Both American political parties recently concluded their national conventions on the eve of an election that may be one of the most critical in history, not just for the United States, but for the world. In normal times – meaning the good ole days when only a handful of crises were bearing down on our country – we would have spent the last two weeks listening to the political elite on both sides explain their respective platforms and why Americans should place their vote one way or the other. The culmination of this exercise in political recruitment would be the nomination of each candidate by their parties to be the chosen one to execute the plans laid out during each respective week of cheerleading and policy building.
In today’s world, the conventions were held under a backdrop of the most civil unrest our country has endured since the 1960s and 70s era that saw de-segregation in our society, the Vietnam fiasco, and the Kent State Massacre. At the same time, our economy is upside down as a result of a global pandemic that shows no signs of slowing down in America, with six million cases and nearly 200,000 deaths and climbing. And for the icing on the cake, climate change continues to bring record hurricanes, wildfires, and temperatures. What a trifecta.
Each convention paraded out a cast of characters to talk about fear – not policy. The Republicans were stoking fear of a lawless country where suburbia disappears under an invasion of undesirables. The Democrats begged their side to erase the fear of another four years of Mr. Trump by urging voter turn-out and the re-capture of independents who abandoned them in 2016. Fear and emotion ruled the day for basically 14 days in a row.
Neither side discussed the significant policy issues that would help eliminate the fear being conjured by both sides. The 2018 mid-term elections were good to the Democrats. Even two years ago, it would have been easy for the Democrats to base their argument for change on the fear of a disorganized and ineffective Republican administration led by a narcissistic and untruthful President. But they didn’t. The Democrats in 2018 were disciplined. They were on message. Their plan was to hammer the topic of health care reform until it was engrained in our psyche as “the most important” issue facing our country. Even the Democratic primaries during the first half of 2020 were heavily debated on the subject of Medicare of All or a more a deliberate expansion of Obama Care. The 2016 elections and the 2020 primaries stuck to the script and it was effective, intellectual and well-meaning. Democrats pummeled the Republicans purely on the issue of health care and flipped the House of Representatives in a historic change of party control in 2016.
Given the state of politics, one could predict that the second week of conventions would be light on policy and heavy on emotion, but the complete lack of policy discussion was irresponsible. The convention season kick-off went to the Democratic side who spent their week making a legitimate case against another Trump term. But that game has been playing out for the last five years. If the argument turns to a simple discussion regarding the good and bad of Donald Trump, that voter decision has already been made. 45% love Trump; 45% hate Trump; and 10% are tired of hearing each side bash the other.
In 2018, the Democrats appealed to the middle 10% who found the POLICY discussion to be the determining factor in their vote and the policy discussion at the top of the list was health care reform. The 10% gave their vote to the side that vowed to change the way we address health care in this country and the Democrats won in a landslide. In the Democratic convention the party all but abandoned the 2018 campaign strategy of addressing real, everyday concerns of Americans and played to the 45% of America that already has their vote. I heard nothing to appeal to the 10% that the Democrats need to win.
On the Republican side, there was clearly no effort to cultivate the votes of the outstanding 10% except for the bush league attempt to scare “suburban housewives” – I’m not sure what scared them the most – the threat of black and brown people invading their neighborhoods or being demoted vacuum cleaner operator.
A perfect opportunity to cultivate the 10% was missed by both sides. Every citizen in America – if honest – endures a clear and present danger every day. That danger is the fear of getting sick. And the fear of going bankrupt over medical bills. And the fear of losing their health insurance with the loss of a job. And the fear of being denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition. The fear of being forced to make a decision of whether to eat or pay for their prescription. These fears are far more subject to influence than whether or not Trump is a schmuck. It was an easy target but both sides miffed. Both conventions were a whole lot of show and not a lot of substance. Or as we might say in the South – all hat and no cattle.