(CNN)It was an important night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Day one was an unequivocal disaster, marked by chaos, disorder and division. Day two was clearly better, but drew some concern among Democrats that there was too much attention paid to diversity, and not enough attention paid to jobs and national security.
Day three paid a bit more homage to national and economic security. But successfully? Yes and no.
In terms of addressing the economic anxieties of the country, this was what Vice President Joe Biden was particularly well-equipped to do. As the ambassador of the blue collar, middle-aged working white man, he was there to speak directly to them, and insist that despite the party’s far left social swing, it had not forgotten about their everyday concerns. And he delivered.
He waxed nostalgic not about the special interests and diversity coalition, but about the kid who was bullied and then became a cop, the woman who wanted to serve her country, the teachers who take money out of their own pockets to buy school supplies. And “Middle Class Joe” reminded everyone that Trump “doesn’t have a clue about the middle class.” This was exactly what Clinton needed.
Tim Kaine, too, was there to introduce himself, but more importantly present a case for the Clinton-Kaine ticket that it wouldn’t just address issues like contraception and abortion rights, but also the economic interests of average middle-class voters in the heartland.
The St. Paul-born, Kansas City-raised former Catholic missionary didn’t sound like a Washington insider, nor was he trying to talk to them. With a son in the Marines, he spoke of a dad who worked at a union iron-working shop, where he and his brothers worked in the summer. He said his three biggest virtues were hard work, kindness and faith.
There weren’t any fancy words or scholarly metaphors. The speech was simple and anodyne. He’s not a star, and this speech won’t launch a future presidential bid. As one Dem friend of mine said, “He’s so hokey.” But he was an accessible, relatable voice of the everyman that Team Hillary has been sorely lacking.
But while Joe and Tim seemed to get the mission, President Obama, while pounding Trump’s lack of preparedness — a more than fair criticism — doubled down on his own condescension toward American fear and anxiety, suggesting it’s unfounded and overhyped by the right. This missed a major opportunity to meet anger with anger, acknowledge the fear, and point out that the solutions presented by Clinton and Trump are vastly different, but the problems are not.
Instead, he said he’d never been more optimistic about America than he was today. He says the country is stronger and more prosperous than ever. Crime rates are down. “We’re not a frightful people,” he said. “America is already great. America is already strong.” There’s “more work to do,” he said, but what we heard in Cleveland “was a deeply pessimistic” vision of the future.
He’s not wrong about what he heard at the Republican Convention, and of course America is great. But his cavalier attitude toward the real and deep anxieties many feel just promotes the kind of suspicion that he lives in a different America than the rest of us — great, maybe, for him, but not for everyone else.
He was responding to Trump’s doom and gloom, but it’s the wrong response.
The right response is not to dismiss the anger and fear as the figment of Trump’s imagination. His positive patina on the American experience is a noble vision, but an unrelatable one. His attacks on Trump were effective, undoubtedly. But his baked-in smug and aloof criticisms didn’t seem to take Trump seriously enough, nor his supporters nor the undecideds who are skeptical of Clinton.
In all, the night was a draw for Democrats. Biden was a rock star and Kaine was an everyman, but Obama was the same old dismissive, out-of-touch professor he’s always been. And that might just get Trump elected. Help us all.