretary of state, as Kerry was with “my friend Joe” in Iowa and in other primary fields of dreams.

To hear Kerry tell the stories, the foreign policies of the “Obama-Biden administration” were the stuff of legends, with wins over Iran, ISIS, climate change, Ebola, etc. He said Joe’s “moral compass has always pointed in the right direction,” although I defy anyone to name three Biden foreign policy initiatives.

To the DNC Zoomers Kerry said reverentially: “Only Joe Biden can make America lead like America again,” although what I heard is: “Only Joe Biden will bring back John Kerry.”

Un-Democratic Primaries

Between some of the canned speeches, the Democrats piped in state delegations so that the party could formally count the votes and nominate Biden to run for president.

The delegation from Delaware cast its votes (remotely) for Biden from a dark platform at Amtrak’s Wilmington station while other states chose culturally sensitive backdrops from which to vote “for the next president of the United States, Joe Biden.”

Left out of the roll call feed was just how un-Democratic the party has become. In effect, Joe Biden wrapped up the nomination by winning 262,336 votes in the South Carolina primary (that’s .08 percent of the US population, for those keeping score at home).

After that, and before Super Tuesday, the Democratic elders (led by Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer) chased Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, and Tom Steyer (among others) from the race, assuring the investiture of Joe Biden, who had been left for dead after the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire.

In a national primary of Democrats, using ranked choice voting (which assures a majority to the winning candidate), I suspect Biden would have finished fourth or fifth, but he was saved by divine intervention (Obama’s). He clearly said to some of the remaining candidates: “We know where you live…”

Library Joe

After the presidential nomination was confirmed, the cameras cut to an obviously happy Biden, who, in the presence of a few balloons (think of a kid’s birthday party), was killing time in the library of Brandywine High School while his wife was taping a speech in her old classroom.

Maybe Biden used the down time to check out a book, along the lines of The Internet Made Easy?

I suspect Biden is someone who has published (I didn’t say written) more books than he has read in the last fifty years. He just doesn’t look like a reader to me, although I could well imagine him dipping into a Tom Clancy thriller on a campaign plane.

On reading, I tend to agree with Lemony Snicket who said: “Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”

Here’s the irony of Biden’s candidacy. There are only two jobs open to him in America: he can be president or he can be a greeter at The Home Depot.

Not many companies are hiring 77-year-old CEOs, and Little League teams and Uber tend to shy away from those publicly accused of sexual impropriety, whatever the merits of the case.

Jill Biden Goes Back to School

I have no doubt that Jill Biden loves her classes, students, and classrooms, and that she is a good teacher, but the media reviews of her Joe Biden lesson plan (“heartfelt…moving….compassionate….stirring…”) strike me as grade inflation.

As an English teacher, Jill surely knows the difference between bathos and pathos, although in reaching for the latter (with stories of personal and national tragedies), she delivered the former.

She said: “Yes, so many classrooms are quiet right now. The playgrounds are still. But if you listen closely, you can hear the sparks of change in the air…. And with Joe as president, these classrooms will ring out with laughter and possibility once again.”

Why in a functioning democracy does anyone need the spouse of a candidate to drone on in primetime about what a wonderful man or woman he or she is?

Haven’t we by now learned the lesson that, on average, political marriages are somewhat less than the average? (See Reade, Tara, “Come on, man, I heard you liked me.”)

Edith Galt Biden

To me Jill Biden is interesting as potentially the future Edith Galt of American politics.

As you may recall, the said Mrs. Galt, a Washington jeweler, became the second Mrs. Woodrow Wilson in 1915, and when the president became ill after the U.S. rejection of the League of Nations (he collapsed after a national speaking tour undertaken to persuade the country to join the alliance), Edith Galt Wilson ran the country, as a proxy for her incapacitated husband.

There’s no way of knowing, if Joe is elected president, whether he would survive a first or second term, but the chances of some medical crisis in the White House would seem to go up if and when the country were to install a 78-year-old man (with pre-existing conditions) as president.

Judging from her class lecture, Jill Biden would be fine as a substitute, and perhaps more capable than others on the national tickets in dealing with opposition spitballs.

I also came away from her class convinced that the most complicated relationship of a Biden presidency might well be between Jill Biden and Kamala Harris, who doesn’t strike me as a teacher’s aide.

Elizabeth Warren Warms Up Day Three

Elizabeth Warren was a warm-up band on Day Three, and, as with Jill Biden, the Democratic impresarios had her talk to an empty classroom (where before shutting down in March, the pre-K kids had the good sense to leave behind blocks spelling out “B L M”).

Warren came out of the race pretty much hated by everyone, although she ran an articulate and dignified campaign, which included her Golden Retriever Bailey.

The hard Democratic Left decided Warren had sold her soul to corporate moderation while the patriarchy came the conclusion that she was coming for their BMWs.

Actually she had only two flaws in her campaign: one was that her views were identical to those of Bernie Sanders, and he was the One True Great Believer.

The second was that she spoke in a breathless staccato voice, sounding more like a pilates instructor with car problems than a Harvard law professor.

Warren’s best issues were economic equality and health care—both in short supply these days—but only a handful of Democrats bought into her fall line.

Here in Springfield, Massachusetts (better optics than some charter school in Cambridge?), Warren reprised the family role of schoolmarm and put Trump in the corner for his Covid-19 inaction (“he failed miserably”).

She also hopped on the Biden peace train and tried to convince us that Joe has “some really good plans.” I am sure news of those plans came as something of a surprise to Biden.

“Madame Speaker” Pelosi

During the infomercial binge broadcast, the most bizarre sequence was a video montage that I am sure the producers referred to as “Madame Speaker,” in which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi morphs into an action power ranger.

Nancy’s MTV moment came before her formal, here-I-am-in-a-white-dress speech.

The sequence starts slowly, with Nancy as the mother of five transitioning from housewife to backroom pol. All of a sudden Nancy is striding into the camera, at the head of a rock phalanx, as if one of the Spice Girls—although in the highlight reel of “Madame Speaker” there are also touches of the Devil Wearing Prada.

Under a thumping soundtrack we are treated to a quick-cutting montage of magazine covers featuring Pelosi and reminded how the “power of the Speaker is awesome.” (So awesome, in fact, that if you were menaced by someone wielding a still-legal assault rifle and asked to name one Pelosi achievement in her last six years of running the House, you would come up empty.)

But wait, there is more: after film clips of Nancy finger-wagging Trump in the White House and storming out of it with Chuck Schumer (maybe they were taking his marbles and going home?), we are shown Nancy in a combat zone, wearing shades and getting off an attack helicopter surrounded by paratroops.

This time Madame Speaker is off to war, perhaps after mumbling (her voice is pretty tremulous) the words of John Rambo: “Sir, do we get to win this time?”

Hillary Clinton is Served Up Some Crow

I felt a little sorry (not an easy emotion when contemplating the Clintons) for Hillary being asked to go before the camera and recite lines scripted by others about having lost in 2016 to Donald Trump. (“Remember: Joe and Kamala can win 3 million more votes and still lose. Take. It. From. Me.”)

Hillary was decked out in the obligatory white suffragette dress and seated on Bill’s Chappaqua (Live!) sofa, and she was asked to speak in calm, modulated tones about the greatness of Joe Biden when I am sure what she wanted to say was, “Hey, America, I gave you a blanket of virgin snow, and you pissed on it.”

The signature line in Hillary’s speech was: “I wish Donald Trump knew how to be a president,” which suggests that he never bothered to read the instruction manual that the Clintons and Obamas worked on together and left behind in some drawer in the Oval Office.

In the draft of the speech released to the press, that line was written as: “I wish Donald Trump had been a better president.” Is it possible that Hillary is nervous speaking about Trump in the past tense? Or do the Clintons still feel proprietary about the Oval Office, having departed with so much of its loot?

Gabby Giffords Finds Her (Scripted) Words

It would be almost impossible for anyone not to admire the courage and fortitude of former member of Congress, and the victim of a mall shooting attack, Gabrielle Giffords in addressing the convention in her surgically reconstructed voice.

Giffords is a brave woman. I found her message compelling, especially when she said: “Words once came easily, today I struggle to speak. But I have not lost my voice. America needs all of us to speak out, even when you have to fight to find the words.”

Unfortunately, she was delivered up to the cameras not just as a victim of America’s gun fetish, but as a party prop. She wasn’t on stage to express her views about suffering or gun legislation but to recite the litany that the answer to all of the country’s problems is to elect Joe Biden as president.  (“We must elect Joe Biden. He was there for me, he’ll be there for you too.”)

Be great if it were true, Gabby, but Biden will duck and weave on guns (as with so many other issues) so that, depending on his audience, he will sound either like Inspector Harry Callahan (“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’…”) or filmmaker Michael Moore (“We should be licensing everybody with a gun…”).

A truism of the Democratic party (unchanged in thirty years, as this convention makes clear with its time-warp parade of Clintons, Bidens, and Obamas) is that it lost the Congress in 1994 after Bill Clinton pushed through the ban on assault rifles, which explains why Obama ran in 2008 by genuflecting to the Second Amendment and why, after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, we only got crocodile tears from Obama and Biden. I’m not surprised that Gabby could not find those words.

Obama World

The reviews of the Obama speech to the Zoom DNC convention made it sound like Lincoln at Gettysburg, or maybe Churchill on the beaches during the Battle of Britain, so when I finally roused myself to watch it, I was surprised to tune into something as banal as the soundtrack of Disney’s Hall of the Presidents.

The speech was delivered in front of a display cabinet in Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution. Obama stood in front of the museum words, “Writing the Constitution,” with a portrait of James Madison looking over his shoulder. From there Obama addressed the nation as if it were a third grade class on a field trip to colonial Philadelphia.

Before screening his homily on democracy and the need to vote (“You can give our democracy new meaning…”), DNC videographers aired a trailer that showed Obama in the White House awarding Joe Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a merit badge for the smart set.

Obama made a big deal of the fact that Biden’s medal came “with distinction,” an honor of late only reserved for the likes of Colin Powell, Ronald Reagan, and the Pope, although earlier secretaries of state and defense, Dean Rusk and Donald Rumsfeld, both got their medals “with distinction.” (The medal Obama gave to Ellen DeGeneres was without.)

What is it about people in government that they feel such a need to hand each other so many awards? Aren’t the helicopters, private planes, free lunches, lifetime pensions, subsequent board memberships and speaking fees, golfing vacations, ceremonial palace guards, saluting Marines, presidential libraries, and million dollar book advances enough of an ego stroke?

James Madison, for one, would despair at this transformation of ordinary government officials into an aristocratic class, with ribbons around their necks and bended knees in their politics.

The Barack Obama Show

Obama’s twenty-minute address to the convention was largely given over to platitudes (“Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before…”), and the hero of the tale was Obama himself, who, by inference, did everything in office that Trump has not.

Hence the reason we need to install the soon-to-be octogenarian Joe Biden in office—so that we can be reminded of Obama’s transcendence.

Obama also spoke in the tones of a petulant academic, as if arguing against tenure for some voluble colleague. He said of Trump: “For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

Trump may be a sociopathic liar who abuses women and his oath of office, but he’s free to govern in any style that he pleases (even in bed with cheeseburger wrappers on the floor) and he’s not the first president who turned the presidency into a sit-com, something that goes back at least to Ronald Reagan (a genial front man for a variety show owned by the Fortune 500 and a few Vegas casinos).

If Clinton’s presidency was a prequel for Desperate Housewives, W’s was a remake of Gunsmoke, Even Obama himself conceived of the office as something between The Cosby Show (less all the necrophilia) and some daytime talk show.

Why do we keep calling Obama “a brilliant politician” if his succession plan for the country consisted of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden?

Kamala Harris Accepts with a Selfie

Before Senator Kamala Harris gave her acceptance speech, in a weirdly empty hotel ballroom (it looked like an odd cross between the starship Enterprise and a roller rink done over with velvet), she gave a little pep talk from a production supply room, as if she were about ready to guest-host Saturday Night Live (“Hey, everybody, it’s me, Kamala…).

Whatever Harris said in her acceptance speech was instantly forgettable. (It’s a good thing that in Trump’s recent mental acuity test they didn’t ask him, five minutes after it was done, what Kamala had said.)

The gist of her address was this: “Because I am a success, the country will be a success.” She didn’t waste anyone’s time talking about the Israeli annexations in the West Bank, fracking, Flint’s water supply, bankrupt state budgets, virus vaccines, or soil erosion. The speech was about the immaculate conception of self.

Day Four Dawns on Cory Booker, Mayor Pete, Tammy Duckworth, and Gavin Newsome

Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey led off the hit parade. I am sure he spoke eloquently and in a heartfelt manner about “his friend Joe,” but I remembered nothing of Cory’s tribute and when I went back to my notes, all I had written down were the words “Cory Booker.” The rest of the page was blank. Nor could I quite muster the enthusiasm to watch a replay of what he had said.

A grinning California Governor Gavin Newsome was patched in from a trench near a California forest fire, which I guess, from the headlines, could be almost anywhere in the state, even downtown LA.

At least he made the connection between the wildfires and climate change, and Trump’s climate denials, but instead of dwelling on the details of the crisis the oddly giddy Newsome switched gears to gush some over Biden. He said, breathlessly:

I couldn’t help myself on my way to one of our relief centers, one of our evacuation centers, just to jump out of the car and just express my deep reverence, my admiration to Joe Biden, to Kamala Harris, California’s own. To their faith, their devotion, their constancy to their commitment, not just to the environment, but to the Commonwealth. To our kids, our kids’ kids, our grandkids to our legacy…

Other senators, mayors, and representatives followed Newsome’s Tinder ad. I liked Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, for her direct manner of speaking, although her words seemed to accept America having to fight permanent wars.

As always, Mayor Pete Buttigieg sang a song of himself, while the upbeat Andrew Yang tried to convince himself that Biden (and his flip phone—it’s in all the videos) was best placed to lead the United States into the technological brave new world.

Jon Meacham’s Televangelism

Somehow the historian Jon Meacham bought himself about five minutes of air time during the Zoom convention. Last time we heard from Jon, he was serving as George Herbert Walker Bush’s court historian.

For a moment I thought maybe Meacham’s mission was to persuade the conventioneers that Martin Luther King Jr. was a great Democrat (actually, King had little time for either major party).

Meacham’s role turned out to be that of a hands-on-the-radio faith healer—“If we live in hope, we open our souls to the power of love…”—who was preaching a gospel that Biden is the spiritual heir to the likes of FDR and JFK (for the moment Jefferson and Wilson are banished from the Democratic temple for their racial indiscretions).

A little weepy, Meacham said: “That’s the issue of this election, the choice that goes straight to the nature of the soul of America…. It requires we, the people, and it requires a president of the United States with empathy, grace, a big heart and an open mind. Joe Biden will be such a president.” I thought historians only came out for the truth? Since when have they been shills?

You can be sure that this endorsement was the price that Meacham had to pay for consideration as the forthcoming Biden administration’s in-house historian, the over-the-shoulder (and sycophantic) role that Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. played for John F. Kennedy.

Failed Candidate Hollywood Squares

About the only unscripted moment of the four days was when Cory Booker convened a little primetime game show made of up of also-ran Democratic candidates in 2020.

With each candidate shown in a Zoom box, it had the feel of Hollywood Squares, although in place of Paul Lynde we got the equally goofy Beto O’Rourke.

Bernie emphasized Biden’s only competitive advantage: he’s not Trump. And for a brief moment I thought maybe the candidates might speak from the heart about running for president in 2020.

Perhaps, as Seinfeld’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus was the evening’s moderator, there might even be what during Festivus is called an airing of grievances?

Order was restored when several of the losing candidates recalled divine interventions that Saint Joe had visited upon their sinful lives.

(If you have had a sadness or tragedy in your life, and Joe hasn’t given you his cellphone number or called yours, you’re not really trying.)

Mike Bloomberg Forecloses on Trump

Perhaps having been released from a #MeToo re-education camp, Mayor Michael Bloomberg (D-Billions) was the last speaker before Biden’s (nearly endless) acceptance speech.

As he should, Mike belittled Trump as a failed businessman:

Trump says we should vote for him because he’s a great businessman. Really? He drove his companies into bankruptcy, six times, always leaving behind customers and contractors who were cheated and swindled and stopped doing business with him. Well, this time, all of us are paying the price and we can’t let him get away with it again.

During his brief campaign, Bloomberg came across an undertaker’s assistant, and here he was a warm-up act on a slow convention night.

At least he made the point that Trump has reduced the country to yet another failed Atlantic City casino.

Beau Biden Ascends on the Fourth Day

Before Biden’s acceptance speech (“a path of hope and light…”), there was a newsreel of the candidate’s formative years, the video equivalent of the Lives of the Saints: Joe overcoming his stutter, Joe lifeguarding at a Black public pool, Joe as a public defender, Joe surviving his father’s unemployment, Joe losing his wife and daughter to tragedy, Joe honoring his sister and family, Joe finding salvation in public service, Joe as the senator from Amtrak, and Joe in Obama’s Nirvana.

Biden’s greatest video hits, plus an earlier tribute to his son Beau, who died in 2015, at least shows how the campaign plans to deal with the potential embarrassment that is his other son, Hunter.

In case you’ve forgotten, in 2019 Donald Trump was impeached for digging up dirt in Ukraine over Hunter Biden’s million-dollar directorship for Burisma, a dodgy Ukrainian oil and gas company, then under a corruption investigation.

Burisma paid Hunter about a million dollars in exchange for doing almost nothing, as at the same time Joe was Obama’s vice-president and co-ordinating American policy in Ukraine, which included pushing to sack the prosecutor who was looking into Burisma.

Trump shook down Ukraine so that it would investigate Hunter’s no-show directorship to reveal, he hoped, Joe Biden’s influence-peddling on behalf of his son’s client.

In Ukraine, both Trump and the Bidens committed major improprieties, and in non-virus times they could well become election issues.

The Democrats’ way out of this morass, should it come back to haunt the candidate during the campaign, is to beatify Beau and merge his identity with that of his surviving brother, Hunter. And then, on top of all this confusion, to play up how the grieving Joe Biden dealt with the tragedy of losing his wife (and the boys’ mother) in a 1972 car accident.

Not even the shit-stirring Trump will want to untangle Hunter from Beau and the halo of compassion that surrounds how the story how Joe Biden coping with his earlier family tragedy, which is at the core of his campaign identity.

Biden is now the candidate of empathy and understanding, someone capable of nurturing the grieving Covid nation much as he helped his struggling young sons, including Hunter.

Even more convenient is that the Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris was a close friend to Beau Biden (both were their state’s attorney general during the 2008 financial crisis). I am sure she can be counted on, in a prosecutorial style, to keep Trump and the Republicans away from Comrade Hunter and the taints of scandal.

Joe Biden Accepts Deification

On Day Four it took almost two hours of filler and pre-recorded homilies about Father Joe before he was beamed up to the virtual Democratic cathedral and, in accepting the nomination, delivered his benediction and blessings for the lives and soul of the nation.

I know you have heard that Biden made “the speech of his life,” and maybe he did, as he hit the high notes of inclusiveness (“hope over fear…. It’s about winning the heart, and, yes, the soul of America…”) in promising, during his presidency, to end the racial divide, retool the economy, eradicate climate change, lower the cost of prescription drugs, defend Social Security, create five million new manufacturing jobs, reduce student debt, provide better health care, defeat the virus, stand tall against dictators, soak the rich, equalize pay for women, end discrimination, improve education, defend our troops, and stand tall against terrorism.

In the last fifty years, I have been hearing similar speeches from the presidential candidates of both parties, but for whatever reason, after four or eight years, most presidents leave office in disgrace, as will be the case with Trump.

A large part of the problem is that to get elected, candidates have to reinvent themselves as Olympian gods, part of a race that has slipped the bonds of earthly gravity, capable of feats worthy of King Arthur or St. Francis of Assisi.

In these four days of the Democratic national convention, the videographers of the Democratic party turned Biden into yet another celluloid saint, someone who gives his cell phone number to strangers, visits emergency rooms in the dead of night to comfort the afflicted, reaches out to stuttering school boys, and spends his days and nights working to cure hunger, cancer, and injustice.

Who wouldn’t want this Biden mounted on his charger, prepared to slay the Trump dragon, or benevolently running the country from being the curtains in Oz, despite Dorothy’s exchange with the Wizard (“I think you are a very bad man,” said Dorothy. “Oh, no, my dear; I’m really a very good man, but I’m a very bad Wizard…”)

The problem is that American federalism wasn’t designed as a prime-time monarchy to be operated from the top down; it was put together as a democracy that works best, in the hands of good men and women, from the bottom up.

Perhaps Biden is a good man? I have no way of knowing. But I can tell you this: American presidents, as they are currently schemed and packaged into office, make very bad Wizards.

Matthew Stevenson is the author of many books, including Reading the Rails and Appalachia Spring. His most recent book, published this summer, is The Revolution as a Dinner Party, about China throughout its turbulent twentieth century.  

FacebookTwitterRedditEmail