Harold Meyerson, editor of The American Prospect and a prominent spokesman for the American left, explains here what he liked and did not like about the second day of the Democratic National (virtual) Convention.

I loved Bernie Sanders’ speech on the first night. I loved the roll call on the second night. In a usual convention, the roll call is a succession of politicians making political statements and announcing their state’s votes in a huge hall where people are milling around and no one is listening. This year, almost every state represented itself in an iconic setting, and the speakers were mostly regular people, not big-name politicians. The speaker in Kansas was a farmer in his fields, worried about the future. The speaker in Arizona was a teacher wearing a Red for Ed T-shirt, talking about the need to fund our schools. You really got a sense of the wonderful breadth and diversity of our country by watching the roll call. It was actually thrilling.

Meyerson wrote:

Unconventional: The Democrats, Day Two

If the first night of this year’s Democratic National Sort-Of Convention was all about Donald Trump’s disgraceful and aberrant presidency, night two was all about Joe Biden’s rooted normality.

Those roots were white working class—now a term almost interchangeable with Trump’s base, and tinged with assumptions of white tribalism and racism. Not so the Biden version of white working class-ness, however, and this more benign identity was a theme that was artfully woven through the night’s session.

The theme also expanded to include Biden’s embrace of the universal working class, with Joe talking with and sharing the concerns of a cross section of Americans fearful of losing their health insurance, which yet may prove his most potent point of contrast with Trump and the Republicans come November (as it was for Democrats in 2018). But looking at Hillary Clinton’s devastating and decisive failure to carry Bidenland in 2016—Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, home of a multiracial working class, of which the white section largely voted for Trump—Biden’s advisers made the obvious but still smart decision to plunk him down where he came from. On Tuesday night, he was the kid from Scranton who’s suffered more than his share of tragedy but always kept on punching (or as Jill Biden said, squaring his shoulders and going out to meet the world).

And it wasn’t just Biden. The roll call of the states, which was far better than its convention-hall predecessors, not only because of the visuals but because it wasn’t dominated by bloviating mid-level pols, featured more than a smattering of working-class Americans. There was the woman who worked in a Nebraska meatpacking plant who noted that she and her co-workers weren’t afforded paid sick leave, and asserted, “We’re human beings; we’re not robots; we’re not disposable.” There was the Missouri bricklayer and the Ohio worker wearing his IBEW union T-shirt who flatly declared, “Under Trump, working people end up getting screwed.”

The roll-call participants were anything but monochromatic; those from Maryland positioned themselves by an oversized bust of Frederick Douglass. But the contrast with Hillary Clinton’s 2016 convention couldn’t have been clearer. I remember noting it at the time but failed to realize how it portended her coming defeat, but that convention lacked any speakers who were working-class whites. Clinton’s convention showcased Democratic social liberalism; Biden’s, so far, has showcased a more class-based economic liberalism.

Yes, Monday’s session affirmed its support for Black Lives Matter, but both nights have highlighted the economic contrasts with contemporary Republicanism, of which Trump is merely the reductio ad absurdum. And it emphasized the access-to-health-care contrast, which runs along the race and class lines, and in a time of pandemic is the kind of contrast that can decide an election.

The foreign-policy section, with notables rightly pointing out that Trump’s policy, to the limited extent he has one, basically amounts to his expressions of admiration for leaders even more thuggish than he, was obligatory, but isn’t going to change many votes. What will change or solidify some votes is the image of Biden as a normal, decent, hard-working guy—three qualities no one has ever invoked to describe Donald Trump. What will change or solidify some votes is the knowledge that Biden respects and works within established democratic norms, as Trump does not. And these are all among the reasons that not only Republicans but also Bernie leftists are going to vote for Biden, because the left knows its vision depends on a functioning, and flourishing, democracy…

I’m fine with the airtime given to Republicans; I just wish there were more given to the left pole of the front. The millennials and Gen Zers who are transforming the Democratic Party into a more social democratic party have been underrepresented at this convention, and the 17 youngish keynoters who whizzed through the speed-dating version of a keynote address on Tuesday night lacked the time to establish their own generation’s politics, or, in fact, whether they actually identified with it. (As none of the keynoters had endorsed Bernie Sanders for president, there’s some question as to just how representative they are.) So the task of representing the new left fell to AOC and a dying Ady Barkan, but there are lots more where those two stalwarts come from, if the Biden folks just go looking. (The ever remarkable Barkan managed to endorse Medicare for All without actually saying the words.)

That said, the thematic emphasis the convention has put on matters of race and class is not only smart positioning but lays down markers that the young left and their elders should endeavor to hold Biden to, should he be elected. Biden’s long career has been marked by draconian crime legislation, solicitude to banks, and other normal political stances of the Reagan years, but Biden understands that those days are done, and the party’s ascendant left must ensure that they’re dead and buried. The Normal Joe persona is a valuable asset in this doctrinal transformation; it recasts the party’s newfound (or newly re-found) progressivism as Normal Joe’s concern for the average guy and gal.

I must close with my favorite moment of the night, a combination of convention hokum, the roll call’s remote locations, and, yes, average folks’ normality. It came when the roll call reached Rhode Island, and we were transported to a shot of two guys standing by the seashore, one of them holding a plate or dish of something tan with something red on top of it. The speaker, as is the custom, extolled the state and its Democratic governor and its favorite products, among which he mentioned calamari. At which point it became clear that what the other guy was holding was a platter of fried calamari topped with dip.

How better to symbolize a convention yearning for normality, marketing its nominee as Mr. Normal, than to promise us a bright future filled with fried calamari?

~ HAROLD MEYERSON

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