DEMAND MORE FROM THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

[Tuesday, July 26th]

At my age, it’s common to recognize traces of the past in current events. Sometimes, it’s more than just traces. This summer’s Democratic convention gives me a deja view of 1968. And that’s not just because I like both host cities [1]. The party is once against divided on fundamental issues [2], and that division is illustrated by the unexpected success of an out-of-nowhere presidential contender. And, as was the case in 1968, the Republican nominee [3] is stoking fear, promising law and order, insisting that he speaks for a voiceless segment of the electorate, and claiming to have some secret plan. 
 
 I have seen how this scenario plays out, and I don’t like it. 
 
 I’m not saying that Donald Trump is exactly the same as Richard Nixon [4]. For one thing, no one could confuse Pat Nixon with Ivana, Marla, or Melania [5]. But both Trump and Nixon were proud and protective of their respective spouses. In the “Checkers” speech, Nixon answered charges of bribery by referring to his wife’s cloth coat. Last week, Trump attacked the charge that his wife had done anything disreputable as politically motivated [6]. He also found fault with Michelle Obama’s speech at the convention last night [7]. Trump may be even more devious than Nixon was. Nixon sent Cubans to bug the Democratic headquarters. Trump had the Russians hack into the Democratic National Committee’s e-mail [8]. 
 
 The Democrats lost the 1968 presidential election, in large part, because many who had opposed the establishment during the primaries and at the convention were unwilling to return to the fold in November. The Clinton campaign has already blown two golden opportunities to do better. How do you bring Paul Simon out to sing “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and not arrange for Art Garfunkel to come onstage mid-song and hit the high notes the other guy never could? And how could the Democratic National Committee have been so careless as to allow anyone to hack the e-mails [9] documenting that they were working to secure the nomination for Secretary Clinton [10]? 
 
 Secretary Clinton’s campaign manager is Robby Mook. I see him on television all the time. He’s a nice-looking fellow [11]. I liked it better when Democratic presidential campaigns were run by guys like James Carville or David Axelrod. When those guys went on television, they knew that people weren’t tuning in to look at them. They had to have something really important to say. Carville is justly famous for the 1992 mantra, “It’s the economy, stupid”, reminding everyone involved in Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign that they could never stray too far or too long from the central theme. 
 
 If Secretary Clinton was willing to take her husband’s surname, she should be willing to take his campaign theme as well. It would be a great improvement over the current slogan. I’m sure that “Stronger Together” tested very well in focus groups, and it’s a clever statement of opposition to Trump’s divisiveness. But a slogan isn’t enough to win the election. It certainly isn’t good enough to make sure that the Republicans get the political punishment they deserve. 
 
 Donald Trump threatens to win crucial electoral votes in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan by saying that he (and he alone) will bring back the manufacturing jobs lost to globalization. That’s a lie, but, like all successful lies, it plays on fear and hope. The fear is that the economy is sinking, and the hope is that things will go back to how they were in the “good old days”. No data showing how much less bad the economy is today than it was in 2008, no matter how academically compelling it may be is going to assuage that fear or fulfill that hope. The lie will prevail. 
 
 On the op-ed page of this morning’s New York Times, David Brooks suggests that the Democrats might lose because they appear to be more concerned with economic justice than in economic growth. I think he’s right about the political risk of creating that impression. So how can Trump’s lie be defeated, Brooks’ warning heeded, and Robby Mook get something really important to say? 
 
 Watch for Part 2. 
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 1. There is not enough room on the internet for a description that would do justice to my home town of Chicago. That said, Philadelphia is one of my favorite not-the-greatest-in-the-world cities. Both have great food, a National League baseball team that has won only two of the one hundred and eleven World Series, and were once also home to a team in the American League (the former Philadelphia A’s moved west in the mid-1950’s, and have since moved even further in that direction. The Chicago White Sox went south in the bottom of the eighth inning on May 10th, and they’re not coming back either). 
 
 2. What Vietnam was to LBJ (and his chosen successor, Hubert Humphrey), so too was the role of money in politics and the power of concentrated wealth to Hillary Clinton. There was no such division in the party in 2008 (I could, and, someday should, devote several paragraphs to dismantling the argument that there is any meaningful similarity between what Hillary Clinton faced at the end of the 2008 primary season and Bernie Sanders’ situation this year). For now, suffice it to say that Hillary Clinton had good solid political motives for conceding as quickly as she did following the 2008 primaries, and Bernie Sanders had very different, but equally powerful political motives for taking it more slowly this year. 
 
 3. now, as then, a borderline psychopath, from the wrong side of the border 
 
 4. That would be unfair to Nixon. 
 
 5. Mrs. Nixon was 56 years old in 1968. The Donald trades them in before they get that old. 
 
 6. If Donald Trump actually believes that anyone is using Melania to get at him, he needs to look at a picture of the two of them together. 
 
 7. tweeting “That Kenyan guy’s wife talks so fast that Melania can’t write it all down. Very inconsiderate. The wives I import didn’t grow up speaking English. Even if they did, they were models, not stenographers.” 
 
 8. Trump and Putin can deny it all they want, but how do they explain that the cover letter to WikiLeaks referred to the accompanying e-mails as proof of the DNC’s conspiracy to secure the nomination for Hillary Clintonova? 
 
 9. Granted, I can’t really expect them to have taken a precaution as extreme as administering the nomination process is a fair and impartial manner. Still, they could and should have been careful enough to route all their e-mail traffic through that super secure server in the basement of their chosen candidate’s house. 
 
 10. Ironically, the DNC feigned neutrality and rigged the debate schedule (i.e. few and on low-viewing nights) to diminish an insurgent’s visibility. The RNC made no secret of its opposition to the leading outsider, but established a debate schedule tailor-made fror an insurgent to gain a lot of national attention side-by-side with more established competitors.

11. He worked for Monsanto. That face may be genetically modified.