It always sounds good — then reality pervades.
We’ll get one giant tent, Gaddafi-style, and head out into the wild.
But nobody remembered Charlie’s feet, or Mike’s snoring or just how much Louie can talk after three or four beers. And who left the damn screen open again — Roberto!?
It’s worse in politics. But that didn’t stop Democrats from pitching a big tent at their convention last week. It’ll be great, they said. We’ll get radicals and Republicans, farmers and city slickers, gays and evangelicals, Mormons and mammonites together and have one big party. There’ll be cake.
As political rhetoric, it’s gold. In practice, it’s alchemy.
Republicans benefited greatly from the Big Tent concept, and actually pulled it off for a while in the ’80s and ’90s. But oh those feet. Charlie just had to be tossed. It was no doubt satisfying for Democratic speech writers to remind Republicans of that in appropriating their old slogan.
Democrats sought to build this new tent around a singular mission: getting rid of President Donald Trump. They omitted virtually all mention of the policies they hope to enact in an effort to keep such an anti-Trump coalition together. I’d have done the same thing, truth be told. It’s all about winning.
Many Republicans I know will be voting for former Vice President Joe Biden in November, or writing in a high school sweetheart, but very few are flirting with the idea of actually becoming Democrats. The parties are too different; their visions of and for America starkly contrast. Even the most carefully crafted convention remarks revealed it.
Former President Barack Obama spoke at the convention before a giant blowup of the U.S. Constitution. And then, ever so subtly, took a swipe at the nation’s core. “Our ancestors,” he said, “they were on the receiving end of a democracy that had fallen short all their lives. They knew how far the daily reality of America strayed from the myth.”
The receiving end. The myth.
Obama wasn’t alone. Speaker after speaker advanced this neo-progressive portrayal of American injustice, a narrative once driven not by Democrats but by Eugene Debs socialists. Columnist Peggy Noonan encapsulates it beautifully in a post-convention column:
“To show their ferocious sincerity in the struggle against America’s injustices, most of the speakers thought they had to beat the crap out of the country — over and over,” she observed. “Its sins: racism, sexism, bigotry, violence, xenophobia, being unwelcoming to immigrants. The charges, direct and indirect, never let up. Little love was expressed, little gratitude. Everyone was sort of overcoming being born here.”
This is the worldview Republicans will seize upon at their convention — which starts on Monday — and it will do damage to the Democratic cause. The question is how much. Many Americans don’t want to hear how awful their country has been; they want to feel pride in its accomplishments; they want to know whether a job will be available for them when the pandemic lifts.
It will be up to the GOP to deliver that to them during its convention.
Despite its technical challenges, and read-between-the-lines remarks like Obama’s, Democrats did a good job painting an appealing picture this week. What most Americans took from the convention was big tent, and that should serve Biden well.
It’s a camping trip I’d almost consider, if I didn’t know better.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.