Joe Biden’s range of emotional expression has narrowed with age – when he wants to convey feeling now, he shouts. Anger is the only thing that gets through, even when he’s trying to be hopeful or inspiring. And his acceptance remarks at the Democratic convention were well short of inspirational: the nominee didn’t seem tired, but his words did. From the first day of the convention, viewers had to wonder, ‘Why is Joe Biden the nominee of this party?’, a party that neither looks nor sounds like the almost octogenarian ex-VP. Biden has testified to his friendships with segregationists in the Senate. He was the sponsor of a historic anti-crime bill. But the Democratic Party today is fully behind the Black Lives Matter movement, whose signature policy demand is to defund the police. That Biden’s running mate is a prosecutor only confuses matters more.
In fact, the Democratic convention was really a convention of two different parties. One of these is a party of woke activists entirely concerned about race, sexuality, and environmentalism. Traditionally major issues such as jobs and national security are at most a footnote to the more pressing issues of identity politics and climate change. But then there is the other Democratic Party – or rather, the other Republican Party. For the most astonishing thing about this convention was that half of it seemed to be handed over to liberal Republicans of yesteryear. This doesn’t feel like the party that almost nominated Bernie Sanders, it feels like the party of Nelson Rockefeller, the former Republican but liberal Vice President.
It is now the party of former congresswoman Susan Molinari and former governor Christine Todd Whitman, two ex-Republicans whose pro-abortion viewers were even out of place in the GOP. This Rockefeller Republicanism could be tough on crime; hawkish in foreign policy; serve the affluent well (Molinari eventually became a tech lobbyist); and be socially liberal, all while maintaining a semblance of ‘traditional family values’ and religious devotion. It is not dissimilar from what the likes of Bill Clinton turned the Democratic Party into, and it’s this Rockefeller-Clintonite party that Joe Biden naturally belongs to. Biden is a white (Irish-ish) Catholic, but pro-choice and same-sex marriage, and his record has until now been somewhat hawkish and tough on crime. Colin Powell’s presence at the Democratic-Republican convention was a haunting reminder of Joe Biden’s role in the authorisation of the Iraq War.
Identity politics has been used by the billionaire-friendly, hawkish, and authoritarian Democratic Party as a cloak for plutocratic policy at home and technocratic meddling abroad. With Barack Obama as the party’s nominee in 2008 and 2012, it was possible to pretend that the Democrats weren’t just Nelson Rockefeller in disguise. Obama was not only an historic opportunity to elect a black president, he was – and is – a smooth, convincing orator, with a smart lawyer’s understanding of good arguments. Listening to him, as well as looking at him, Americans found it possible to believe that he really did stand for hope and change – even if it was never clear what that hope and change would mean in practice.
It meant nothing in practice. A war in Libya instead of a war in Iraq, a continuing war in Afghanistan, and the forcing through Congress of Mitt Romney’s healthcare plan from Massachusetts, or at least a reasonable copy. The gap between the rich and poor gaped wider with Obama in office, which is why Bernie Sanders then became a force in national politics. In 2016, when Democrats nominated Hillary Clinton to succeed Obama, they gambled that her sex could make a difference in keeping the con going – the same plutocratic policies without the Y chromosome. But voters never fully bought into Obama’s Democratic Party, savagely rebuking it in the midterm elections of 2010 and 2014, even if they were fooled by Obama himself. With Hillary Clinton, voters had had enough: they preferred a rich populist, Donald Trump, to a woman who personified the uniparty elite. Trump gave America a real choice for the first time since the end of the Cold War on everything from trade policy to foreign interventionism to mass immigration.
Now there are three parties in American politics. Two of them represent different generations of the same ruling class – the older, Biden-Whitman-Molinari-Powell-Pelosi-Schumer generation of liberal elite and the newly college-educated generation of liberals, who are just as eager to rule as the older generation is, but who have a new formula for disguising their ambition. They use passive-aggressiveness, hiding behind BLM slogans to accelerate the destruction of everything traditional in America; the better to rule uncontested. Obama spoke to this faction when, on the third night of the convention, he said that ‘Political opponents aren’t un-American just because they disagree with you,’ only to follow up with ‘this president, and those who enable him, have shown they don’t believe’ in America’s values – a bold bit of hypocrisy, but that’s what makes Obama such a singular figure. He can talk the civic humbug of the older generation of Democrats while pursuing the ruthless almost antifa-style politics of young cutthroats. Hillary Clinton tried to do that when she called Trump’s voters ‘deplorables,’ but without Obama’s artistry, she only injured himself.
Two generations, two Democratic Parties, one of them also a Republican Party, awkwardly mashed together in a single convention. Will Americans vote for the Rockefeller Republican at the head of the increasingly woke liberal Democratic Party, or will they give Trump a second turn in office, even with the suffering Covid has brought to country?
Suffering in fact is an essential ingredient to the Democratic double-party. Throughout the convention, a viewer had to ask what common ground these jostling identities and divided generations could possibly have. The answer, for the most part, is that they’re all prepared for government services to palliate their suffering. Joe Biden was built into an improbable Messiah come to cure the sick. To judge from the propaganda videos, you would think that Biden himself is the vaccine for Covid-19, ready to be shot into your veins the moment he’s inaugurated as president. His supposed empathy was much touted by other speakers, but not only does Biden’s political record belie any great reservoir of empathy –crime bill? Iraq? – his inability to emote without raising his voice undercuts the caring image of the man the convention had spent days perfecting.
The Democratic Party of BLM and the Republican Party of the NeverTrumpers – both of which are the Democratic Party of Joe Biden – envision America not as a nation with a proud history and a single body of citizens, but as an administrative region in which benefits are dispersed to different groups according to the political elite’s designation of their need for support. And just as America itself is not a nation, any other nations must be pacified and purified of what stands in the way of enlightened plutocracy. For the time being, patriotic Americans are still needed for that part of the liberal project, which is why the ruling class is interested in military approval and so many of the political elite’s youth have served in the armed forces. But as the example of the Iraq War, which Biden voted for, so well illustrates, the ruling class views the United States military as both a police force and a body of social workers – and the only reason it will not be defunded like the police at home is that the rest of the world doesn’t yet willingly accept the way history is supposed to end.
Unfortunately – infuriatingly! – Donald Trump and his ‘enablers’ are still holding back the tide of history in this country, too. So the constitutionally elected President Trump must be portrayed in the same terms as foreign opponents past and present: as a fascist, a friend of dictators and dictatorship, an authoritarian, and illiberal. And Joe Biden, whatever his faults, whatever his record, however retrograde his identity, must be wholeheartedly and unquestioningly embraced as the alternative. No dissents from Bernie voters or Kanye West will be tolerated – the whole system depends on beating Trump. Rockefeller Republicans, woke college graduates, and the fossils of yesteryear’s Democratic Party all agree.
Voters, however, get a say in November. And if Joe Biden can’t make a better pitch to them than his party made with this confused convention, he will lose and the Republicrats who have ruled the Democratic party for three decades will be all but finished.