The Subliminal Message of the Democratic Convention & the Biden-Harris Rollout

Turn on this week’s Democratic Convention and you’re going hear a lot about Joe Biden. You’ll also hear a lot about health care, the coronavirus, racial justice and guns. But behind the words and issues, I think the convention is trying to convey a silent message: competence.

The reaction to week’s vice-presidential announcement reassured many Democrats that the party’s days of internal dischord have passed, at least until November. But the Biden-Harris rollout itself conveyed a more fundamental message, as I explored in Campaigns & Elections this week: that competent people are in charge. Harris’s name didn’t leak, the volunteers heard about it via text, the merch was ready for sale and the money rolled in. After almost four years of a Trump Administration careening from one self-inflicted catastrophe to another, simply being able to do the basics well seems like a victory.

The Democratic Convention presents the same subliminal idea on larger screens and with more people paying attention to each part. The packaged videos and just-folks presentations make some jaded politicos cringe, but they hit at an emotional level. This is a spectacle for the heart, not the head, and it’s the political heart that gets people off the couch to volunteer on a rainy pandemic day. But an audience accustomed raised on television can also immediately tell when something is made well, and it sends a message that the creators care about the details. Trump may paint Democrats as a bunch of loons, but these eight hours of free TV suggest that they know how to run a railroad.

Next week will look different, and not just because almost all of the speakers will look like angrier versions of me, a white guy. As far as outsiders can tell, the Republicans barely have a speaker list, much less a tight script. I’m sure they have venom reserved aplenty, but will they handle the mechanics of the moment well enough to deliver it effectively? Meanwhile, Biden’s supporters will keep donating, and organizing, and persuading their friends and neighbors to pay attention, boosted by a convention that looked like all of us. An effective Democratic party? Let’s crank that sucker up and see what we can do with it.

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Gorgeous streamlined steam locomotive photo via Wikipedia

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