More than 16 hours of political conventions over two weeks boiled down to a single word: fear.
Democrats spent most of their time stoking their brand of fear - appropriately, in my view - about the damage a second Trump term would cause. Republicans in turn focused almost entirely on the threat posed by Joe Biden - with the president saying Biden will “demolish our cherished destiny” and “give free reign to violent anarchists who threaten our citizens.”
Conducting conventions in a pandemic was bound to be unorthodox. But what Americans got over these two weeks was positively surreal.
Beyond partisan fear-mongering, the only other issue of significance at both conventions seemed to be the pandemic itself. Democrats reminded us of the horrific death toll and the Trump administration’s blunders in dealing with the coronavirus. Republicans, on the other hand, acted as if the pandemic had passed and staged a non-socially-distanced celebration on the South Lawn of the White House, with few masks in view.
What does it say about two conventions when the best speeches are given by women who have never run for anything: Michelle Obama and Melania Trump? Both spoke calmly and effectively, in from-the-heart style. Of course, as non-politicians they weren’t expected to make campaign promises.
Judging by this year’s conventions, both parties are too frightened to articulate many actual policies.
This is unfortunate because Democrats actually have a platform. It’s detailed in a single-spaced, 92-page DNC document that voters aren’t hearing much about. Included are such things as expanding unemployment insurance, a $15 minimum wage, 12 weeks of paid family leave, universal background checks on gun purchases, and free public college for students whose families earn less than $125,000 annually. The DNC platform also calls for abolishing the death penalty and granting statehood to the District of Columbia.
Yet, in their eight precious hours of TV time, Democrats barely mentioned any of these important reasons to support the Biden-Harris ticket. In fact, neither Joe Biden nor Kamala Harris spoke about them at all. Biden’s speech, for all its rave reviews, was devoted to, “Character is on the ballot. Compassion is on the ballot. Decency, science, democracy...”
Is it wise for Democrats to run a campaign that steers so clear of specifics? As for the Republican National Committee, its members cared so little about an agenda that they voted to simply skip having a platform.
But with the advantage of going in the second week, Trump seized on the fact that Democrats had offered little substance. He used some of his 71 minutes Thursday night to lay out a few second-term goals. He promised more tax cuts, more police, more energy development and “a new age of American ambition in space” that lands the first woman on the moon.
For all their split-screen Zooming, why didn’t Democrats devote a bit of convention time to actual policies? In Biden’s acceptance speech, other than pledging to close tax loopholes he mentioned only one specific new policy: “We’ll have a national mandate to wear a mask.”
Those of us who hoped the conventions would provide a meaningful start to real campaigning in this pandemic-plagued election will now have to wait for the first of three presidential debates on Sept. 29. Surely Trump and Biden will get beyond fanning fears about each other when they meet face to face, right?
During eight nights of conventioneering, the two men actually agreed on one thing. Said Biden, “This is a life-changing election that will determine America’s future for a very long time.” Said Trump, “This is the most important election in the history of our country.”
Neither man dwelled on chickens in every pot. Only fear at every kitchen table.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker.