If you’re from a culture rooted in the Middle East, South Asia or the Mediterranean, you’ve grown up with folklore that tells you “don’t tempt the evil eye.” The Yiddish translation, “kinehora,” has been in the vocabulary of Jewish families like mine for generations. “Don’t tempt the evil eye,” whether kinehora or its cognates across the world, translates roughly as: “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched or a mysterious force will prevent the goodness.”
Right now, with 10 days to go before the 2020 Presidential election, the Democratic Party is the kinehora party. No Democrat wants to say aloud what has become a more feasible outcome by the day: Joe Biden may win this election in a rout. If my staunchly Democratic grandparents of blessed memory were alive to hear me say it, they would shoosh me and say “kinehora.” So would Democrats from every other demographic. Collectively we have PTSD from 2016, when we thought Hillary Clinton would destroy Donald Trump on election day. We don’t want to tempt the evil eye again.
Why, then, would I tempt the evil eye by proclaiming aloud what many of us Democrats believe but have been too afraid to say? I want my party to stop being immobilized by PTSD. I fear that some Democratic and independent voters for Biden will fear another 2016 and not vote. I want supporters of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to be energized by confidence to vote in droves to change the world, just as Barack Obama’s voters did in 2008. Confidence need not need to be the enemy of complacency.
From where do I get such confidence? It hasn’t come easily. In fact, I’m not sure it came until this morning. I write this column with every milestone of the 2020 Presidential campaign now having passed, including the debates. Objectively, Joe Biden won on points last night. Donald Trump won the expectations game to the extent he came across as Pinocchio on Xanax rather than as Frankenstein on cocaine as he did during the first debate. At the beginning of last night’s debate, Trump seemed so un-Trump, I thought of what director Rob Reiner’s mother said in “When Harry Met Sally.” I said: “I’ll have what he’s having.”
At any rate, Joe Biden didn’t make a gaffe and the debate didn’t change the trajectory of the race, and Trump needed both. Moreover, Joe Biden is not going to make a campaign-changing gaffe in these next 10 days, as much as Trump will try to portray it otherwise. Here’s why:
First, the pandemic has made this general election a series of carefully crafted video events to supplant the freewheeling stump, where Presidential candidates made mistakes quadrennially.
Second, Joe Biden has run a flawless campaign in which his speechwriters have written some of the best copy spoken by a candidate since Barack Obama in 2008. This has been the most unnoticed aspect of the 2020 campaign. Whatever you believe his skills are on the stump, Joe Biden remains an impassioned speech giver with an ability to deliver a sound bite as well as anyone else. His speechwriting staff is as good as it gets, which I say as someone who has written speeches for some of the greats.
Case in point: Last night, Trump again compared himself to Abraham Lincoln in making progress for African-Americans. Biden no doubt wanted to throw up. Didn’t you? But even better, our Uncle Joe had a response at the ready both memorable and conversational, avoiding the stiltedness of soundbites from candidates who try too hard.
“’Abraham Lincoln’ here,” Biden said, “is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history. He pours fuel on every single racist fire. This guy has a dog whistle as big as a foghorn.”
When your campaign is that good, as Biden’s is, and you’ve been supremely prepared as a candidate, as Biden has been, you are less likely to make the kind of gaffe that has changed the course of previous Presidential elections. And with the stump is as minimal as COVID-19 has made it, Biden basically home free between now and election day.
Here’s the irony for Donald Trump of his immoral handling of the pandemic: He has turned COVID-19 into the fiercest change agent in American history for electoral reform – the reform for which Democrats had yearned for years but couldn’t get until now.
Early voting as a matter of right has long been part of good-government Democratic doctrine. Early voting allows working-class Americans who could not take off from work on election day to vote nonetheless. In that way, of course it favors Democrats. And it is freaking Trump out. We have one party that wants more Americans to vote and another party that wants fewer Americans to vote.
The Republican answer is illegal voter suppression, particularly of the African-American vote. But overwhelming turnout can outweigh overwhelming suppression. Even the Russians and corrupt vote-suppressers like Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia, who stole his position from Stacey Abrams in 2018, cannot suppress every last vote when the dam has broken, as early voting in the 2020 Presidential election indicates it has.
In 2020, unlike past elections, Democrats are behaving. Joe Biden was not the first choice of many, but he was the smart choice for most. Our intra-party squabbling is minimal. The left, led by Bernie Sanders, has been gracious and in favor of unity. No progressives are staying home because Biden wasn’t their first choice, and this time, unlike in 2016, there are no minor party candidates to whom to turn. This year, Will Rogers would actually recognize us Democrats as an organized party.
Joe Biden, known for years by the American electorate, is the Democratic version of the Teflon that Ronald Reagan was in 1980. None of Trump’s criticisms will stick to Biden because, as he says credibly, the American people know him. Sure, negative campaigning works, but only within the bounds of authenticity. Name-calling and ads will never make voters believe Uncle Joe is a socialist or corrupt.
I’m reminded of one of the most negative campaigns in American history, that by George H.W. Bush against John Kerry in 2004, when Bush’s “swift boat” television ads transformed the image of Kerry, the patriotic Vietnam Veteran, into the opposite of who he was. But Kerry in 2004 was known nowhere near to the extent Joe Biden is known today.
Only Hillary Clinton was as familiar to many Americans when she was the nominee, but alas, Joe Biden does not have to contend with the sexism she did that distorted America’s kaleidoscope of seeing who she was.
Finally, we’ve heard talk of Trump’s October surprise. He had one, to be sure, but it boomeranged to hurt his candidacy. He got COVID-19, which has allowed Biden and his campaign to point out that if Trump can’t protect himself, how could he ever protect you? Moreover, Trump’s getting the virus completely undercut his argument about Joe Biden’s fitness for the office. Trump’s being out of breath from COVID, and his wearing miles of Maybelline to cover a sick, pale and sweaty face, do not form a solid foundation from which to attack your opponent as in decline.
Democrats, it’s time to take our surging donkey by the horns and turn it into the Merrill Lynch bull to which, who knows, Donald Trump might even owe money. Don’t be afraid of being confident. Embrace it to encourage a turnout among everyone you know with the message that we have an opportunity not merely to defeat Trump in this election, but to wipe him off the face of the political earth.
And then no amount of Maybelline or lies will be enough for Trump to cover up the truth of his Presidency or its rejection by the American people.