The Democrats Have Given Their Opening Statement Now the GOP Must Make its Case

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

The Democrats held the spotlight for the past week featuring a first-ever “virtual” convention. Now it’s the GOP’s turn. 

There was much moaning and groaning that the absence of all the usual hoopla, banners, well-liquified party-goers and delegates wearing crazy hats would put the country to sleep. 

Not only did that not happen but the complex Hollywood-centric production came off with nary a hitch. It might serve as the template for future conventions once the nation is mercifully pandemic-free. 

A few uncinematic but very telegenic Californians played starring roles–none more so than Sen. Kamala Harris who is the first African-American and Asian-American woman ever named to a national ticket. 

Harris’s opportunity to take the stage alone as the Vice-Presidential nominee of her party did not disappoint in an acceptance address which by itself made history. 

She opted not to use the occasion to prosecute the case against Donald Trump’s re-election which she will be doing every day until the election. 

It nevertheless served notice that the California born-and-bred junior Senator is a confident, eager and formidable opponent who may give Trump and Mike Pence more than they bargained for. 

Instead she helped to fill out a family portrait not previously known to the millions of voters she and Joe Biden will need to corral if they will be able to claim victory in November. 

The barrier-smashing former state Attorney General has deep roots in California. A native of Oakland where she attended school and lived for a time in Berkeley until she was 12, after graduation from Howard University in Washington D.C. she received her legal training at Hastings School of Law in San Francisco. 

Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a Tamil Indian-American, got a PhD in nutrition and endocrinology from UC Berkeley remaining there for her career as a leading breast cancer researcher and was herself a civil rights activist. 

Her father, Donald J. Harris, is a Stanford University professor emeritus of economics, who arrived in the US from British Jamaica in 1961 for graduate study at Berkeley, and received a PhD in economics. 

Her parents, long divorced, met when both were graduate students in the midst of the burgeoning civil rights movement in the ‘60s. Harris spoke of observing them from a “strollers-eye” view during the protests roiling much of America then and now once again. 

To give him his due, her father was the first Black scholar to gain tenure in Stanford’s economics department though drawing some opposition according to The Stanford Daily which described him as a left-wing theorist “leading students astray from neo-Classical economics.” 

The proud daughter of immigrants, Harris makes no effort to disguise her mixed heritage and in fact extolls it. In her acceptance speech she made very clear her deep reverence for her mom who passed away in 2009 and was the main source of her inspiration for entering public life. 

“My mother understood very well she was raising two black daughters,” Harris wrote in her 2018 autobiography, The Truths We Hold. “She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya (Harris’s younger sister) and me as black girls, and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident black women.” 

The racial divides which have erupted on the surface along with the coronavirus are bound to be defining features as voters head into an election perhaps more acrimonious than any in modern history. 

Not mincing words, Joe Biden, the newly anointed Democratic presidential nominee has labeled it nothing less than “a battle for the soul of the nation.” 

The selection of Harris as his running mate is both a belief and a gamble that a majority of voters are ready for major change and to install a black woman in a post one step from the presidency itself. 

The birtherism trope questioning former President Barack Obama’s legitimacy that met with a resounding thud and which Trump employed almost immediately against Harris has worn thin. 

The far bigger question is whether Obama’s triumph was a historic aberration or signaled a readiness by a majority of the electorate to reject  dictatorial rule. 

In some of the most scathing criticism ever leveled by a president at his successor, Obama proclaimed, 

“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.” 

(In just the time between Obama’s address and now, 5,000 more deaths were reported and very authoritative medical sources are predicting “there could be as many as 310,000 U.S. deaths by December 31st” if maximum safety and testing measures are not immediately taken in every state). 

The former president was equally effusive in advocating the election of Biden and Harris.

“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.” 

“We can’t let that happen. Do not let them take away your power. Don’t let them take away your democracy.” 

Biden and Harris appearing on a big screen with their spouses fully masked dispensed with the obligatory hugs waving to a small contingent of celebrating fans awaiting their arrival in parked cars with lights flashing outside the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware. 

A brilliant firecracker display followed and just like that a presidential convention largely devoid of pyrotechnics was over having been surprisingly successful in creating a feeling of intimate connection with the viewers.

The roll call of the states certifying the nominations was especially moving as it showcased the rich and diverse tapestry of a United States sadly disunited at the moment. 

The hopes and dreams of many in a very troubled electorate are riding on the fortunes of a man who has been in public life for 47 years and by his side a crusading woman of the West of consummate skills and redoubtable tenacity suddenly thrust into the brightest spotlight. 

Much of the intensive campaigning to come will feature virtual zoomed  appearances by the nominees at thousands of carefully orchestrated house parties across the land. 

The Democrats for their part have signaled that crowded boisterous pep rallies before cheering throngs are for now a thing of the past so long as the virus continues spreading its deadly contagion.  

America may be at an inflection point comparable to few other life-changing junctures in its still young history. 

Every presidential election is first and foremost a referendum on the individual who currently holds the office and aspires to keep it. That is the case now. 

Trump must defend a record long on rhetoric but short on policy achievements. The Biden-Harris team must convince voters they can do a better job. 

The staging in the narrowing run-up to the election may be largely virtual. However, the multiple crises and mounting threats to our centuries-long traditions and methods of governance—indeed to our constitutional underpinnings themselves—are very real. They will need to be resolved. 

How the voters respond will have enormous consequences not just in the four years ahead but for decades to come.  

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