American politics is exhausting.
As the DNC comes to its conclusion, I am struck that the election itself is still four months away. Four months! I will have my eyebrows threaded no fewer than seven times before then. While Americans wait to vote, many new “revelations” will have lost their shine, and the furrows in which our conceptions have taken root will be even more established. In the UK, where I’m from, the election campaign cycle is a tighter-run affair. The overwhelming feeling here? Tiredness, but with a narrow sliver of anticipation woven into the fabric.
All week, there has been a coiled feeling to the activities at the DNC. The Bernie supporters had a lot to say and were unapologetic in expressing their views. As the speakers read their speeches there were muted and short-lived chants of “No TPP!” and “Ber-nie!” from the delegate floor. On Wednesday night, during Barack Obama’s barnstorming speech, I was briefly in the corridors in the Wells Fargo Centre. Two men, wearing “BERN DNC” T-shirts (designed in the black, red, and white of RUN DMC) with a banner raised between them, walked around the arena’s halls, chanting their opposition to Obama’s support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In the crush on the way out of the arena, at the AT&T subway station, a man walked to the express northbound train, carrying a “SILENCED BY THE DNC” sign, with tape over his mouth. The chanting and protesting will continue.
The ride is not as smooth as it used to be.
On Wednesday night, a trio of nice men (on a day that had drawn up a very diverse docket) came up on stage and did more selling. The reception for Hillary Clinton has warmed slightly, but the temperature is still not exactly tropical, despite the Philly heat. So, on came Joe Biden with his jocular patriotic grandpa persona, saying, “Barack and I married way up,” to the laughing delight of the audience. “Way up.” And then he gave us a narrative of Hillary Clinton as a champion for universal health care, about her understanding of grinding student debt, and even lightly touched on what it would mean to girls and women to have a female American president. And then he went in on Trump, sliding in the word “malarkey” for people who enjoy words like that.
Tim Kaine, who has had the cloud of anticipation above his own head too, was next and settled nicely into the “dad” groove — at times his cadence matched my own father’s. If the election is all about America seeking its ideal father, as I have read in some places, then the choices are very stark. Do you want Punisher Dad, who not only believes in the bogeyman, but tells you he can vanquish him, for your safety? Or are you more a fan of Talking Cure Dad, whose calm demeanour and penchant for dialogue is reassuring in its own way? (Both Trump and Kaine do impressions, of varying quality.)
Was hope the correct message for the Democrats to be sending?
With no shade to Biden or Kaine, Obama the rock star was the night’s big draw. As is expected, he killed it. What else was he going to do? Barack Obama in the flesh is loose on stage, more so than the television camera capture. He’s seasoned at this game now – and he was the most glowing platter on which to serve us Hillary. His full-bodied endorsement came with swipes at the other guy, the “homegrown demagogue” (Punisher Dad, remember?), a semi-spiky request that people not boo, but also vote, as well as notes on an ever hopeful, more perfect union, and culminated in a full-on hug with the candidate.
Wave after wave after wave of endorsements, so much so they begin to blur into one long thumbs-up. It was the same at the Republican convention, too: a series of salesmen and women, pushing their product via a variety of selling techniques. Always be closing. If it feels a tad overblown on television, imagine how much more intense it is to witness in the flesh.
Was hope the correct message for the Democrats to be sending? It worked in 2008 and 2012, but following the RNC last week, was something more...muscular needed? Genuinely, who knows what is enough these days? Nothing seems out of the realms of possibility any more. How do you tell people whose fearfulness has been stoked and ramped up – people who have more than a few qualms with the candidate on offer, people who might well fall back on reassuring and historically harmful behaviour in the event of a Trump presidency – that what you are offering is the balm for their woes? Is it enough to call on the humanity of voters? Or is it more effective to impress upon them the reality of what lies behind door #2?
This week’s convention has been brought to you by the letter D for divisiveness. The anticipatory hum that something is going to happen hum is still in the air. Despite some excellent speeches (Joe Biden rightly contended Michelle Obama’s had been the one to beat – and it was unbeatable) and out-and-out requests for unity by Bernie Sanders, a knight of the same realm of those calling for reform and/or the burning down of the DNC, there are too many cracks in the veneer.
What else might unwavering Bernie supporters have up their sleeve? As we trudge up to the arena building today, that is the unspoken question behind everyone’s eyes. What will they do? Today is the biggest stage on which to perform. Huge for Hillary, but also huge for those with reform on their minds.