Hi there, here’s what you need to know for the week of August 21, 2020, in 7 minutes.


① What the convention-lineup brouhaha was really all about

② Democrats send worryingly mixed messages about how they'll govern

③ Nancy Pelosi endorses that other Joe

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Literally weeks have passed and all the people who were mad at Democrats for inviting more anti-Trump Republicans than progressive leaders to speak at the Democratic convention remain mad, and all the people who think it was a savvy play to broaden the party’s appeal remain convinced that it was an optimal strategy, even if it made the event unsatisfying for activists and ideologues.

So in other words I completely failed. But I also think there’s something more profound at work here than the obvious fact that progressives don’t like conservatives, and wish the Democratic Party would indulge the left instead of the right. And it gets to why this fleeting and ultimately low-stakes scheduling controversy has festered for so long.

The people who speak at conventions are there to serve as validators. (Or they're extremely rich people like Michael Bloomberg.) They're there to convey a few simple messages: You trust me, I say vote for Joe Biden; you may trust Donald Trump, here’s why you shouldn't; you may be apathetic, here’s why that’s a mistake. Think back on what happened this week and if you’re like me, a few key moments that convey those messages will pop into your mind:  

  • “My dad’s...only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life.”
  • John Kasich at a crossroads (memorable mostly because it yielded precisely the headlines Joe Biden wanted).
  • Bernie Sanders telling his supporters, in essence, Joe Biden is better than you think, and Donald Trump is worse and more dangerous than you’ve convinced yourself he is.
  • Michelle Obama because duh.
  • Barack Obama warning the world that his successor “will tear our democracy down if that’s what it takes to win.”

That’s a striking range of validators, but it doesn’t even capture the full breadth of influential public figures, stretching from from Noam Chomsky to a number of former Trump administration political appointees, pleading with people to vote for Joe Biden. 

It’s hard to square all of that with the pile up of complaints about who the DNC did and did not fete unless you interpret those complaints to reflect concerns about something different. 

What I see is a trust deficit, and a deep well of fear. Are Democrats trying to capture the center because they think that’s the safest way to lock in victory in November, or because they intend to remain a centrist party? Is this just crafty messaging, or is it a sign that the party isn’t battle ready.

Some level of distrust along these is baked in every cycle, because parties are unwieldy and imperfect, and leave so many factions dissatisfied for one reason or another. That’s all exacerbated by the rapid collapse in trust of institutions, including the Democratic Party, which is a trend Trump has accelerated. Many of the people who view the rollout of the convention with suspicion hoped the party would nominate someone from its progressive wing for the presidency, or, failing that, the vice-presidency. Neither of those things happened and so it’s no surprise that progressives read significance into other efforts the party makes to impress the public with its inoffensive centrist-ness. I can’t be sure about this, but my strong hunch is that a more ideologically balanced ticket also would have offered anti-Trump Republicans prominent speaking slots at the convention, but that it would’ve created a much smaller controversy, because the ticket itself would have closed the trust gap.

As luck (?) would have it, Biden will either win or lose, and if he wins he’ll inherit a crisis so vast that we’ll know within weeks if not days of his inauguration whether these fears were well founded or not. But the Trump era has been one of relentless trauma and people are understandably on edge not just to see him defeated, but replaced by leaders who succeed, so we don’t have to relive the nightmare or a worse one all over again.  


“Success” will mean different things to different people, but failure to contain a pandemic and reverse an economic depression will be unmistakable. What does it look like? 

Here’s Biden’s former chief of staff, and current transition head, Ted Kaufman: “When we get in, the pantry is going to be bare…. When you see what Trump’s done to the deficit…forget about Covid-19, all the deficits that he built with the incredible tax cuts. So we’re going to be limited.”

And here’s Biden's surrogate and Delaware Senate successor Chris Coons: “If [Republicans] choose to repeat 2009, and McConnell slaps his hand away, then we’ve got choices to make. If we’re six months into it and they’re blocking every piece of legislation, I’m willing to re-examine my commitment to defending the filibuster.”

This brings us full circle to the above question of whether these Democrats are trying to be savvy with their messaging—setting the bar low, projecting reasonableness—or whether they just live on another planet.
The optimistic case is...they must know this is a recipe for catastrophe, right? Commit to austerity and Republicans will come roaring back to power running against an economy that fails to recover. Commit to working with Mitch McConnell for six months and he will use those six months to destroy Biden’s presidency. Get comfortable with the line that Trump left the country unfixable, and the country will never get fixed. 

The worrisome case is that this messaging just isn’t very savvy. A savvy way to seem reasonable about deficits would be to say Trump and all the rich friends he gave tax cuts to will pay to fix the disaster they created. A savvy way to seem reasonable about the filibuster would be to say we’ll try to work with Republicans, but won’t let them block the help Americans need so urgently. A savvy way to set expectations low would be to observe that we face a once-a-century crisis and rescuing the country will require a once-a-century effort. This quote from Biden's rapid response director, trying to put out the fire, is savvy.

Other signs in recent weeks that suggest Biden and Democrats in Congress understand how small their margin for error is. I’ve written about them, and still think it’s reasonable to believe that they’ll break out of old habits and do what needs to be done, if only because self-preservation dictates that they must. Unfortunately not all signs point in the same direction.

Find everything you need to make sure Every Last Vote is counted on Election Day → 


You may detect a theme here: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has endorsed Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) in his bid to replace Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA)—coauthor of the Green New Deal, beloved by progressives—ahead of the Massachusetts primary on September 1.

This even though: The Democratic Party, and House Democratic leaders in particular, are notoriously hostile to incumbent primary challenges, Markey is an accomplished legislator, and former committee chair in Pelosi’s own House, and the DCCC has actually blacklisted operatives who support challenges to incumbent House members. 

The generous interpretation here is something like this: The incumbent protection rule is internal to each body, so while House Democrats might retaliate against an outsider who primaried Kennedy, they won’t ding Kennedy for upsetting the applecart in the Senate. Add to this the fact that Markey seems poised to win the primary anyhow, and it adds up to Pelosi demonstrating that she’ll support her members who want to move up in the world, which in turn will make them loyal and obedient to her, while causing minimal collateral damage.

Maybe that’s all there is to it—maybe Pelosi wasn't actually moved to endorse because she simply "wasn’t too happy with some of the assault that I saw made on the Kennedy family.” 😬  But if so, it wasn’t communicated to Markey’s allies and has fed all of the concerns outlined above. “No one gets to complain about primary challenges again,” said AOC, who’s Markey’s GND coauthor. As I noted in my column this week, assuaging the concerns of rising progressive activists will entail more than finding people who are younger than the party’s current leaders and giving them important jobs, because generational representation alone isn’t the ask. Bernie Sanders is 78; Elizabeth Warren is 71, Markey is 74. All progressive icons. Kennedy, by contrast, is 39. A disciplined caucus gives a Speaker her power, but so does knowing whether a controversial move will on balance generate more cohesion than turmoil. And with all that’s riding on Democrats entering the election united, blunders like this carry a lot of potential downside.

America's Looming Loomer Problem 
Read more here →

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy will be in the hotseat of the House oversight committee on Monday, where he’ll face questions from Democrats’ best inquisitor Katie Porter who’s a) ready for him, and b) the subject of this entry in Glamour. Pull quote: “I review every letter and report that comes out of our office, which is to say that I spend a lot of time trying to get millennials to stop using words like impacted and ensure and accessible. If there is one thing I have learned in my first term in Congress, it is that these kinds of words obscure the hard realities that we confront. As in, ‘Congress must “ensure” that PPE is “accessible” to “impacted” workers” boils down to: “Workers will get sick and die if Congress does not pass a law—and enforce it.”

My colleague Juliet Beckstrand wrote this great piece about the subtler ways the federal government and state governments, particularly those led by Republicans, disenfranchise voters. 

Steve Bannon is the latest Trump campaign chairman to be indicted for fraud, and apparently I saw it coming?

In conclusion, yes collusion.

2020: Boat rodeo.

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