"With Her" or Bust: Day 2

In the midst of their pursuit of tickets to the musical “Hamilton,” the Democratic National Committee’s most pressing obligation, its members apparently could not find the time to pause and wonder:

“Will scheduling our convention with only sales pitches for our nominee, a candidate with historically high disapproval numbers who has also lacked an overarching campaign narrative, function as a smart and durable asset?”

Because this introspective moment never happened, the audience for the convention proceedings in Philadelphia, stacked with hardworking and devoted Hillary supporters, has grown noticeably bored with being told from numerous perspectives that Mrs. Clinton is, simply put, the finest human.

Rather than take advantage of a four-day primetime media platform to provide the party faithful with a compelling, purposeful narrative that would survive any new revelations or what is sure to be a brutal season of negative campaigning, the Democrats have opted instead to put all of their eggs in one basket, and use speeches principally as vehicles to insist on Mrs. Clinton’s superb qualities.  

Every speech; all the time.  

Most speakers have done it without emulating Michelle Obama’s fine example of establishing one particular premise with credible force, and situating Hillary Clinton within it in a credible way.  In fact it’s the been the opposite: in the main most speeches can be reduced to, “here’s who I am” and/or “here’s what I do for a living;” followed by, “Hillary Clinton is amazing.”

The mortar that should be laid between those storytelling bricks is actually the most important component.  Social workers arrayed on stage should be invited to tell us how their essential contributions have been undermined and imperiled by fiscal austerity; Planned Parenthood leader Cecile Richards should speak at length on why her organization has been targeted by Republicans, and how support for her group and for reproductive rights generally can co-exist with and help to nurture a Democratic fifty-state strategy.  But, instead of weaving a tapestry of common goals that would energize the faithful and could ultimately work as a safety net for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, the Democratic convention has devoted itself to unwinding only one thread from the spool:  Hillary Clinton is great.  

Unless you are prepared to agree with this assertion, there is no need for you to watch the convention or, one can only conclude, vote for Hillary Clinton.  The Democratic Convention, no less than the party itself, has been monopolized by HillaryBros; it is, in its messaging, a “Hillary or Bust” movement.

To my mind this incredibly shortsighted approach contrasts unfavorably with the Republican convention of last week.  Granted, the GOP marched a small army of Trump supporters across the stage, an unpersuasive band of employees who elicited more sympathy than respect.  In that sense at least, on the strict measure of credible character witnesses, the Democrats have performed far better.  

But the Republican Party was also careful to provide a host of reasons to vote for Donald Trump even if voters remain skeptical about him; they surrounded him with positions and people that complemented his message with standard party fare.  Most important, both the candidate and the party cooperated to the extent necessary to provide a message that embraced the convention and will set the tone for their campaign: “The nation is under siege and the GOP will protect you, (white) America.”  

The fact that this message is premised on preposterous policy ideas and deeply offensive notions should not―at least in this particular context―detract from its accomplishment.  As a theme, it will resonant with voters susceptible to it long after Trump’s unique capability to both embarrass and endanger the country is on full display this fall.

It was a particular disappointment to me last night that the first presidential candidate I had the privilege to cast a ballot for, one who happens to excel at “the mortar” of messaging, gave his primetime speech over to a long story of his (evidently long) courtship of Hillary Clinton.  Several things could be said about this peculiar selection of subjects.  Suffice it to say here that many of us are not interested in falling in love with Hillary Clinton.  

We are, however, deeply invested in a marriage of convenience this November.  If that match suits the Democratic Party―that is, if they plan to assemble an electoral coalition that extends beyond merely those who fell in love with Hillary Clinton―then the party needs to invest serious time at this convention burnishing its credentials as marriage broker.  

As of this moment in time, the Republicans have an elevator pitch that does not use either of the words “Trump” or “Clinton.”  Midway through a convention during an election cycle with the highest possible stakes, the Democrats do not. 

I cannot summon my dismay and concern strongly enough: this is, simply put, an astonishing failure, an inexcusable dereliction of duty and a solipsistic disregard for the fate of the country.  At this point, no person affiliated with the Clinton campaign or Democratic Party has any standing to lecture any person on the dangers posed by a Donald Trump presidency.  In their gamble to make this entire convention entirely about extolling Hillary Clinton, they have privileged their own self-indulgent agenda over and above the wellbeing of the nation. 

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