The Scattershot Convention

Democrats Hold Unprecedented Virtual Convention From Milwaukee
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August 17, 2020

The first night of the virtual Democratic convention was a scattershot event. Topics ran the gamut from coronavirus to systemic racism to the Post Office. Speakers ranged from Meg Whitman to Gretchen Whitmer to Bernie Sanders. Beto O'Rourke and Cory Booker and Tom Steyer and the other 2020 also-rans combined for the same amount of time as Andrew Cuomo. Policy specifics were light, though Kamala Harris did offhandedly mention that she was "excited" Biden supports the "Domestic Workers Bill of Rights."

The theme was unity. "We the People" was a constant refrain. Biden wants to assemble the largest possible coalition, including both John Kasich Republicans and Sanders progressives. The micro-targeted messages had little in common. Kasich reassured independents and Republicans that Biden won't go far left as president because that sort of ideological swerve isn't in his character. Within the hour, Sanders was telling his supporters that they had moved the country in a "bold new direction" that would continue under Biden. Unlike Kasich, Sanders offered concrete examples of issues where Biden has moved closer to his position.

What unifies this coalition is antipathy to President Trump. There are a million reasons voters oppose Trump, and the Democratic convention programmers seem determined to mention them all. It might work as a campaign strategy but is sure to run into trouble should Biden find himself president next January.

Nearly two hours of ping-ponging between conservatives and democratic socialists, from Democrats to Republicans, from Bruce Springsteen to Amtrak was merely a prelude for Michelle Obama's speech. She is clearly the Democrats' best voice, and her address reiterated and expanded on the arguments she made in her stemwinder to the Democratic convention four years ago. One can only imagine what the response would have been like from a live audience.

One also couldn't help feeling a sense of déjà vu. And not just because Obama often referred to her earlier speech. This convention may be unique, but the lines coming from the speakers echoed the attacks on President Trump in 2016. Democratic strategist Stanley Greenberg faulted that gathering for emphasizing progressive social and cultural issues over economic policy for the working class. As the first night of the DNC draws to a close, I wonder if the Democrats aren't making the same mistake.