I thought the Democrats did a good job in Philadelphia. Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech reminded us that her oratorical skills fall short of Bill’s or Barack’s, but after a rather wooden start, she loosened up and gave a pretty good presentation of who she is and what she wants to do. While Hillary and others laid out a broadly progressive agenda, speaker after speaker made it obvious that the single biggest issue of the campaign is Trump. That’s unfortunate—intelligent political discussion usually centers on substantive policy issues, not personalities–but that’s the way it has to be. There has never been a major party presidential candidate like Trump. Going back as far as our Civil War, I can’t think of a candidate who so openly sought to exploit racial and religious bigotry, who proudly displayed such a hate-filled intolerance of social and intellectual difference, who betrayed such a laughably shallow understanding of policy issues, who lied so shamelessly and habitually. Trump’s nomination by one of our two major parties represents a terrible degradation of our politics. So, the big issue, transcending all others, has to be Trump.
But watching the Democrats’ convention, you would hardly know, if you didn’t already know it, that Trump is a Republican. I didn’t see the whole convention, so I undoubtedly missed stuff, but from what I did see, the word “Republican” seldom crossed the mouths of the speakers. Yes, there were some guest turncoat Republicans explaining their revulsion at their party’s nominee, and there was the occasional reproach of the party of Trump for having abandoned its (by now long-buried) Lincolnian roots. But there was no serious attack on the party that has dedicated itself to obstructing the current Democratic president from day one. This reticence should surprise us, no? If a national party convention isn’t the place for unabashed partisanship, what is? But it’s entirely understandable. The Dems want to win over marginal Republican and independent voters who are disturbed by Trump’s unique awfulness but who might be put off by an overtly partisan appeal. So, target the man, not party. The Democrats’ hypopartisanship is probably smart strategy for this election campaign.
For the long run, though, the case needs to be made that the single biggest obstacle to decent governance in our country isn’t Trump, but the pseudo-conservative party that nominated him. The party that will do its best, with considerable success, to block practically all of Hillary Clinton’s laudable plans should she land in the White House. It’s an argument that still needs to be made, since it was never made with any consistency by the party’s leader for the past eight years.
Always seeking to transcend partisanship, Obama could never get himself to tell the country bluntly that it was the Republicans who stood in the way of a really robust economic recovery. He could never state the simple and true point that the Republican Party’s main vocation in American politics is to serve the interests of a small, affluent slice of our society. (Part of the problem is that the Democrats aren’t all that bad themselves at serving the interests of the affluent, which is why Bernie Sanders did so well this year.) That argument still needs to be made by a president and a party willing to engage the other side in the war that it declared long ago. For now, though, it looks like we are going to see a hypopartisan campaign. Fine—whatever works.
I just came across this piece by The New Republic’s Brian Beutler that accords with my view that Clinton will be playing down anti-Republican themes. As a counter-example, Beutler quotes Harry Reid’s convention speech, which I didn’t see, which departed from the prevailing hypo partisanship: “The only thing Republicans like Mitch McConnell have accomplished,” Reid told the convention Wednesday, “is setting the stage for a hateful con-man, Donald Trump.” Yea Harry.