Joe Biden Kamala Harris democratic national convention
Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris (Image: Sipa USA/Adam Schultz)

There must be something more difficult to get excited about than the Democrat National Convention, but little comes to mind.

The nomination of Joe Biden was going to make it a fizzer, even before the COVID bug intervened. Left, centre and right of the party are united in finding Joe Biden to be an extreme case of “meh”. 

The right and the centre have felt a measure of relief at the end of Bernie Sanders’ primary challenge, somewhat mitigated in the ensuing months as it became clear that Biden was suffering, at the very least, from age-related meh-mentia. 

But the bug came in and saved them again, ensuring that there would be no stamina-busting convention, no tens-of-minutes-long speeches to be given, no sodding balloons. So those logging in got what we all get when we’re there for the full four days — the endless roll-call of two minute speakers, alternately moving in giving many people some sort of voice, and exasperating in its determination to touch every node on the rich variety of intersectionalities, before many of their concerns were passed over substantially in the main speeches. 

Expectations were low, turning utterly unremarkable spots — such as Michelle Obama’s speech on Donald Trump as “unqualified” — into searing triumphs of oratory, etc etc. This was the Democrats and their enablers at their worst, utterly wrapped up in a culture of saviour celebrity, and dynasticism. 

The program Biden has committed to is certainly to the left of what has been offered by any Democrat since — erk — George McGovern in 1972, with a commitment to the $15 minimum wage, the universal public option (equivalent to our Medicare) that should have been in Obamacare, and an up-to $2 trillion pledge on a Green New Deal — not called that, so Joe is not seen as an Ocasio-Cortez surrogate — with a lot of vagueness on how it would be filled out. 

But though the program has gone left, the rhetoric remains centrist, aiming to turn out independent voters to positively vote against Trump rather than simply staying home, and to get a few Republicans as well — which is why John Kasich, a small-government, anti-abortion former Ohio governor addressed the convention on its first day. 

The program is for the base, and for the activists, to turn them out, to turn people out. It’s truly ironic that the least exciting candidate in decades — a client senator of the big insurance and chemical combines that run his pseudo-state of Delaware — has turned out the only program in decades really worth fighting for, and then sticking around for the next fight as the House Democratic machine tries to gut it like a fish.

With the COVID-19 disaster providing exactly what many of us supposed might prove Trump’s undoing, a super-Katrina, can Biden come through? The Biden-Harris ticket is as dual as any has ever been; it’s lining up Kamala Harris to be president in 2024, or 2022, or late 2021, if Joe is suffering real decline.

There was really no other choice; it simply had to be a woman of colour in the VP slot. Honouring only one of the other diversities — white woman, man of colour — perversely, would have looked like a step backwards to a whole section of the population. Electorally she’s doing dual duty: firming up the middle-class women’s vote, and getting out the non-white vote in the rust belt states who didn’t turn out for Hillary in 2016 despite her ostensibly greater appeal to African-American voters. 

Can they do it? Is it a walkover? Trump is trailing by 10% in many polls, but national polls are rubbery, and state polls are often shoddy and cheaply done (they’re done to sell to news services; the more interest the general public takes in polls, the worse they get).

The nightmare scenario is that despite everything, sufficient voters in the rust belt, in rural Iowa, and in ever-more evangelical and conservative Florida, continue to believe that Trump represents not any real possibility of improvement, but a consolation prize for the lack of any such.

He functions then as the last resistance of a section of the European-descended rust belt working class, male and female, against “all this crap”: new economy crap, diversity crap, democracy crap, our image abroad crap.

They may double-down on him not because they believe Trump has succeeded — given the non-delivery of the “good industrial jobs” he promised, the factories and full-time wages that never came back — but because he has failed and they feel themselves to be a dying class and will make one last stand against their dissolution by history.

They’ll vote to be recognised by their refusal, in such case, rather than for any program they see as pallid, and insufficiently restorative of past glories.

That probably won’t happen, and Trump will go down in flames — if he doesn’t quit before polling day (a beat up, I think), or refuse to recognise the result — as voters persuaded to give him one shot don’t turn back out for him.

But that nightmare scenario? He wins with Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan by 100,000 votes total, and loses the popular vote by eight million.

The double nightmare? That it turns out that old-fashioned stealing went on in, say, Michigan, which swung the state.

These are unlikely scenarios, but they are extremely interesting; more so than the convention we have been watching on our phones, across this brave new world.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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