It’s great to be writing this week’s newsletter on the banks of the Milwaukee River with my breakfast of knockwurst-and-eggs and a cold brew and ... jeez, who am I kidding? I’m covering the DNC from my couch in Delco, where I’ve been trapped for over five months. Did someone forward you my quarantine-fueled rant? Sign up for the weekly email at inquirer.com/bunch — like attending the 2020 DNC, it’s free, easy and virtual.
DNC pushes Biden by pushing away climate, policing and other youth concerns
If the goal was getting Joe Biden over the hump on November 3 and getting Donald Trump out of the White House before he destroys democracy like his goons are smashing postal sorting machines, then the first night of 2020′s unprecedented pandemic-altered Democratic National Convention — which looked more like a hurricane-relief telethon than a political confab — was a giant leap toward accomplishing the mission.
But amid the Zoom-style clapping for Michelle Obama’s rousing close that pegged Trump as “the wrong president for our country,” I kept thinking about the old TV-game-show mantra that it’s not what you say but what you don’t say. If viewers didn’t notice what the Democrats left out in their tightly scripted telethon so focused on Trump’s coronavirus failings and his paranoid style — such as climate change, gun violence, and the other things that young people across America have been marching for — the history books might.
One moment at the very end Monday night on MSNBC — Democrats’ favorite network — seemed a metaphor. As the party closed out the festivities by calling on Stephen Stills (age, 75) to team with Billy Porter (a mere 50) on Stills’ protest anthem “For What It’s Worth” from more than a half-century ago, anchor Brian Williams interrupted it for political prattle before they even could sing about “young people speaking their minds.” Indeed, it felt Monday like the party’s need for a transfusion of youthful energy got so much resistance from behind.
It was stunning that — on a day after an 130-degree reading in Death Valley — there was little mention of climate change before Sen. Bernie Sanders’ stirring-yet-vague speech to rally progressives. Black Lives Mattered at the DNC — including a plea for racial justice from George Floyd’s brother — as long as tough talk about how to reform policing could be postponed. The brief appearance of Parkland shooting dad Fred Guttenberg was a rare reminder that gun violence had sparked a massive protest movement of high school kids just two years ago.
A lot of airtime and energy in a two-hour spectacle was devoted instead to convincing America that their 77-year-old nominee won’t drag America into some type of socialism, to counter a core message of demagoguery from Trump’s campaign. To make that case, Democrats drafted the Republican former Ohio governor and 2016 presidential candidate John Kasich, who stood in a work shirt at a rural crossroads to assure voters that “I don’t believe that” the former vice president will “turn sharp left.”
I wonder how many of the millions of under-35 Americans who took to the streets after Floyd’s May 25 police killing will be put off by a Kasich right turn at the fork in the road. Likewise, I wonder why Kasich — who was no friend of the labor movement or women’s reproductive rights as Ohio governor — got such a prominent spot while the leader of the Democrats’ youth movement, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is slotted on Tuesday night for only 60 seconds. With more than 8 million Twitter followers and a bold vision for radical action on problems like climate, AOC is the Democrats’ future, a future the party’s aging elites seem to pray can be put off (with Kasich dismissing her in an interview as an out-of-step publicity hound).
In the end, the DNC telethon was also a tightrope act. Party leaders are gambling that their pitch to older disaffected Republicans and moderates won’t turn off young voters who want a radical overhaul of late-stage capitalism and the racist institutions that have supported it. Their hope is that four years of Trump’s disaster will turn out the youth vote no matter what, and they may be right. But Monday told us little about how Biden will handle the overwhelming challenges he’d face on January 20, or how he’ll keep under-35 voters in that loop. Just like in 1967 when Steve Stills was just 22, there’s something happening here. What it is...still ain’t exactly clear to the Democratic Party.