A note to readers: Different points of view must be respected. Vilification of those who see the world differently does not enable progress toward shared objectives: a vibrant economy, improved safety, and opportunity and health for everyone or as Thomas Jefferson wrote for all of us in the Declaration of Independence, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Respectful conversations are the basis of progress toward a more perfect union. I am a progressive Democrat. I also prize collaboration and have great respect for the right for others to see the world from their own unique position, and I have no justifiable basis for saying that my worldview should dominate theirs.
As the Republicans left Cleveland and the Democrats began to arrive in Philadelphia, I realized what an incomplete job I had done in my review of the Republican presentation in Cleveland. Initially, I had failed to notice the pirated use of the Rolling Stones’ anthem saying that you can’t always get what you want but if you try sometime you find you get what you need at the end of Donald Trump’s speech as balloons fell from on high while the candidates and their families waved.
Listening to six or more intense speeches every night for four nights running is hard work. Even with the help of the commentators it was often hard to stay focused and understand why many of the speakers at the Republican Convention in Cleveland were thought to have a perspective that the nation should hear. In my dismissiveness I had missed a lot.
There were some noteworthy presentations on the way to Donald Trump’s acceptance speech that were lost in the controversy over plagiarism and mixed in among an unusual collection of speakers: obscure “celebs”, mid pack politicians, the understandably sad family members of victims of violence and Trump’s own family members who were diligent in their efforts to tell us that Donald Trump was not really what he seemed to be. In retrospect the most remarkable speech was delivered by Ted Cruz who refused to endorse Trump.
Other politicians were also struggling with the appropriateness of the outcome of the nomination process and were clearly trying to find a way to be true to their responsibilities without joining Senator Cruz in the rejection of the party’s choice. Lost from much notice were the words of the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader. Speaker Ryan spoke for about thirteen minutes. He began with some self effacing humor by commenting that students of trivia will remember that the last time he appeared before the convention it was because he was the party’s candidate for VP. He said that in the interim he had needed to find something else to do. He did not mention why Mitt Romney and many other party regular like John McCain were not present and speaking.
The highlight of his brief speech was his impassioned presentation of his conservative worldview and his expression of empathy for the “impoverished masses” who get nothing but “warehousing and check writing” from progressive Democrats. I agree with him that “democracy is a “series of choices”. He was trying to be positive within the limits of his degrees of freedom. He must worry about those to his right who ousted his predecessor and who monitor his every move for the validity of his conservative credentials. He must fear that that every conversation that might ameliorate gridlock could be a threat to his own political future.
I was not surprised by his prediction that the Democratic Convention would be a “four day infomercial of politically correct moralizing” that would inaccurately showcase how far we have come and downplay the cost we have paid for the mess we are in. What do you say at a political convention as you are trying to inspire the faithful after the party you love has been captured by an individual who is uniquely different from any politician you ever met before and whose behavior you must justify after each controversial ill advised utterance of disrespect to some group or individual?
I expected his finger pointing at both the President and Hillary Clinton as the sources of what is wrong with America and was not surprised by his warning that she, more than any other person or problem, is the greatest threat to the future that all Americans deserve. I was a little disappointed that he did not seize the moment to explain how his alternative plan to replace the ACA would work. He needs to discuss how it will insure the needs of the underserved, support the improvement of care delivery and insure the quality of care.
He mentioned Donald Trump twice. The first to say that he hoped that at the next “State of the Union” speech he would be on the dias with Donald Trump and Mike Pence. In the most positive portion of his speech he implored Republicans to recognize that they must work to maintain their control of the House and Senate. It was here that he said without much emotion that the election of Donald Trump was America’s only chance for “a better way”.
Majority Leader McConnell looked very pained as he spoke for less than seven minutes. He also spent most of his time talking about what a terrible job Barack Obama had done and that Hillary Clinton would be worse. Those remarks gave him little time within seven minutes to talk about the positive reasons for a person to vote for Donald Trump. I conclude based on what he said, that the prime reason that he sees for Donald Trump to be president is that he will sign the bills that are passed by the Republican majorities in the Senate and House, and that he will appoint conservative judges that will preserve conservative values and reverse much of the damage done by more liberal courts.
The reticence of Ryan and McConnell underlines the absence from the convention of many of the members of the national leadership of the Republican Party. The speeches that we did hear focused more on the violence that threatens us because of the failings of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama than on the specific positives that Donald Trump would bring to the nation.
My observations aside, the Cleveland Convention was apparently an effective presentation that gave Mr. Trump a huge bump in the polls. As the Democrats convened in Philadelphia the Republican nominee was projected by the influential website “538” to have a 47.3% chance of winning. The race for the Presidency was looking like a toss up and pundits were saying that it was plausible to anticipate that the election could end up as a tie in the electoral college with the outcome being a determined in a Republican controlled House.
The odds against the Democrats certainly got worse on opening day when a tone deaf Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz was slow to realize that because of leaked emails her moment had passed. Throughout the four days that unpleasantness was a subtle justification of the anger of the more recalcitrant Sanders supporters despite the success that the Sanders movement had on the platform of the Democratic Party. The healthcare section declared that healthcare is “a right and not a privilege”. It calls for a “public option”. It suggests that everyone be eligible for Medicare at fifty five. It confirms the ACA and calls for its enrichment and the full realization of the Medicaid expansion in every state. It promises to shun any attempt to privatize Medicare. It is brave enough to treat gun violence for what it is, a health hazard that kills 33,000 people a year.
David Brooks observed that through the speeches of ordinary people, key politicians, victims of violence, proponents of “Black Lives Matter”, as well as “Blue Lives Matter”, the Democrats had positively embraced “conservative” values of patriotism, personal integrity, respect for the rights and feelings of others, and the realization that progress requires community activity and can not be left to the talents of one individual who will protect us all.
Many of the speakers including the President, acknowledged that throughout the country there is a great sense of fear for personal safety and a sense of realized or potential loss. Most speakers asserted that an ability to work with people who have a different point of view “trumps” an ability to do it alone. Just as the Republicans produced many witnesses to the business skills of Donald Trump, the Democrats produced witness after witness to the ability and sincerity of Hillary Clinton. The witnesses that made the most difference to me were Michelle and Barack Obama. I share their hope for continuing progress that will enable the emergence of an even better America.
The Democrats pulled out all the stops to make their case that Hillary Clinton is the secure choice by shifting the conversation away from the view that she is untrustworthy and toward the theme of working together in ways that were antithetical to Donald Trump’s temperament. The height of this strategy for me was the presentation by a Muslim father whose son died defending this country. In slow and pained words he offered Donald Trump his copy of the Constitution so that he might understand how the founding fathers had envisioned government by the people and how those principles had evolved to be inclusive. Then he asked what Donald Trump had ever sacrificed for America.
Hillary Clinton’s speech focused on the theme of working together and that “love trumps hate”. She moved from “what” she has done in public service to “why” she was motivated to serve. She said her family had benefited from the “kindness of others”. She had learned from her mother and her faith “to do all that you can, for as many as you can, for as long as you can”. She admitted that she “sweats the details of policy” because the facts are a “big deal”. She reminded us that when a barrier falls it clears the way for everyone.
She celebrated the accomplishments of the last eight years while acknowledging that many people still suffer from the inequities of the distribution of income and opportunity. She rejected the idea that the status quo is acceptable. She said, “It is wrong for business to accept tax breaks with one hand and pass out pink slips with the other hand”. Her list of hot issues was similar to Bernie Sander’s list of problems demanding resolution and President Obama’s list of unfinished tasks and emerging problems. I was sorry that she returned many of the disparaging remarks that the Republicans had tossed her way. What she never addressed was that so many people say they do not trust her.
There is no doubt that both candidates contend that they can do the work of getting America moving. Getting anything done will require overcoming gridlock. Trump asserts that his business skills will do the job. Clinton points to her record of bipartisan accomplishments as evidence that she can do it.
Margaret Thatcher was called the “Iron Lady”. That appellation came to mind as Mrs. Clinton ticked off the points of her strategy to defeat ISIS. She drew a roar from the crowd when she said, “A man you can bait with a Tweet is not a man you can trust with nuclear weapons!”. She talked tough to the NRA while promising to preserve the Second Amendment. She said she could not believe that we cannot find common ground on race, guns, and immigration.
As the fireworks exploded and as the balloons fell, the question ahead was articulated by one pundit as “we the people” versus “I alone can fix this”. Over the next three months we will decide together who should be given the honor and responsibility to lead America. We will also learn more about what to expect for the future of healthcare.