The Democrat Convention, held last week, was the first time in American history that a major party convention was held on television with no live crowd in attendance. Being the first to do anything is always a uniquely difficult challenge which requires imagination, originality and the courage to risk failure. All these attributes are magnified substantially when your new, experimental product will be seen for the first time – with no trial runs – by tens of millions of people for four days — with the outcome likely to have a major impact on the future of the most famous nation in world history.
This is the nature of the challenge which faced the planners of the recent Democrat convention. They deserve a lot of credit for meeting that challenge with imagination and courage. Their product has been judged on two levels: technical and content.
Technically, the production was excellent. They chose to utilize their Hollywood connections for a news broadcast format, where a host/anchor introduces a series of guests. The hostesses were young, attractive actresses, who performed their commentaries and introductions flawlessly. The “guests” were a mixture of children and ordinary people with a personal story to tell, celebrity entertainers who performed very hip music, and, as the nights advanced, an increasingly dominant collection of politicians, both obscure and prominent. All seemed well-rehearsed and the programs flowed smoothly through every night’s performance –logistical and technical difficulties well in hand.
In all, the technical accomplishments deserve a great deal of recognition and credits to the planners, organizers and implementors of the week.
The content and overall message of the four days was always bound to be controversial since it was designed to present one of the two major political visions. While the major theme of the convention was proclaimed to “unify America”, there seemed to be a sub-text of “dump Trump”. The truly vicious attacks and name-calling of the President did not seem conducive to joining hands with his followers. In fact, it seemed intentionally aimed at infuriating them. The overwhelming impression of the entire program seemed to have been an obsession with defeating Mr. Trump – to the extent of omitting any details of their plans to bring about the unity they originally set as their goal.
They did detail some of their perceptions of the Americans who have suffered in various ways in recent times, including prejudice, police brutality, and loss of medical insurance. The net impression of this emphasis on the evil Donald Trump and of white racism with its effects on the poor African American community was a very dark picture of present day America, accompanied by promises to make it all better, but no attention to how they intend to do it.
If the final criterion of success is audience ratings, then we have to point to the fact that the ratings of this year’s Democrat Convention were down from 2016 by 18% at 22.6 million households according to early estimates. It is impossible to tell how many additional viewers watched on live stream computers. Also, there is no way to evaluate what this means, since there is no similar program to compare it with. The first comparable program will start on Monday evening, when the GOP convention goes live.
The Joe Biden Show
The unquestionable star of the convention was former Vice President, Joseph Biden, enjoying his day in the sun after nearly 50 years in politics. Not only were many of the politicians praising him in the most glowing terms, but they were joined by his wife, children and grandchildren. The praise was most extravagant even by his former rivals, who a few months ago were telling us how deficient he was for the nomination. But then that is politics – all for the party, including setting aside personal opinions of winners. The most prominent critic of Biden in that group was Kamala Harris, who called him a racist (as she does all her enemies). This time, as his Vice Presidential nominee, she professed him to be a man of so many talents and accomplishments that he sounded like a candidate for sainthood.
Everyone was waiting anxiously for Mr. Biden’s acceptance speech on Thursday night, some with trepidation that he would make one of his well known bloopers. He has been accused by many critics of being in the early stages of dementia, but there has been no clinical evidence to support this judgement, even though some unscrupulous physicians have contributed public diagnoses of dementia — or reduced mental capacity – without ever having examined him or even encountered him socially. Such allegations should be discounted immediately and totally.
Another factor may figure in his lifelong tendency to make mistakes in diction, and that is his battle against stuttering. A person who stutters may learn better diction, but the attention that effort requires is a constant distraction from what he is saying. This distraction can cause losing one’s train of thought, hesitation while trying to remember a name or a word or a fact and mispronouncing some word – to name a few of the hazards unique to stutterers. (For more on this, read John Hendrickson, “What Joe Biden can’t bring himself to say”, The Atlantic, Jan-Feb 2020). Stuttering cannot, however, be equated with low intelligence or dementia, no matter what popular opinion dictates.
So, what about the Biden speech of his life last Thursday evening? My first impression was that it was very well done and very effective, the best speech of his long career. It was very much an answer to “Who am I?”, very emotional and personal. It was a testimony to his intent to do his best to achieve the goals of the campaign, in the most compassionate and comprehensive way possible.
What it wasn’t was an illustration of his solutions to the challenges so urgent in American life at this troubled time in our history. There was no mention of China, of Iran, NATO, Al Qaeda, North Korea or any other foreign policy issue. Nor was he specific about internal American affairs – the riots in our streets, the COVID-19 pandemic, the trade deficit, American manufacturing, the current supply chain, among many other issues. Blaming Donald Trump is not an answer. It raises a question, what would you do?” At the end of Mr. Biden’s speech, along with 22.8 million other viewers, we couldn’t answer that question.
Saint or just another corrupt Democrat?
We will close this reaction to the 2020 Democrat Convention with a comment on Mr. Biden as a public servant. There are sharply contrasting views of his history. On the one hand, the praise he received for four long convention sessions left the overall impression that he possesses every virtue a public servant can exemplify. He is a family man, a survivor of terrible personal tragedy, a dedicated public servant, skilled in crossing the aisle in the Senate, a listener, compassionate, with a deep knowledge of all the functions of government, including the Oval Office, selfless and sinless.
On the other hand, his critics cite his record of complaints of illicit touching and fondling of women – bolstered by TV clips of his unduly familiar hands on various women – and then the accusations of his unethically paving the way for his son, Hunter Biden’s, profiting from transactions with Ukraine and China. These accusations are yet to be proven in court.
It is, however, a matter of public record that he has accumulated a net worth estimated by CBS to be $9 million. Peter Schweizer’s book, Profiles in Corruption (2020) details Biden’s actions as Vice President to benefit five members of Biden’s family, although no specific steps have been taken to prove that Schweizer’s charges, even if true, were illegal or criminal. Nevertheless, even such detailed accusations begin to tarnish the saintly profile ascribed to Mr. Biden by the Convention. If proven, they would mark the end of his career as a politician. We will see what happens.