Anger, self-righteousness, impossible promises, blame: political conventions are for setting a tone. Here is the Democrats’ tone for the coming months going into the election. It was not to my taste. On top of the Republican convention, it felt like an enormous political irony. a disconnect, a view of an alternate reality, but one we have to live with, whoever wins the election.
Neither Obama nor Biden could avoid discussing the last nearly four years, but what they did was apply white-wash or worse. Peter describes that as “the new take is that things aren’t as bad as we think.” Pete’s continuing criticism of Romney has been that he was vague on specifics and policy, but Obama’s speech is an obfuscation of specifics and policy, probably since clarification would be so painful.
Since “fact-checking” seems to be a new fad, folks will spend the next couple of days parsing the speeches. My husband did that aloud right through the speeches. I find that thinking about specifics in the speeches of Democrats produces anger. It did in my husband, who erupted with “GM did go bankrupt!!! It was just government and not the private sector that picked up the pieces!” several times, maybe every time the topic came up, which was pretty frequently. Well, I said once, it was the best way to protect the unions and the pensions of union workers. “The unions…!!” he said, but I don’t want to reproduce his rhetoric from that point. Beneath his rant, he had a good observation; those at the Democratic convention have a tendency to conflate the middle class with union members. Perhaps that is how they perceive the middle class or perhaps that is the middle class they want to have or perhaps that is the portion of the middle class they have got.
I don’t know about Pete, but this convention left me feeling better about the Republican convention. Obama’s speech left me feeling not better, but not so badly about Romney’s speech. Both parties are talking about transforming America. As I was speaking to my students this week about “What is good?” as the basis for argument. First using Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics and then later in the week, as I was trying to avoid party politics, the WSJ article of January of this year by Charles Murray, based on his book, Coming Apart, the ultimate questions we will be discussing over the semester are all about “What is good?” I have a surprising number of community college students, many non-traditional, who simply love the Ethics, because they are worrying about the best way to live. Of course, I have a larger number who do not like Aristotle, but they are the ones who live vulgarly for pleasure and they don’t like being reminded about it or they simply cannot be bothered reading anything.
The debate in this election could be about different directions for America to go and we could be discussing “What is good?” Or America could be going in a direction that is incontrovertible and that is Progress; then the only question is how fast we progress into a certain future. Republicans would take us slowly. Democrats would take us quickly. Maybe that is what the election is about, who can manage Progress most efficiently and with the least pain to the electorate. We’ve been going in that direction for a long time and I don’t know any American who is really happy about it. If we don’t like it, don’t think it is good, couldn’t we take some time to discuss what is good?