In September 1972, just before the start of my second year of law school, I was eating dinner with a group of law students, including a female first-year whom I had just met. The topic turned to the Democratic National Convention.
Never shy with an opinion, I said that the Dems had spent too much time bragging about how many (American) Indians were included among the delegates, and not enough time attacking Richard Nixon. The female first-year disagreed, politely but firmly.
Only later did I learn that her father, as former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, had helped implement reforms that made the 1972 Convention so diverse, and that her mother was a Native American.
There are several lessons to this story. The least important one is that an opposition party can never attack a president strongly enough to satisfy those who hate him.
This, I think, is also the lesson of a Washington Post column by Paul Waldman. The title of the column is “If anything, the Democratic convention has been too soft on Trump.”
I haven’t watched the convention, but I would be surprised if the Democrats have been soft on President Trump. Barack Obama certainly wasn’t in his speech, which I read this morning.
Obama accused Trump of not “putting in the work,” of not using his power as president to help anyone but himself and his friends, and of being interested only in gaining attention. Has any former president ever spoken this harshly in public about a sitting president? Not that I know of.
Waldman claims that Obama didn’t sufficiently describe “the moral depravity of this president.” But to Waldman, Trump’s depravity has no bounds. How, then, in a relatively short speech can anyone adequately describe it?
It’s true that Kamala Harris’ speech, which I have also read, didn’t attack Trump as harshly as some other vice presidential candidates have attacked the opposing standard bearer. For example, Hubert Humphrey ripped into Barry Goldwater in 1964. Dick Cheney did a number on the Clinton-Gore regime in 2000.
But Humphrey and Cheney could afford to devote themselves to attacking the other side because they didn’t need to introduce themselves to voters, and the public did not doubt their competence to lead the nation. Humphrey had been a national figure since 1948. He was as prominent as Goldwater. Cheney had been a wartime Secretary of Defense.
Harris, by contrast, has been a U.S. Senator for only three and a half years. She’s a badly failed presidential candidate whose poll numbers leave much to be desired.
Thus, she needed to use her speech to shore up her standing with the American public, not to feed the limitless appetite of vicious Trump haters like Paul Waldman.
If you make it until the end of his column, I think you’ll agree that therapy, not speeches, is Waldman’s last best hope.