Joe Biden delivered the best speech in a half-century political career on Thursday night. It was interesting to contrast his delivery with Kamala Harris's 24 hours earlier. Both the presidential and vice-presidential nominee spoke to an empty hall. But Biden was forceful, emotional, emphatic, and clear-sighted as he made the case for an effective federal response to the coronavirus and a bipartisan reconstruction of the American polity after decades of increasing polarization. I couldn't help thinking what the world would look like if Biden had disobeyed President Obama and run for president in 2016. It would be a very different place, I imagine.
But that's not where we live. Biden's impressive oratory capped off a four day exercise in sleight of hand. The Democrats spent hours reminding Americans that Joe Biden is a decent and empathetic human being and that the current occupant of the White House has, shall we say, other qualities. But that's about as specific as things got. Address after address, video montage after video montage, mentioned systemic racism and the injustices committed against indigenous people. I watched all of the convention, and the word "China" was not uttered until 10:57 p.m. on Thursday. Nor did any of the Democrats mention the violence that has erupted in America's cities after the protests against the killing of George Floyd. Biden talked about jobs, but the American worker made only guest appearances in the four days of programming.
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If you are a Hispanic contractor or an Obama-Trump voter in the Midwest, was any of this convention relevant to you? No doubt Biden's speech was affecting. But the Democrats were awfully vague about what they plan to do if they find themselves in power next year. Time and again, Americans have elected Democratic governments only to find themselves shocked and appalled two years later. The Democrats campaign as a worker's party, but govern as a Bobo one. It happened to Bill Clinton. It happened to Obama. Is there any reason to think a Biden presidency will be different?
Perhaps so. Biden has spent such a long time in politics. He comes from a generation closer to World War II than today. He might deliver on his promises of lowering the temperature in Washington and restoring a sense of normalcy to the land. But he also leads a party whose liberal base is trending ever left. It's obsessed with issues of identity and redistribution that polarize and fragment this nation. And a large part of the country has decided that politics itself is corrupt, that only disruptive leaders can fight business as usual, that a businessman despised by the elite has a better grasp of the economy than professional politicians.
Expectations were low for this convention. The Democrats had only to present themselves as a viable alternative to the president. Biden had only to prove that he is cognizant and in control. I think we can say the Democrats achieved what they set out to accomplish. But next week the cameras turn to the Republicans. And if there is one thing we know about Donald Trump, it's not that he meets expectations. He defies them.