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Election Day is Only 102 Days Away

July 28, 2016

“While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in”

– Bob Dylan, from It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

Modern political conventions are the parties’ opportunities to deliver their messages to the country’s voters. For a week, it’s all about them. They deliver their speeches, they control the news cycle and they develop the images they want us to remember.

And for the voters, it’s our chance to see how the parties perceive themselves and thus, how they want us to think about them. These conventions not always easy to watch. They’re overproduced, scripted and stuffed with hyperbole. Since we already know the nominees long before the convention, they can often appear as one very, very long infomercial. Generally, there is a lot of rhetoric without a lot of information.

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Never mind the expressionless face on the photo. I was absolutely thrilled to be there.

The two parties seem to think about every last detail – the lighting, the props, the music, the stage, the schedule. Nothing is left to chance. It’s all a little too much for me. A speech from the lectern with adequate sound and overhead lights is good enough for me. But of course, that’s not the way these things go.

And as we are wrapping up the Democrats’ convention, it’s clear that there could not be a more marked difference between the way that the two parties want us to think about our country. For the R’s, it was a week of lamentation and apocalypse. We are at the threshold of hell. Donald Trump told us that he “alone” is the person who can save us. The entire future of this country rests with one man alone. The D’s haven’t shied away from the troubles and tribulations of a messed up world, but at the same time, haven’t crossed into the doom and gloom messaging that the R’s prefer. Their approach has been to appeal to Americans’ higher selves. The optimism and hope displayed by the Barack and Michelle Obama this week would have stood out like a sore thumb in Cleveland. Their buoyancy and encouraging words would have been as popular with the R’s as a skunk at a garden wedding. This is just another unnerving aspect of 2016, because some of President Obama’s speech could have been delivered by Ronald Reagan. How the R’s have strayed from their Saint’s worldview.

The party on the outside always has to paint a picture of missed opportunities and better ways to improve the lives of Americans. It’s never been any different. Take a look at these excerpts from the 1984 candidates’ acceptance speeches. We can some similarities with 2016.

Here’s Walter Mondale, with his scolding about the changes that we needed to make (and the early days of “we don’t make anything here anymore”).

When the American economy leads the world, the jobs are here, the prosperity is here for our children. But that’s not what’s happening today. This is the worst trade year in American history. Three million of our best jobs have gone overseas.

Mr. Reagan has done nothing about it. They have no plan to get our competitive edge back. But we do. We will cut the deficits, reduce interest rates, make our exports affordable, and make America number one again in the world economy.

We will launch a renaissance in education, in science, and learning. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. And this must be the best-educated, best-trained generation in American history. And I will lead our nation forward to the best system that this nation has ever seen. We must do it, we must do it.

It is time for America to have a season of excellence. Parents must turn off that television; students must do their homework; teachers must teach; and America compete. We’ll be number one if we follow those rules; let’s get with it in America again.

To big companies that send our jobs overseas, my message is: We need those jobs here at home. And our country won’t help your business – unless your business helps our country.

…. By the start of the next decade, I want to walk into any store in America and pick up the best product, of the best quality, at the best price; and turn it over; and read, “Made in the U.S.A.”

– Walter Mondale, from his acceptance speech at the 1984 DNC

Reagan, on the other hand, gave voters comfort in a future shaped by hope, confidence and growth.

The choices this year are not just between two different personalities or between two political parties. They’re between two different visions of the future, two fundamentally different ways of governing — their government of pessimism, fear, and limits, or ours of hope, confidence, and growth.

Their government sees people only as members of groups; ours serves all the people of America as individuals. Theirs lives in the past, seeking to apply the old and failed policies to an era that has passed them by. Ours learns from the past and strives to change by boldly charting a new course for the future. Theirs lives by promises, the bigger, the better. We offer proven, workable answers.

– Ronald Reagan, from his acceptance speech at the 1984 RNC

I happily cast my vote for Mondale that year and was never swayed by Reagan’s soothing words. However, let me say here and now, how I miss his influence over the Republican party. His “Shining City Upon a Hill” never really existed for many Americans, of course. As Mario Cuomo said so eloquently at the 1984 DNC, the state of things in the country was really a “Tale of Two Cities.” Nonetheless, if we’re going to get past these difficult days, we’re going to need a narrative that inspires, not scares. I’d rather we imagine that Shining City Upon a Hill than descend to the hellscape that Donald Trump describes. The Gipper never sounded so good.th

 

19 Comments
  1. I am by no means a political expert but seriously, how can anyone possibly even consider that Donald Trump is in any way fit for the office of the President of the United States? I feel like I am watching some ridiculous prank! As a Canadian who is very fond of my American friends, I fear for your country if this narrow-minded, pompous ass somehow manages to work his way into the White House.

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    • Lynn, A very long and mean-spirited prank, I’d suggest. It’s good to know that our friends up north are also concerned. I don’t consider myself a political expert either. It seems that this year, even a casual observer can know all that’s necessary to see that this prank could have a very bad ending. Thanks for stopping in.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Depending on how much rhetoric you want to buy into, I personally can attest to the fact that I would much rather side with those who still see “us” and “We the People” and changing things together over the concept of, as President Obama rather succinctly put it last night, “a home-grown demi-god” standing alone to deliver us from evil…

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    • Deb, Of course, depending on how much of the rhetoric that you want to accept…

      The view of things behind the words, is what matters most. In our current case, our “home-grown demigod” hasn’t shown that his intentions are any more worthy than the impressions that he’s left on us.

      Like

  3. Well said, well put, well written…

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  4. Good points, Bruce. It’s going to be an interesting “Fall”.
    Ω

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  5. kdk permalink

    Bruce, this is a wonderful dip into past speeches and comparison to how this season’s have played out — it must have been fascinating to be there in ’84. As I read your countdown-to-Nov posts I occasionally think about my early comment at day 547: “is it too much to hope for the small miracle that someone fair-minded, visionary, and with an ounce of that ever-elusive ‘inspiring leadership’ quality emerges in the end?” It’s been a challenging campaign year for my inner-Pollyanna. Yes, at this point I’ll take a little optimism too.

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    • Hi kdk,

      Ha. Your inner Pollyanna may be wondering just what she was thinking, I think the real challenge is that even if that inspiring leadership presented, the partisan petulance and blind anger seems so hardened that (half of?) the country wouldn’t accept or even recognize it.

      This is not to say that your inner Pollyanna should be discouraged. That would be unfortunate.

      Like

  6. Love the lyric from Bob. I may have to *borrow* that one. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am reading a wonderful book and I thought it might be one that you would find especially timely (and no, not baseball!). You may have already read it. It’s “The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828.” by Lynn Hudson Parsons (2009). (It is not a slow and plodding textbook read as the title of the book would have you think.)

    That election, the tenor of the times, and even the candidates are eerily similar in so many ways to this year’s election. You’ve got the well-educated candidate who served as Secretary of State and whose family member has already served as President. You’ve got the candidate who is brash, rude, plays up his “outsider” image, and wants to ban an entire group of people from the country (in this case Native Americans). It’s the election where ugly politics, mudslinging, and gossip, overwhelm issues, and the first election when people really came out and voted (more than 50% voted in that election, compared with fewer than 30% in the previous ones).

    It’s an engaging book and I can’t think of a better time to give it a read than right now. It won’t make you feel better about where we are as a country, but there’s something comforting in knowing that we have — kind of, sort of — been here before.

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  8. Hi Jackie, it seems that those were wild days in American politics, where anything goes. Yes, I’m talking about the early 19th century that you’re reading about, not last weekend.

    I am listening to “Jacksonland” (Steve Inskeep) this week, starring that same guy on in your book. Perhaps I am right there with you in seeking the comfort that we’ve been here before and will come out the other side of this standing on two feet (albeit, with crutches close at hand).

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  9. I’m almost close to believing that Trump’s campaign is a prank. But if it is, then the prankster is the devil, and a devil waaaayyy too close to us to feel anything but fear.

    Like

  10. Good, thoughtful post — as usual! Interestingly enough, a friend just called me to ask if I would help with campaign thoughts/ideas for Gary Johnson. The idea would be to position him as the Third Choice. I’m actually a Hillary Supporter, but the idea does intrigue me. What do you think about Gary’s chances: A) ice cube in hell? or more like B) good ole college try but no dice?

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  11. Bruce, I appreciate your realistic summary of the conventions. Yes, the party on the outside has to paint the missed opportunities (I love the way you put that), but the picture DT painted was awful, as is he.
    Michelle Obama, on the other hand, was incredible! As was the President.
    And as you might expect, most Virginians are thrilled with the VP choice 🙂

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  12. I fully agree with your great assessment, Bruce!

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  13. Your quotes are eerie! The campaign statements are such a broken record!

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