Aug 19, 2020

The DNC convention heats up.

The DNC convention heats up.

Plus, a question about our two-party system.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to subscribe. You can read Tangle for free, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to subscribe. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 10 minutes.

The DNC convention, Joe Biden gets the formal nomination, a question about the two-party system and Tangle merch preview.

Former President Bill Clinton spoke during the DNC convention last night.

Reader feedback.

Two readers from California wrote in with the same advice about making sure your vote gets counted. Katie from San Diego said “I think you should also mention that people can receive their ballots by mail but drop them off at the voting sites once completed. It's a good middle ground to make sure your ballot arrives on time but you're not spending a ton of time waiting in line in person.” Amy from Los Angeles said her friend who works at a post office put it bluntly: “Drop it at a polling place,” she said. “Trust me.”

Quick hits.

  1. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said in a new statement that he will halt all operational changes at the Postal Service — including cost-cutting measures — until after the election. He wants to “avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail,” he said. He did not note, however, whether he would reverse any of the changes that were already implemented.
  2. Yesterday, Senate Republicans began floating a scaled-back version of a stimulus bill that would revive enhanced unemployment benefits, provide funding for testing and schools and protect businesses from lawsuits related to the virus. “The draft measure appears to be an effort to break through the political stalemate over providing another round of economic stimulus to Americans during the pandemic,” The New York Times reports. “But it is unlikely to alter the debate in Washington, where Democrats have repeatedly rejected previous Republican offers as insufficient.”
  3. Right-wing commentator Laura Loomer defeated five opponents in a Republican primary yesterday in the Congressional district that includes President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Loomer, 27, was considered a fringe candidate and has been banned from platforms like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook for hate speech. She once called Islam “a cancer on humanity” and has said Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to hold public office. The president congratulated her on Twitter, though pollster Dave Wasserman says she has “no chance” in the November election against Democrat Rep. Lois Frankel.
  4. Business leaders say they are not likely to implement Trump’s payroll tax cut order, according to a new Washington Post report. “Auto part suppliers, clothing sellers, retailers, restaurants and a torrent of top businesses signaled Tuesday they are unlikely to implement President Trump’s order deferring payment of workers’ payroll taxes, threatening an early blow to a policy the White House has touted as a major form of economic stimulus,” the newspaper said. The payroll tax cut was opposed by Senate Republicans and Democrats during coronavirus relief negotiations, but Trump has tried to issue the order via executive action.
  5. The World Health Organization has issued a new warning: young people are emerging as the main spreaders of the coronavirus. “People in their 20s, 30s and 40s are increasingly driving the spread,” Takeshi Kasai, the WHO’s Western Pacific regional director, said. “The epidemic is changing.” In the United States, the virus is still spreading. 5.48 million people have contracted it. 171,823 have died. The Wall Street Journal reports that there were 44,000 new cases yesterday, up sharply from the previous day but still below 50,000 for the fourth day in a row.

What D.C. is talking about.

The DNC convention. Monday and Tuesday night were the first two nights of the convention, highlighting both the Democratic party’s strategy and who it views as its top players and surrogates. On Monday, the news coverage around the convention was dominated by a few key players: Michelle Obama, who delivered a sharp rebuke of Trump; Bernie Sanders, who gave a classic version of his stump speech; John Kasich, the Republican and former Ohio governor who came out in support of Biden; and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who pointedly criticized the White House’s COVID-19 response.

Tuesday night, the party formally nominated Joe Biden for president. Jill Biden, Joe’s wife, had her “Michelle” moment and made most of the headlines for a speech she delivered about getting to know Joe. The national roll call, where representatives from across the country formally submitted their delegates, went off with few hiccups. Former President Bill Clinton also spoke (and Hillary will deliver a speech tonight), which set off some controversy given the #MeToo moment and numerous allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Clinton.

There was some other controversy, too. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) was at the center of several stories because the party only gave her a 90-second time slot despite her rising popularity in the party. She used her time to celebrate the “movement” happening across the country. She also gave a symbolic endorsement of Bernie Sanders, something she was asked to do by the party organizers because Sanders passed a delegate threshold.

Some interpreted her 90-second speech where she said “I hereby second the nomination for Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont for president of the United States of America,” as a “snub” of Biden.  But — in fact — she was performing a procedural vote at the party’s request. AOC has previously endorsed Biden and was left correcting news outlets like NBC for falsely saying she “did not endorse Joe Biden.”

The viewership for the first night of the convention was 28 million people combined across television and online, Biden spokesperson TJ Ducklo said. The television viewership was down by about 25% from 2016, but the online viewership “shattered” previous records with 10.2 million streamers.

Here is how the left and right are talking about the convention.

What the left is saying.

So far, so good. A lot of people were worried about the awkwardness the convention would usher in, given it’s being run as an entirely remote production. But many on the left seem pleased with how it’s going. There’s been a lot of chatter about how the party would look, but the platform so far has been both progressive and well short of what Donald Trump says it is, Andrew Prokop argued in Vox.

“There’s no endorsement of Medicare-for-all, no call to defund the police, no call to abolish ICE, no call to ban fracking, no support for legalizing marijuana nationwide, and no backing of free college for all,” he wrote. “On health care, the platform calls for free Covid-19 testing, treatment, and vaccines for all, for making a generous public option for health insurance available to all Americans, and for empowering Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.”

The party has called for a $15 minimum wage, aggressive increases in affordable housing and major new clean energy spending, though. “Overall, the platform isn’t a radical break from Democrats’ past — this is Joe Biden we’re talking about — but it contains a very wide-ranging suite of progressive proposals,” Prokop added.

Michelle Obama has still had the most talked-about speech, one which Eugene Robinson called a “searing indictment” of Trump, who seemed to make things worse when he criticized the speech, saying it was clearly “pre-taped” because Michelle Obama “had the wrong deaths” (she said 150,000 people had died of COVID-19 in her speech). Chris Cillizza called it a “disastrous self-own by Trump,” saying he inadvertently reminded everyone “that in the relatively short period of time between when Michelle Obama taped her convention speech and when it ran on Monday night, an additional 20,000 Americans have died from Covid-19.”

Some folks had a less positive view, though. The DNC convention seems tailored for older voters, two Washington Post columnists argued; it has sidelined figures like AOC who appeal to the next wave of Democrats the party needs in 2020. Spencer Bokat-Lindell wrote in the New York Times that “it’s still hard to tell” what the party even stands for.

“On Monday night, John Kasich, a Republican who enacted some of the country’s most restrictive abortion laws, gutted collective bargaining rights and opposed same-sex marriage while serving as governor of Ohio, gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention in support of Joe Biden,” Bokat-Lindell wrote.

Then Kasich criticized Ocasio-Cortez, the party’s best-known rising star, in an interview with BuzzFeed, saying she didn’t represent the party. AOC returned the criticism, tweeting “something tells me a Republican who fights against women’s rights doesn’t get to say who is or isn’t representative of the Dem party.”

“In truth,” Bokat-Lindell wrote, “no one has more influence over how the Democratic Party defines itself now than Donald Trump.”

What the right is saying.

There’s not much praise. Jim Geraghty summed up the right’s view, saying that every four years, the party puts on its best smile and tries to act in the image of what it thinks will maximize its appeal in the upcoming election. “At the convention, the Democratic Party also tries really hard to be… nice,” he wrote. Typically that means hiding positions that energize left-wing activists like packing the Supreme Court, nuking the filibuster and confiscating guns.

“The country depicted by the Democrats during the convention is a cheerful America, free of racial tensions — the smiling faces are diverse, but everyone is getting along,” Geraghty said. “Cops and African Americans engage each other with trust and goodwill. Businessmen of all sizes and environmental activists have no discernable disagreements. Urban gun-control activists and rural gun owners see eye to eye. Tax revenue will be abundant, everyone will get what they want from government, and we will all live happily ever after…It’s a happy, happy myth. You can’t really blame the party for trying to sell that image, but you can blame the electorate if they buy into it.”

Few people took more ire from the right than New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who hit Trump repeatedly for his handling of the coronavirus despite his state suffering more deaths than anywhere else in the country.

“Listening to Governor Cuomo, one would think that he had not in fact presided over the nation’s, and perhaps the world’s, most disastrous Covid-19 response,” Seth Barron wrote. “New York State has seen about 34,000 Covid-related deaths, out of a national total of 170,000, which means that New Yorkers have died at a rate close to four times what would be expected based on their proportion of the U.S. population… Moreover, Cuomo bears considerable responsibility for at least 6,700 deaths of people in care facilities, and possibly many thousands more, because of his health commissioner’s mandate in March that nursing homes admit Covid patients after being discharged from the hospital.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board posed this question: Who do you think knows more about Biden’s platform, former Ohio Governor and Republican John Kasich or Sen. Bernie Sanders? Because Kasich is courting Republicans at the convention while promising Biden won’t make a far-left turn, and Sanders is courting Democrats while promising Biden will be the most progressive president ever.

“More than a few Republicans think Donald Trump’s character and temperament are so flawed that he can’t be trusted again with the Presidency. Fair enough: Character matters,” the board wrote. “But please don’t pretend that a Biden victory, with a Democratic House and likely Senate, will produce a centrist revelation of bipartisan comity. Bernie Sanders probably has more insight on that one than Mr. Kasich.”

One speaker did seem to captivate and earn praise from the right, though: Dr. Jill Biden. She delivered a touching speech from inside a classroom (she’s a lifelong educator) about meeting Joe, his decency, the family she inherited (she and Biden got married after Biden’s first wife and infant daughter died in a car accident) and all the experiences they’ve lived through together. Then she tied those experiences to the current COVID-19 crisis and what it would take for families to get through this.

Fox News host Brit Hume praised Jill’s speech as “tremendously effective,” saying it showed Joe Biden is “a very decent guy, a nice guy, he's not an unforgiving guy and the strength that he showed recovering from the tragedies he's had in his life is a meaningful quality.” Fox News analyst Guy Benson replied by saying “Jill Biden seems delightful. What a lovely speech.” Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro agreed: “Honestly, this Jill Biden pitch is the best pitch for Biden,” he said. “And perhaps the only pitch for Biden. She's doing a really good job with this.”

Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has threatened to investigate Joe Biden, chimed in. “Tonight, Jill Biden did a very good job representing herself and Joe in the causes they believe in. She’s an outstanding person who has led a consequential life.”

My take.

It seems notable that the two most-talked about speeches so far have both come from the wives of the men picked to lead the Democratic party: Jill Biden and Michelle Obama. And the praise is well-earned. I agree with Hume, Shapiro and Benson that Jill Biden’s speech was by far the most effective of last night. It just “felt” human — and it was easily the most genuine and flattering picture that’s been painted of Joe Biden yet, capped off with a candid moment where Jill and Joe embraced on camera. It actually made the case for him as a man of character and decency, as opposed to just warning what four more years of Trump could bring.

Michelle Obama, too, was tough to turn away from. I know she claims she “doesn’t like politics” (I think that’s a fib, for whatever it’s worth), but she is pretty damn good at it. It’s why she’s still the most admired woman in America by a considerable margin. Her speech was far more divisive, though, and actually served to enrage a lot of people on the right (she also got put through the fact-checking ringer for misleading comments on immigration).

On the whole, I’m not really sure how much this convention matters to the electorate. Will it bring in any new voters? Perhaps a few Republicans on the fence will be persuaded by the one-two punch of the John Kasich and Jill Biden combo. Will it bring in any progressive leftists or young voters tempted to sit out or write in someone other than Biden? I sincerely doubt it. In fact, the elevation of so many moderates and Republicans, while politicians like AOC play minimal roles, may just further alienate younger voters.

By far the coolest part of the convention so far was the roll call. Typically, at the convention, it’s a boring and endless cycle of party representatives standing up in funny outfits and trying to do something that will be remembered as they announce the breakdown of their state’s delegates. This time, though, it was a virtual 35-minute tour of the country at a time when few of us are leaving our houses, let alone traveling across the U.S.

I know the roll call was especially political, as most party representatives used their time to give mini 15-second speeches, but it was also surprisingly moving to get a glimpse of all these different states, cultures and people — I think (and hope) regardless of your politics. Few things I’ve seen over the last few years illustrate the depth and complexity of our country as well as this roll call did, and I was pleasantly surprised to feel as if I got something of deeper value out of an otherwise fairly boring affair (with the occasional compelling speech).

Your questions, answered.

Remember: You can ask a question (or reach me with feedback) anytime by simply replying to this email. Give it a shot!

Q:  While we might not officially or legally have a two-party system in the United States, at least practically speaking it seems we do. I would love to hear your thoughts on the pros and cons of this setup? I tend to think that it is frustrating, but probably the most pragmatic solution. I find it especially frustrating in elections like 2016 and 2020.

— Stephen, Pepperell, Massachusetts

Tangle: This is something our founders warned us about. In my experience writing about politics, I’ve noticed that a lot of people on the left tend to be derisive about the founders (and the obsession some more right-leaning Americans have toward their words and ideas). To some degree, I appreciate that cynicism: why take advice and guidance from writings that are 250 years old, and from men who committed moral atrocities like slavery?

But, if you spend any time reading American history, you’ll realize just how profoundly brilliant so many of those men (and women, who were not “founders” but nonetheless shaped our country’s origins) were — even if they were deeply flawed, and how prescient so much of their writing was, even though it’s more than two centuries old.

In George Washington’s farewell address, where he shocked the country by stepping down as president after his second term (and thus set the precedent, now law, that limits presidents to two terms), he wrote about political parties. The address was printed in newspapers and sent across the country. He warned that parties were “the worst enemy” of every government, causing “ill-founded jealousies and false alarms… the animosity of one part against another,” and even warned of “riot and insurrection.” Here is an excerpt from that address, in which he speaks to the “spirit” of political parties, which at that time were being defined largely by geographical boundaries (emphasis mine).

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.

The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

James Madison had a different view, at least early on in America’s existence (he seemed to regret some of his earliest writing later in his life). Nonetheless, he argued that political parties are a “natural offspring of freedom” and parties “must always be expected in a government as free as ours.”

Madison seems right in that no political government can exist without parties — or if they can, none have yet. But I don’t see how in 2020 we could argue that the two-party system, or a political system defined by parties, is working. Reading Washington’s words today literally gives me goosebumps — he saw our reality hundreds of years before it arrived.

In my ideal world, we’d abandon parties altogether. I think dropping the “D” and “R” from politicians’ names would force people to actually explore their stated views and learn about their leaders. Imagine going into an election without the guide of “Democrat” and “Republican” next to the candidates’ names you’d have to vote for. What would happen?

It might force politicians to represent more than they do. There are many political positions that are popular amongst Americans, popular amongst the constituents who elect members of Congress, and yet remain divisive amongst politicians, almost entirely because each side is playing to a small, entrenched segment of their own party, or simply against the other side.

I’d love it if we had five candidates on a semifinal ballot in 2020, each running without a political label, each running on a set of issues listed in order of their priorities and then a final election between the top two candidates based on ranked-choice voting. Some may argue that this would result in politicians simply playing to the polls and the most popular issues, to which I’d say: good! Then all we have to do is hold them to their rhetoric. That’s the system I’d be striving toward right now if I could flip a switch and make it happen.

I don’t think having two dominant parties and two candidates that are effectively our only choices every year works anymore — not in a country this big, this diverse and this divided. In fact, I think — as Washington predicted — it makes the division worse, and it turns politicians into creatures who no longer represent their constituents, but instead seek out a “purpose(s) of his own elevation.” We need a change, but I don’t think this one is coming anytime soon.

A story that matters.

The coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on older workers, an increasingly important part of the U.S. labor force. Just 25% of workers over the age of 65 can work from home, compared to 36% of workers between the ages of 35 and 44. Not only that, but the virus is forcing many older workers to choose between their lives and their livelihoods. Since lockdowns began, unemployment rates for older workers have gone up much faster than rates for younger workers, and this issue is playing out not just in the United States, but across the world.


  • 10%. The drop in New York City’s median rental price from July 2019 to July 2020.
  • 71%. The percentage of Americans giving the presidential election “quite a lot” of thought.
  • 28%. The percentage of Americans giving the presidential election “only a little” or no thought.
  • 70%. The percentage of Republican voters who are more enthusiastic than usual about voting.
  • 64%. The percentage of Democratic voters who are more enthusiastic than usual about voting.
  • 48%. The percentage of Americans who approve of the way Donald Trump is handling the economy, his highest rating on any issue polled.
  • 35%. The percentage of Americans who approve of the way Donald Trump is handling education, his lowest rating on any issue polled.
  • 22%. The percentage of registered voters who say that Joe Biden having Kamala Harris as his running mate makes them more likely to vote for Biden in November.
  • 16%. The percentage of registered voters who say that Joe Biden having Kamala Harris as his running mate makes them less likely to vote for Biden in November.
  • 62%. The percentage of registered voters who say that Joe Biden having Kamala Harris as his running mate will not have much effect on their vote in November.

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Have a nice day.

Today’s good news is about me: my fiancé surprised me yesterday with a Tangle mug to celebrate the one-year milestone of sending this newsletter. I’m laying the groundwork to launch a Tangle merch store with some t-shirts, stickers and swag. Should I add mugs like this to the list? Just Reply to let me know if it’s something you’d want!

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