As I’ve noted before, I have exactly zero uncertainty about who I’m voting for this year. There really isn’t even a choice to be made, as far as I’m concerned, and I find it difficult to believe anyone out there still believes there is. But just in case there is someone who hasn’t made up their mind yet, and assuming that person somehow stumbles across my little corner of the internet, I’d like to share John Scalzi’s recent suggestion that we ought to apply the question Ronald Reagan asked the electorate way back in 1980 to our current situation: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” (To which my pop-culture-saturated brain immediately conjures up the flinty voice of Clint Eastwood for an addendum: “Well, are you… punk?!” Which, if you remember anything at all about the Reagan era, is not an unreasonable thing to think of.) Anyhow, this is John’s reply to that question, and I couldn’t have said it any better myself:
Four years ago, I could leave my house without wearing a mask (I mean, I guess I could leave the house without one, if I was an asshole who didn’t care about the health and safety of others as well as myself, but I’m not, so I wear a mask).
Four years ago I could go to a restaurant or see a movie or go to a party or get on a plane without worrying about possibly contracting a disease that could put me on a respirator, kill me or give me serious, chronic, long-term health issues.
Four years ago I didn’t worry about sending my kid to school.
Four years ago I didn’t have family and friends who had to choose between exposing themselves to a disease that could kill or seriously debilitate them, or being able to pay rent or buy medications.
Four years ago I had a federal government that actually had a well-thought out plan for dealing with highly-infectious, potentially pandemic-level diseases like the one we’re currently living through.
Four years ago I could trust the information from the CDC (and NOAA, while we’re at it) to represent the best available scientific information, not the information that was deemed the least damaging to the president, according to political apparatchiks installed into those organizations by the White House.
Four years ago I didn’t have a president who lied about the severity of a pandemic to the public while privately acknowledging that severity.
Four years ago tens of thousands of people more than there should have been weren’t dead, and even more sick, of a disease that they might have avoided if accurate information and a well-formulated plan had been offered at the federal level. These numbers include people I know and care about.
Four years ago there were far more countries I could travel to with an American passport than ones I could not, including the one directly north of us.
Four years ago, I could go to conventions and have book tours to promote my work and to make connections with business associates.
Four years ago I could get nearly any kind of soda I wanted in an aluminum can.
Four years ago there were no shortages of basic home necessities.
Four years ago I did not have a president who championed white supremacy and conspiracy theories over science and the well-being of all Americans.
Four years ago I didn’t worry whether my vote, or the votes of family members and friends, would be counted fairly and accurately.
Four years ago my health insurance cost less and covered more.
Four years ago I didn’t think about whether my mail would be sent or arrive in a timely manner.
Four years ago I had a president who hadn’t insulted the work and sacrifice of service members, who include both friends and family members.
Four years ago I didn’t worry whether my access to the services and function of the federal government, in an emergency or at all other times, would be contingent upon whether the president had decided someone in my state state was his friend or his foe, or had flattered him enough that he felt inclined to do the job that he was in fact required to do, by law and by the Constitution.
So, no. I’m not better off today than I was four years ago. I am in fact rather worse off: I have a little bit more money, at the expense of an actual, functioning country and society. This is not a good exchange. I will vote accordingly.
I know a lot of people are unhappy with the thought of a Biden presidency for various reasons, but four more years of this… chaos… won’t do any good for anyone who actually works for a living.
This year, for the first time, I have one of those “healing fields” right next door to my house. Long rows of American flags on the lawn of the local civic center, standing about as tall as I am on poles made of white PVC, their colors bright under the September sun. During rare moments when there’s a lull in the traffic on the busy road out front, I can hear a whispering sound as folds of nylon cloth ripple and slide past each other in the light breeze. It’s rather peaceful. Pleasant, even. And yet… I hate it.
I hate that it’s been 19 years since that other sunny September morning and we’re still putting up these fields of flags and ritualistically posting images of the lost towers and the words “never forget” on our social media. What good does it do us as a society to keep doing this? How long will it take, how many years of putting up “healing fields” does it require, until this nation finally is healed? Or even beginning to heal? Or at least pretending to?
Not that anyone asked, but I’ll tell you what I think: I don’t believe Americans really want this particular wound to heal. I think we enjoy our martyrdom too much.
Blasphemy, I know, and maybe more than a little asshole-ish to say it out loud. But look… we don’t behave this way around December 7, and as far as I know, we never did. We just got on with the business at hand. I suppose it can be argued that 9/11 was more traumatic than Pearl Harbor, because it happened on the mainland instead of 2500 miles away, right in the heart of our most important city, and we all saw the towers fall on live television. But still… it’s been nearly two decades. An entire generation has been born and (mostly) grown up in that time. So why are we still doing this?
In a couple of recent posts, I mentioned the way I reacted to breaking up with someone when I was 20, the way I moped about it for much, much longer than I should have. I didn’t see it that way at the time. Back then, all I knew was that I was hurting. But here’s the thing: Looking back now, I think that after a while, I chose to keep hurting. It became a sort of identity for me. I saw myself as the wounded romantic, the tragic figure who lost at love. In some weird, fucked-up, masochistic way, I think I actually liked hurting and pining for a lost love. But it was foolish and self-destructive. Maybe a little bit phony, too; that is, maybe I wasn’t really hurting so much as I believed myself to be. And it was self-limiting: Who knows what opportunities I missed out on, that I was utterly blind to, because I was so absorbed with this… idea. Because in the end, that’s what I was really hung up on, an idea of loss more than the actual girl that I lost. And it was all, when you get down to it, somehow… somehow it was my fault that I felt that way. It was my choice to remain in that headspace instead of pulling myself together and getting on with living.
I think that’s what Americans are doing with 9/11 at this point. We’re choosing to continue this annual ritual of mourning that is, to my way of thinking, far out of proportion with the number of lives actually lost. Three thousand people died in the twin towers and in the Pentagon and in that field in Pennsylvania, and that is tragic. The manner of their deaths was absolutely horrible. But how many died in the wars of revenge that we waged after 9/11? How many have died of COVID-19 in the past few months, and how many are going to die of it before it finally burns itself out or recedes to the level of an annual nuisance instead of a scourge? Are they going to get an annual day of remembrance too? Because I think this damned plague has been every bit as traumatic and painful as that terror attack 19 years ago. But that’s different somehow, isn’t it?
Don’t misunderstand. I’m sure there are still people who lost loved ones in the attack or who live near to where it happened who struggle this time of year. I’m not unsympathetic to that. I don’t think we should stop all commemoration of the event or of the lives lost. But I’d like to see it start to scale back. To become a regional thing that happens at the places where people actually died, like the annual commemoration on the USS Arizona. We shouldn’t forget what happened or ignore it moving forward, but can’t we be a little more measured about it now that we have some distance from it?
And for god’s sake, can we avoid turning this into yet another “America, Fuck Yeah!” holiday? Because I fear we’re drifting that way now that this day has been officially designated as “Patriot Day.” In addition to that field of flags, my hometown is planning a classic-car parade and fireworks tonight at — naturally — 9:11 PM. I can’t tell you how distasteful I find that. This day is supposed to be a solemn memorial for the dead, but let’s have a party too. But I suppose that’s the America way, when you get down to it. Armistice Day becomes Veterans Day, which becomes a three-day weekend and an opportunity for a killer deal on a new pickup truck. I know that I’m just spitting into the wind with my desire to see Patriot Day rolled back to something quiet and small and dignified. But then I’d also like to see American troops leave Iraq and Afghanistan once and for all, and I’d like to not have to take off my shoes at the airport anymore too.
Josh Marshall, founder and editor of the Talking Points Memo blog, has some insight into the general character of Democrats:
Democrats today fit into two cultural and ideational groups. Most fall into both. But almost all of them fit into at least one of them. First, they are people who tend to be empirically minded, more tolerant, more trusting of scientific consensus. These are all mindsets and world-views that place a great premium on doubt. Skepticism is the root of empiricism. It is, along with doubt, also a key pillar of tolerance. Each correlates with educational attainment, which in recent decades has become a key marker of Democratic partisan affiliation. In our current political configurations, these habits of thought and experience are heavily weighted to those who identify as Democrats. These are qualities that in most respects Democrats valorize. But here we see some of the negative effects. You’re less sure you’re right.
Many Democrats also have either a personal or historical experience of being marginalized in society. This is a good reason to be wary of and anticipate bad outcomes.
So let’s see… I’m well-educated and have always respected science, and I like to think of myself as a tolerant man. Certainly I have completely internalized the Star Trek ideal known as IDIC… Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. And growing up as a non-religious kid in the midst of small-town Mormon Utah, I’ve definitely felt marginalized at times in my life.
My god, it’s like he’s talking about me!
Maybe. I could be wrong. I’m not sure…
(Seriously, though, I can’t fault anything he says here, including his conclusion that Dems tend to struggle with self-doubt and as a result often shoot themselves in the foot. It’s something I truly wish we could bring under control, both for the sake of our political standing and for our own personal peace of mind… )
Responding to the news that a seventeen-year-old twerp with AR-15 murdered two people at a protest against police brutality in Wisconsin, Trevor Noah of The Daily Show calls it as he sees it:
Some guy decided to drive to Kenosha with his militia buddies to “protect a business,” and apparently ended up shooting three people and killing two. But don’t worry—the business is okay. And let me tell you something: No one drives into a city with guns because they love someone else’s business that much. That’s some bullshit. No one has ever thought, “Oh, it’s my solemn duty to pick up a rifle and protect that T.J.Maxx.” They do it because they’re hoping to shoot someone.
That’s the only reason people like him join these gangs in the first place. And yes, I said it: a gang. Enough with this “militia” bullshit. This isn’t the Battle of Yorktown. It’s a bunch of dudes threatening people with guns. And while what happened with those shootings last night is tragic, what happened afterwards is illuminating. Because it made me wonder, it really made me wonder why some people get shot seven times in the back while other people are treated like human beings and reasoned with and taken into custody with no bullets in their bodies.
How come Jacob Blake was seen as a deadly threat for a theoretical gun that he might have and might try to commit a crime with, but this gunman who was armed and had already shot people, who had shown that he is a threat, was arrested the next day, given full due process of the law, and generally treated like a human being whose life matters?
How did Dylann Roof shoot up a church, James Holmes shoot up a movie theater, and both live to tell about it? Why is it that the police decide that some threats must be extinguished immediately while other threats get the privilege of being defused?
I’m asking these as questions, but I feel like we know the answer. The answer is that the gun doesn’t matter as much as who is holding the gun. Because for some people, Black skin is the most threatening weapon of all.
I truly believe racial inequity is coming to a head in this country. Enough is enough. For the record: Black. Lives. Matter. And law enforcement as an institution, as it is currently practiced in this barbarous nation of ours, is racist as hell. Maybe not individual cops, but the general institution itself. Black people are treated differently by police than whites, and any white people who don’t see it are being deliberately obtuse. And yes, whether they’re conscious of it or not, whether they think of themselves this way or not, they are being racist.
It’s long past time for change. Things must change. And if we don’t find a way to do it peacefully, then I am truly afraid of what the next few years hold. Because people black and white are fed up. And all these redneck dipshits in their soldier-boy cosplay suits with their battlefield weapons might think they’re big and tough, but I have a feeling they’re not going to be as invincible as they imagine themselves to be when the lid finally blows off this pressure cooker.
America is truly not the cesspool that Donald Trump makes it look like. It’s fundamentally a decent country with an appalling racial history—but a racial history that we’ve been slowly overcoming for decades. Trump represents the worst of that history, not the future of our country. The arc of American culture may be slow, but it does bend toward racial justice. Donald Trump is only a few weeks from discovering that.
God, I hope he’s right. I want to believe this, just as I want to believe in the Star Trek vision of humanity that I grew up on, i.e., that we’re still half-savage but we can do better and, more importantly, we will. But it’s so damn hard to cling to that vision when every damn day brings a new outrage, a new desecration, a new demonstration of just how absolutely shitty people can be for no other reason than because they like pissing other folks off. “Owning the libs.” Being assholes just for the sake of being assholes. It’s exhausting. And I can’t wait until it’s over.
In a blog entry today, political observer Kevin Drum posts a bunch of charts derived from a new Pew Research poll and then concludes:
Republicans care about crime, immigration, and guns. Democrats barely even notice these issues. Conversely, Dems care about the pandemic, race inequality, and climate change. Republicans could care less about them. We are living in two different worlds.
Nothing new or surprising here, it’s just nice to occasionally validate something I say all the time. Not merely different worlds, but different freaking universes. Parallel dimensions. Earth Prime vs Bizarro-World.
The big questions are, of course, how did we get here… and what the hell do we do about it?
As I mentioned in the previous entry, my vote in the upcoming election is already locked in. I was always going to vote Democratic regardless of who the nominee might have been. That said, I did have my favorite in the primary… and Joe Biden wasn’t it. I had nothing against him, I just had another preference. But after catching up on his speech last night on the final evening of the DNC, I’m a lot more enthused about the idea of President Biden.
He’s not the greatest speaker in the world. He doesn’t have the soaring oratorical skills of Bill Clinton or the infectious optimism of Barack Obama. But he’s authentic and he’s earnest. He wears decency and empathy on his sleeve. I like how during the course of this speech, you can hear flashes of genuine anger at how the current president has gone astray. Not just because I’m deeply, deeply angry about Donald Trump’s destructive rampage against everything the Democrats have accomplished since the New Deal, although I certainly am. But rather because it’s real emotion. That’s real humanity shining through, but not overwhelming his reason. I like when his voice thickens while he’s talking about his late wife and son, too. Joe Biden is a human being. Not some weird damaged husk, or a slick, impassive replicant.
And he says the things I want to hear. About what it’s going to honestly take to handle this goddamn pandemic, and that he’ll start to do it on Day One (we should’ve had a national stat-at-home order and masking mandate months ago). And also about rebuilding the country — broadband! — and fixing the institutions that are broken and confronting climate change. I like that he talks about trusting in science. And restoring our friendships around the world. I am appalled that Trump and his sycophantic organization have trashed decades-old alliances simply because of his xenophobia and obsession with the idea that America needs to be paid for everything like some kind of nationalistic protection racket. Biden’s words on the subject were… soothing. If he gets in, I think we have a chance of salvaging some degree of American prestige… although if the right wing thought Obama’s “apology tour” was too much, they’re going to lose their minds over what Biden will be required to do.
I am more dubious about Biden’s claim that we’re on the verge of getting rid of America’s systemic racism, even though the BLM protests of recent months have been the most remarkable thing around the subject that I’ve seen in my lifetime. But again, I like what Biden has to say about the possibility. I like that he’s talking about possibilities in general.
It was a good speech. I look forward to more like this…
Transcript follows the video (bolded emphasis is mine):
Ella Baker, a giant of the civil rights movement, left us with this wisdom: Give people light and they will find a way.
Give people light. Those are words for our time.
The current president has cloaked America in darkness for much too long. Too much anger. Too much fear. Too much division. Here and now, I give you my word: If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us not the worst. I will be an ally of the light not of the darkness.
It’s time for us, for We the People, to come together.
For make no mistake. United we can, and will, overcome this season of darkness in America. We will choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, fairness over privilege.
I am a proud Democrat and I will be proud to carry the banner of our party into the general election. So, it is with great honor and humility that I accept this nomination for President of the United States of America.
But while I will be a Democratic candidate, I will be an American president. I will work as hard for those who didn’t support me as I will for those who did. That’s the job of a president. To represent all of us, not just our base or our party. This is not a partisan moment. This must be an American moment.
It’s a moment that calls for hope and light and love. Hope for our futures, light to see our way forward, and love for one another. America isn’t just a collection of clashing interests of Red States or Blue States. We’re so much bigger than that. We’re so much better than that.
Nearly a century ago, Franklin Roosevelt pledged a New Deal in a time of massive unemployment, uncertainty, and fear. Stricken by disease, stricken by a virus, FDR insisted that he would recover and prevail and he believed America could as well. And he did. And so can we.
This campaign isn’t just about winning votes.
It’s about winning the heart, and yes, the soul of America.
Winning it for the generous among us, not the selfish. Winning it for the workers who keep this country going, not just the privileged few at the top. Winning it for those communities who have known the injustice of the “knee on the neck”. For all the young people who have known only an America of rising inequity and shrinking opportunity. They deserve to experience America’s promise in full.
No generation ever knows what history will ask of it. All we can ever know is whether we’ll be ready when that moment arrives. And now history has delivered us to one of the most difficult moments America has ever faced. Four historic crises. All at the same time. A perfect storm. The worst pandemic in over 100 years. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The most compelling call for racial justice since the 60’s. And the undeniable realities and accelerating threats of climate change. So, the question for us is simple: Are we ready?
I believe we are.
We must be.
All elections are important. But we know in our bones this one is more consequential. America is at an inflection point. A time of real peril, but of extraordinary possibilities. We can choose the path of becoming angrier, less hopeful, and more divided. A path of shadow and suspicion. Or we can choose a different path, and together, take this chance to heal, to be reborn, to unite. A path of hope and light. This is a life-changing election that will determine America’s future for a very long time. Character is on the ballot. Compassion is on the ballot. Decency, science, democracy. They are all on the ballot. Who we are as a nation. What we stand for. And, most importantly, who we want to be.
That’s all on the ballot. And the choice could not be clearer. No rhetoric is needed. Just judge this president on the facts:
Five million Americans infected with COVID-19.
More than 170,000 Americans have died.
By far the worst performance of any nation on Earth.
More than 50 million people have filed for unemployment this year.
More than 10 million people are going to lose their health insurance this year.
Nearly one in 6 small businesses have closed this year.
If this president is re-elected we know what will happen.
Cases and deaths will remain far too high.
More mom and pop businesses will close their doors for good.
Working families will struggle to get by, and yet, the wealthiest one percent will get tens of billions of dollars in new tax breaks.
And the assault on the Affordable Care Act will continue until its destroyed, taking insurance away from more than 20 million people — including more than 15 million people on Medicaid — and getting rid of the protections that President Obama and I passed for people who suffer from a pre-existing condition.
And speaking of President Obama, a man I was honored to serve alongside for 8 years as Vice President. Let me take this moment to say something we don’t say nearly enough: Thank you, Mr. President. You were a great president. A president our children could — and did — look up to.
No one will say that about the current occupant of the office.
What we know about this president is if he’s given four more years he will be what he’s been the last four years. A president who takes no responsibility, refuses to lead, blames others, cozies up to dictators, and fans the flames of hate and division. He will wake up every day believing the job is all about him. Never about you. Is that the America you want for you, your family, your children?
I see a different America. One that is generous and strong. Selfless and humble. It’s an America we can rebuild together.
As president, the first step I will take will be to get control of the virus that’s ruined so many lives. Because I understand something this president doesn’t. We will never get our economy back on track, we will never get our kids safely back to school, we will never have our lives back, until we deal with this virus. The tragedy of where we are today is it didn’t have to be this bad. Just look around. It’s not this bad in Canada. Or Europe. Or Japan. Or almost anywhere else in the world.
The President keeps telling us the virus is going to disappear. He keeps waiting for a miracle. Well, I have news for him, no miracle is coming. We lead the world in confirmed cases. We lead the world in deaths. Our economy is in tatters, with Black, Latino, Asian American, and Native American communities bearing the brunt of it. And after all this time, the president still does not have a plan.
Well, I do.
If I’m president, on day one we’ll implement the national strategy I’ve been laying out since March. We’ll develop and deploy rapid tests with results available immediately. We’ll make the medical supplies and protective equipment our country needs. And we’ll make them here in America. So we will never again be at the mercy of China and other foreign countries in order to protect our own people. We’ll make sure our schools have the resources they need to be open, safe, and effective. We’ll put the politics aside and take the muzzle off our experts so the public gets the information they need and deserve. The honest, unvarnished truth. They can deal with that. We’ll have a national mandate to wear a mask-not as a burden, but to protect each other. It’s a patriotic duty. In short, I will do what we should have done from the very beginning.
Our current president has failed in his most basic duty to this nation. He failed to protect us. He failed to protect America. And, my fellow Americans, that is unforgivable.
As president, I will make you this promise: I will protect America. I will defend us from every attack. Seen. And unseen. Always. Without exception. Every time.
Look, I understand it’s hard to have hope right now.
On this summer night, let me take a moment to speak to those of you who have lost the most. I know how it feels to lose someone you love. I know that deep black hole that opens up in your chest. That you feel your whole being is sucked into it. I know how mean and cruel and unfair life can be sometimes. But I’ve learned two things.First, your loved ones may have left this Earth but they never leave your heart. They will always be with you. And second, I found the best way through pain and loss and grief is to find purpose. As God’s children each of us have a purpose in our lives.
And we have a great purpose as a nation: To open the doors of opportunity to all Americans. To save our democracy. To be a light to the world once again. To finally live up to and make real the words written in the sacred documents that founded this nation that all men and women are created equal. Endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
You know, my Dad was an honorable, decent man. He got knocked down a few times pretty hard, but always got up. He worked hard and built a great middle-class life for our family. He used to say, “Joey, I don’t expect the government to solve my problems, but I expect it to understand them.” And then he would say: “Joey, a job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about your dignity. It’s about respect. It’s about your place in your community. It’s about looking your kids in the eye and say, honey, it’s going to be okay.”
I’ve never forgotten those lessons.
That’s why my economic plan is all about jobs, dignity, respect, and community. Together, we can, and we will, rebuild our economy. And when we do, we’ll not only build it back, we’ll build it back better. With modern roads, bridges, highways, broadband, ports and airports as a new foundation for economic growth. With pipes that transport clean water to every community. With 5 million new manufacturing and technology jobs so the future is made in America. With a health care system that lowers premiums, deductibles, and drug prices by building on the Affordable Care Act he’s trying to rip away. With an education system that trains our people for the best jobs of the 21st century, where cost doesn’t prevent young people from going to college, and student debt doesn’t crush them when they get out. With child care and elder care that make it possible for parents to go to work and for the elderly to stay in their homes with dignity. With an immigration system that powers our economy and reflects our values. With newly empowered labor unions. With equal pay for women. With rising wages you can raise a family on. Yes, we’re going to do more than praise our essential workers. We’re finally going to pay them.
We can, and we will, deal with climate change. It’s not only a crisis, it’s an enormous opportunity. An opportunity for America to lead the world in clean energy and create millions of new good-paying jobs in the process.
And we can pay for these investments by ending loopholes and the president’s $1.3 trillion tax giveaway to the wealthiest 1 percent and the biggest, most profitable corporations, some of which pay no tax at all. Because we don’t need a tax code that rewards wealth more than it rewards work. I’m not looking to punish anyone. Far from it. But it’s long past time the wealthiest people and the biggest corporations in this country paid their fair share. For our seniors, Social Security is a sacred obligation, a sacred promise made. The current president is threatening to break that promise. He’s proposing to eliminate the tax that pays for almost half of Social Security without any way of making up for that lost revenue. I will not let it happen. If I’m your president, we’re going to protect Social Security and Medicare. You have my word.
One of the most powerful voices we hear in the country today is from our young people. They’re speaking to the inequity and injustice that has grown up in America. Economic injustice. Racial injustice. Environmental injustice. I hear their voices and if you listen, you can hear them too. And whether it’s the existential threat posed by climate change, the daily fear of being gunned down in school, or the inability to get started in their first job — it will be the work of the next president to restore the promise of America to everyone.
I won’t have to do it alone. Because I will have a great Vice President at my side. Senator Kamala Harris. She is a powerful voice for this nation. Her story is the American story. She knows about all the obstacles thrown in the way of so many in our country. Women, Black women, Black Americans, South Asian Americans, immigrants, the left-out and left-behind. But she’s overcome every obstacle she’s ever faced. No one’s been tougher on the big banks or the gun lobby. No one’s been tougher in calling out this current administration for its extremism, its failure to follow the law, and its failure to simply tell the truth. Kamala and I both draw strength from our families. For Kamala, it’s Doug and their families. For me, it’s Jill and ours.
No man deserves one great love in his life. But I’ve known two. After losing my first wife in a car accident, Jill came into my life and put our family back together. She’s an educator. A mom. A military Mom. And an unstoppable force. If she puts her mind to it, just get out of the way. Because she’s going to get it done. She was a great Second Lady and she will make a great First Lady for this nation, she loves this country so much.
And I will have the strength that can only come from family. Hunter, Ashley and all our grandchildren, my brothers, my sister. They give me courage and lift me up. And while he is no longer with us, Beau inspires me every day. Beau served our nation in uniform. A decorated Iraq war veteran. So I take very personally the profound responsibility of serving as Commander in Chief.
I will be a president who will stand with our allies and friends. I will make it clear to our adversaries the days of cozying up to dictators are over. Under President Biden, America will not turn a blind eye to Russian bounties on the heads of American soldiers. Nor will I put up with foreign interference in our most sacred democratic exercise — voting. I will stand always for our values of human rights and dignity. And I will work in common purpose for a more secure, peaceful, and prosperous world.
History has thrust one more urgent task on us. Will we be the generation that finally wipes the stain of racism from our national character? I believe we’re up to it. I believe we’re ready. Just a week ago yesterday was the third anniversary of the events in Charlottesville. Remember seeing those neo-Nazis and Klansmen and white supremacists coming out of the fields with lighted torches? Veins bulging? Spewing the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the ’30s? Remember the violent clash that ensued between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it? Remember what the president said? There were quote, “very fine people on both sides.”
It was a wake-up call for us as a country. And for me, a call to action. At that moment, I knew I’d have to run. My father taught us that silence was complicity. And I could not remain silent or complicit. At the time, I said we were in a battle for the soul of this nation. And we are.
One of the most important conversations I’ve had this entire campaign is with someone who is too young to vote. I met with six-year old Gianna Floyd, a day before her Daddy George Floyd was laid to rest. She is incredibly brave. I’ll never forget. When I leaned down to speak with her, she looked into my eyes and said “Daddy, changed the world.” Her words burrowed deep into my heart. Maybe George Floyd’s murder was the breaking point. Maybe John Lewis’ passing the inspiration. However it has come to be, America is ready to in John’s words, to lay down “the heavy burdens of hate at last” and to do the hard work of rooting out our systemic racism.
America’s history tells us that it has been in our darkest moments that we’ve made our greatest progress. That we’ve found the light. And in this dark moment, I believe we are poised to make great progress again. That we can find the light once more. I have always believed you can define America in one word: Possibilities. That in America, everyone, and I mean everyone, should be given the opportunity to go as far as their dreams and God-given ability will take them. We can never lose that. In times as challenging as these, I believe there is only one way forward. As a united America. United in our pursuit of a more perfect Union. United in our dreams of a better future for us and for our children. United in our determination to make the coming years bright.
Are we ready? I believe we are. This is a great nation. And we are a good and decent people. This is the United States of America. And there has never been anything we’ve been unable to accomplish when we’ve done it together.
The Irish poet Seamus Heaney once wrote:
“History says, Don’t hope on this side of the grave, But then, once in a lifetime The longed-for tidal wave Of justice can rise up, And hope and history rhyme”
This is our moment to make hope and history rhyme. With passion and purpose, let us begin — you and I together, one nation, under God — united in our love for America and united in our love for each other. For love is more powerful than hate. Hope is more powerful than fear. Light is more powerful than dark.
This is our moment. This is our mission.
May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here tonight as love and hope and light joined in the battle for the soul of the nation.
And this is a battle that we, together, will win.
I promise you.
Thank you. And may God bless you. And may God protect our troops.
Political conventions are basically pep rallies for the home team. They’re geared toward a sympathetic audience, and I am under no illusions that anything that’s said at the DNC can or will persuade anyone from the opposing party to change their vote. (Likewise, I am not going to be moved one iota by anything that might be said at the other guys’ convention next week — especially this year when there is no question whatsoever which side I’m voting for. As if there ever has been for me.)
Now, normally, I don’t need to hear the “go, fight, win” speeches myself. As I suggested above, my vote is pretty much locked in. I’m not at all ashamed to admit that I am a liberal Democrat and I vote a straight-party ticket, Democratic all the way. Yeah, I know you’re supposed to consider each candidate individually and pick the best person for the job and all that. Fact is, though, since I reached voting age, there has never been a Republican I considered worth my vote. Not one. Not for president. Not for Congress. Not for dogcatcher. Their values, priorities and philosophies are not mine. Especially since Newt Gingrich, the Tea Party, and all the right-wing, ahem, commentators like Limbaugh, Hannity and Jones started defining what Republican priorities and values were. So yeah, my vote is solid and I don’t need any encouragement to use it.
The last few years, though, and the last six months in particular, have been deeply, deeply demoralizing. That horrible excuse for a man who currently occupies the White House, that small-minded, bigoted, hardheaded, narcissistic, petty, vindictive little crime boss, that inarticulate, bullying buffoon, has made certain that every single day of his term — every single fucking day — has brought some fresh new outrage, some new assault on decency, logic, precedent, history, science. Everything that matters to me as a Democrat and as a compassionate, thinking, ethical human being has come under attack. And though I’ve done my part to shore up my fellow travelers’ spirits — I’ve quoted Aragorn’s speech before the Black Gate a lot — I’m not immune to the effects of it all. Truth is, I’m tired. Tired of all the stupidity and casual meanness, tired of the malaprops and the meandering sentences that go nowhere and reference things that never happened and always end in a sneer.
Last night, I found, much to my surprise, that I did need to hear a convention speech. I needed to hear a dignified, intelligent man who can speak like an educated adult tell me that I’m not crazy for still believing in the common good. I needed to hear someone talk about the future with optimism instead of fear.
Barack Obama did not disappoint me. He did what he always does, what he does best. He made me feel, in the great words of Mr Spock, like there are always possibilities. And I’ll be honest… it was gratifying to hear him finally take a few shots at Donald J Trump, a pathetically needy man who has spent his time in the Oval Office trying to undo every single thing that Obama ever touched. Obama would have every right to be foaming-at-the-mouth furious. The fact that he does not give into the temptation to rant says everything about his character.
Know hope again.
Transcript follows (bolding is my emphasis):
Good evening, everybody. As you’ve seen by now, this isn’t a normal convention. It’s not a normal time. So tonight, I want to talk as plainly as I can about the stakes in this election. Because what we do these next 76 days will echo through generations to come.
I’m in Philadelphia, where our Constitution was drafted and signed. It wasn’t a perfect document. It allowed for the inhumanity of slavery and failed to guarantee women — and even men who didn’t own property — the right to participate in the political process. But embedded in this document was a North Star that would guide future generations; a system of representative government — a democracy — through which we could better realize our highest ideals. Through civil war and bitter struggles, we improved this Constitution to include the voices of those who’d once been left out. And gradually, we made this country more just, more equal, and more free.
The one Constitutional office elected by all of the people is the presidency. So at minimum, we should expect a president to feel a sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of all 330 million of us — regardless of what we look like, how we worship, who we love, how much money we have — or who we voted for.
But we should also expect a president to be the custodian of this democracy. We should expect that regardless of ego, ambition, or political beliefs, the president will preserve, protect, and defend the freedoms and ideals that so many Americans marched for and went to jail for; fought for and died for.
I have sat in the Oval Office with both of the men who are running for president. I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies. I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care.
But he never did. For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.
Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t. And the consequences of that failure are severe. 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone while those at the top take in more than ever. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.
Now, I know that in times as polarized as these, most of you have already made up your mind. But maybe you’re still not sure which candidate you’ll vote for — or whether you’ll vote at all. Maybe you’re tired of the direction we’re headed, but you can’t see a better path yet, or you just don’t know enough about the person who wants to lead us there.
So let me tell you about my friend Joe Biden.
Twelve years ago, when I began my search for a vice president, I didn’t know I’d end up finding a brother. Joe and I came from different places and different generations. But what I quickly came to admire about him is his resilience, born of too much struggle; his empathy, born of too much grief. Joe’s a man who learned — early on — to treat every person he meets with respect and dignity, living by the words his parents taught him: “No one’s better than you, Joe, but you’re better than nobody.” That empathy, that decency, the belief that everybody counts — that’s who Joe is.
When he talks with someone who’s lost her job, Joe remembers the night his father sat him down to say that he’d lost his. When Joe listens to a parent who’s trying to hold it all together right now, he does it as the single dad who took the train back to Wilmington each and every night so he could tuck his kids into bed.
When he meets with military families who’ve lost their hero, he does it as a kindred spirit; the parent of an American soldier; somebody whose faith has endured the hardest loss there is.
For eight years, Joe was the last one in the room whenever I faced a big decision. He made me a better president — and he’s got the character and the experience to make us a better country.
And in my friend Kamala Harris, he’s chosen an ideal partner who’s more than prepared for the job; someone who knows what it’s like to overcome barriers and who’s made a career fighting to help others live out their own American dream.
Along with the experience needed to get things done, Joe and Kamala have concrete policies that will turn their vision of a better, fairer, stronger country into reality.
They’ll get this pandemic under control, like Joe did when he helped me manage H1N1 and prevent an Ebola outbreak from reaching our shores.
They’ll expand health care to more Americans, like Joe and I did ten years ago when he helped craft the Affordable Care Act and nail down the votes to make it the law.
They’ll rescue the economy, like Joe helped me do after the Great Recession. I asked him to manage the Recovery Act, which jumpstarted the longest stretch of job growth in history. And he sees this moment now not as a chance to get back to where we were, but to make long-overdue changes so that our economy actually makes life a little easier for everybody — whether it’s the waitress trying to raise a kid on her own, or the shift worker always on the edge of getting laid off, or the student figuring out how to pay for next semester’s classes.
Joe and Kamala will restore our standing in the world — and as we’ve learned from this pandemic, that matters. Joe knows the world, and the world knows him. He knows that our true strength comes from setting an example the world wants to follow. A nation that stands with democracy, not dictators. A nation that can inspire and mobilize others to overcome threats like climate change, terrorism, poverty, and disease.
But more than anything, what I know about Joe and Kamala is that they actually care about every American. And they care deeply about this democracy.
They believe that in a democracy, the right to vote is sacred, and we should be making it easier for people to cast their ballot, not harder.
They believe that no one — including the president — is above the law, and that no public official — including the president — should use their office to enrich themselves or their supporters.
They understand that in this democracy, the Commander-in-Chief doesn’t use the men and women of our military, who are willing to risk everything to protect our nation, as political props to deploy against peaceful protesters on our own soil. They understand that political opponents aren’t “un-American” just because they disagree with you; that a free press isn’t the “enemy” but the way we hold officials accountable; that our ability to work together to solve big problems like a pandemic depends on a fidelity to facts and science and logic and not just making stuff up.
None of this should be controversial. These shouldn’t be Republican principles or Democratic principles. They’re American principles. But at this moment, this president and those who enable him, have shown they don’t believe in these things.
Tonight, I am asking you to believe in Joe and Kamala’s ability to lead this country out of these dark times and build it back better. But here’s the thing: no single American can fix this country alone. Not even a president. Democracy was never meant to be transactional — you give me your vote; I make everything better. It requires an active and informed citizenry. So I am also asking you to believe in your own ability — to embrace your own responsibility as citizens — to make sure that the basic tenets of our democracy endure.
Because that’s what at stake right now. Our democracy.
Look, I understand why many Americans are down on government. The way the rules have been set up and abused in Congress make it easy for special interests to stop progress. Believe me, I know. I understand why a white factory worker who’s seen his wages cut or his job shipped overseas might feel like the government no longer looks out for him, and why a Black mother might feel like it never looked out for her at all. I understand why a new immigrant might look around this country and wonder whether there’s still a place for him here; why a young person might look at politics right now, the circus of it all, the meanness and the lies and crazy conspiracy theories and think, what’s the point?
Well, here’s the point: this president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism. They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter. That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.
We can’t let that happen. Do not let them take away your power. Don’t let them take away your democracy. Make a plan right now for how you’re going to get involved and vote. Do it as early as you can and tell your family and friends how they can vote too. Do what Americans have done for over two centuries when faced with even tougher times than this — all those quiet heroes who found the courage to keep marching, keep pushing in the face of hardship and injustice.
Last month, we lost a giant of American democracy in John Lewis. Some years ago, I sat down with John and the few remaining leaders of the early Civil Rights Movement. One of them told me he never imagined he’d walk into the White House and see a president who looked like his grandson. Then he told me that he’d looked it up, and it turned out that on the very day that I was born, he was marching into a jail cell, trying to end Jim Crow segregation in the South.
What we do echoes through the generations.
Whatever our backgrounds, we’re all the children of Americans who fought the good fight. Great grandparents working in firetraps and sweatshops without rights or representation. Farmers losing their dreams to dust. Irish and Italians and Asians and Latinos told to go back where they came from. Jews and Catholics, Muslims and Sikhs, made to feel suspect for the way they worshipped. Black Americans chained and whipped and hanged. Spit on for trying to sit at lunch counters. Beaten for trying to vote.
If anyone had a right to believe that this democracy did not work, and could not work, it was those Americans. Our ancestors. 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. And yet, instead of giving up, they joined together and said somehow, some way, we are going to make this work. We are going to bring those words, in our founding documents, to life.
I’ve seen that same spirit rising these past few years. Folks of every age and background who packed city centers and airports and rural roads so that families wouldn’t be separated. So that another classroom wouldn’t get shot up. So that our kids won’t grow up on an uninhabitable planet. Americans of all races joining together to declare, in the face of injustice and brutality at the hands of the state, that Black Lives Matter, no more, but no less, so that no child in this country feels the continuing sting of racism.
To the young people who led us this summer, telling us we need to be better — in so many ways, you are this country’s dreams fulfilled. Earlier generations had to be persuaded that everyone has equal worth. For you, it’s a given — a conviction. And what I want you to know is that for all its messiness and frustrations, your system of self-government can be harnessed to help you realize those convictions.
You can give our democracy new meaning. You can take it to a better place. You’re the missing ingredient — the ones who will decide whether or not America becomes the country that fully lives up to its creed.
That work will continue long after this election. But any chance of success depends entirely on the outcome of this election. This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that’s what it takes to win. So we have to get busy building it up — by pouring all our effort into these 76 days, and by voting like never before — for Joe and Kamala, and candidates up and down the ticket, so that we leave no doubt about what this country we love stands for — today and for all our days to come.
In the future, when our children and grandchildren ask just what the hell happened to us, this is a pretty good summary:
COVID-19 didn’t lay America low; it simply revealed what had long been forsaken. As the crisis unfolded, with another American dying every minute of every day, a country that once turned out fighter planes by the hour could not manage to produce the paper masks or cotton swabs essential for tracking the disease. The nation that defeated smallpox and polio, and led the world for generations in medical innovation and discovery, was reduced to a laughing stock as a buffoon of a president advocated the use of household disinfectants as a treatment for a disease that intellectually he could not begin to understand.
As a number of countries moved expeditiously to contain the virus, the United States stumbled along in denial, as if willfully blind. With less than four percent of the global population, the U.S. soon accounted for more than a fifth of COVID deaths. The percentage of American victims of the disease who died was six times the global average. Achieving the world’s highest rate of morbidity and mortality provoked not shame, but only further lies, scapegoating, and boasts of miracle cures as dubious as the claims of a carnival barker, a grifter on the make.
As the United States responded to the crisis like a corrupt tin pot dictatorship, the actual tin pot dictators of the world took the opportunity to seize the high ground, relishing a rare sense of moral superiority, especially in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The autocratic leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, chastised America for “maliciously violating ordinary citizens’ rights.” North Korean newspapers objected to “police brutality” in America. Quoted in the Iranian press, Ayatollah Khomeini gloated, “America has begun the process of its own destruction.”
Trump’s performance and America’s crisis deflected attention from China’s own mishandling of the initial outbreak in Wuhan, not to mention its move to crush democracy in Hong Kong. When an American official raised the issue of human rights on Twitter, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, invoking the killing of George Floyd, responded with one short phrase, “I can’t breathe.”
These politically motivated remarks may be easy to dismiss. But Americans have not done themselves any favors. Their political process made possible the ascendancy to the highest office in the land a national disgrace, a demagogue as morally and ethically compromised as a person can be. As a British writer quipped, “there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid”.
… As they stare into the mirror and perceive only the myth of their exceptionalism, Americans remain almost bizarrely incapable of seeing what has actually become of their country. The republic that defined the free flow of information as the life blood of democracy, today ranks 45th among nations when it comes to press freedom. In a land that once welcomed the huddled masses of the world, more people today favor building a wall along the southern border than supporting health care and protection for the undocumented mothers and children arriving in desperation at its doors. In a complete abandonment of the collective good, U.S. laws define freedom as an individual’s inalienable right to own a personal arsenal of weaponry, a natural entitlement that trumps even the safety of children; in the past decade alone 346 American students and teachers have been shot on school grounds.
The American cult of the individual denies not just community but the very idea of society. No one owes anything to anyone. All must be prepared to fight for everything: education, shelter, food, medical care. What every prosperous and successful democracy deems to be fundamental rights — universal health care, equal access to quality public education, a social safety net for the weak, elderly, and infirmed — America dismisses as socialist indulgences, as if so many signs of weakness.
How can the rest of the world expect America to lead on global threats — climate change, the extinction crisis, pandemics — when the country no longer has a sense of benign purpose, or collective well-being, even within its own national community? Flag-wrapped patriotism is no substitute for compassion; anger and hostility no match for love. Those who flock to beaches, bars, and political rallies, putting their fellow citizens at risk, are not exercising freedom; they are displaying, as one commentator has noted, the weakness of a people who lack both the stoicism to endure the pandemic and the fortitude to defeat it.
I’ve been saying for years that 9/11 — or rather our panicky response to it, when we willingly started surrendering our personal liberties in the name of “safety” and declared war on a country that had not attacked us — put the lie to our national self-image as “the home of the brave.” That was the first of our myths to crumble. Now it seems like all of them are crumbling, all at once. COVID-19 has exposed every crack in the shaky foundation of our society, every weakness of the no-holds-barred capitalist system and the every-man-for-himself philosophy that have defined this nation, at least during my lifetime. And although I’m perfectly cool with those concepts getting thrown in the bin, the way it’s happening — our national humiliation on the world stage — is agonizing. And infuriating. I think I finally understand the anger so many right-wingers have felt for so many years, their impotent rage at the notion that the country they thought they knew is dissolving before their very eyes. Of course, they attribute the dissolution to an entirely different set of causes, and they have an entirely different set of solutions. But the basic emotional stew of anger, sorrow, shame, and utter powerlessness… yeah, I get that now.
There’s never been any question that I would vote for Joe Biden if he is the Democratic nominee for president in 2020. I’d vote for a ham-salad sandwich if it was running against the current occupant of the Oval Office. But after listening to a speech Biden delivered today in Philadelphia ahead of the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, for the first time I feel some genuine enthusiasm for him. He’s a low-key speaker, to be sure. He doesn’t have Obama’s eloquent delivery or Bill Clinton’s charisma. But I like what he said. And I liked the sense of earnestness and empathy in the way he said it. This is a man who gets it… who sees America for what it is and for what it ought to be. He’s not a revolutionary, he’s not promising utopia, but he’s not a cynic either, and I think a Biden administration will be a step in the right direction. Or at least a a step back toward the light:
“The battle for the soul of this nation has been a constant push and pull for more than 240 years, a tug of war between the American ideal that we’re all created equal, and the harsh reality that racism has long torn us apart. The honest truth is that both elements are part of the American character, both elements. At our best, the American ideal wins out. But it’s never a rout, it’s always a fight and the battle is never fully won.
“I ask every American, I mean this in the bottom of my heart, ask every American, look at where we are now and think anew. Is this who we are? Is this who we want to be? Is this what we want to pass onto our children and our grandchildren: fear, anger, fingerpointing rather than the pursuit of happiness? Incompetence and anxiety, self absorption, selfishness? Or do we want to be the America we know we can be? The America we know in our hearts we could be and should be?
“We hunger for liberty the way Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas did. We thirst for the vote like Susan B. Anthony and Ella Baker and John Lewis did. We strive to explore the stars, cure disease, make an imperfect union more perfect than is been. We may come up short, but at our best, we try.
“My fellow Americans, we’re facing formidable enemies. They include not only the Coronavirus and a terrible impact on the lives and livelihoods, but also the selfishness and fear that have loomed over our national life for the last three years. And I choose those words advisedly, selfishness, and fear. Defeating those enemies requires us to do our duty. And that duty includes remembering who we should be. We should be the America of FDR and Eisenhower, of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., of Jonas Salk and Neil Armstrong. We should be the America that cherishes life, liberty, and courage, and above all, we should be the America that cherishes each other. Each and every one of us.”
Each and every one of us. E pluribus unum… out of many, one. That’s my America. And I want it back.