THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION: WOMEN WON

The first virtual Democratic National Convention is now over. Those people looking for a “bounce” in the polls will probably be disappointed. They should not be. This is an election campaign in which a remarkable percentage of voters claim to have made up their minds. There will be very few last-minute deciders.

This was also an event in which the political actors were “preaching to the choir”. There is very little about it designed to convince Republican voters to listen and then to cross over the political chasm which now separates the two parties. Convinced Trump supporters will be waiting for next week’s virtual Republican convention to worship at the feet of the master.

This Democratic convention is being held exactly one hundred years after the nineteen twenty national conventions, the first ones in which women could actively participate. The fact that that Republican convention chose Warren Gamaliel Harding does demonstrate that those newly participating women were not fully in charge.

This national Democratic convention may not have had women in charge but there is little doubt that it was really aimed at them. Women presided each night. The content of the convention was not about policy, about defense of the nation, about “manly” kinds of achievements (think infrastructure).

It was really about human relationships. Those relationships all highlighted the essential humanity of the presidential candidate, Joe Biden. There was little mention of Biden’s long career in the Senate, or about the catalogue of legislation he had produced. Instead we heard about the loving, supportive husband Joe, about the good father Joe Biden and his adoring grandchildren . A much commented on emotional moment featured the Vice-President’s encouragement of a thirteen year old boy who, like the young Joe Biden, stuttered.

It is true that former president Barack Obama gave a supportive, much praised speech attacking Donald Trump but he was appearing as a kind of elder statesman. The real emotional power at the convention was provided by three powerful women. Michelle Obama gave the speech of her life. Biden’s loving and supportive wife Jill (standing as a concerned educator in her empty classroom) underscored the candidate’s interest in the young. Finally, his newly nominated Vice-Presidential choice, Kamala Harris helped make it clear that, in a live acceptance speech, a Biden presidency would provide a path to the future, and to the political future of women.

This was a convention dominated by women and intended for women. After one hundred years, women could finally enjoy a convention purposefully intended for them. That is clearly no accident. The virtual convention format made it possible for the first time for planners to create the convention that they wanted from the beginning.

They knew that one of Donald Trump’s obvious weaknesses is that he has aimed his political appeals almost entirely at men without a college education (the only possible target for most of those famous tweets). Those are also often men whose view of women, to be charitable, is sometimes less than wholeheartedly supportive. Although Trump won a slight plurality of all women’s votes in 2016, the polls show that, particularly more educated suburban women are rather quickly falling away. There is no obvious way for him to get them back.

Knowing that, a carefully planned convention aimed primarily at women makes a great deal of sense. So, after a hundred years, at long last, this convention was a real validation of the seemingly endless struggle of women to gain an equal political voice. So, after one hundred years, the long-ago dream of those brave suffragettes is finally being realized.

H.J. Rishel

8/23/2020

Retired political science professor of 40+ years. Educated at Olivet, UofM, MSU, Northwestern, & Harvard. Hoping to make politics a fun & exciting topic for all