Bill Owens: From Darkness Into Light
As I watched the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, it struck me that there was an extraordinary contrast between the speakers, the message, the tone and the atmosphere that emanated from each one. In the course of being interviewed by a local radio reporter I was asked what my reaction was to the two conventions, or how I might describe them, I responded by saying simply “darkness into light”.
This expressed both my intellectual and emotional reaction to the two conventions.
Virtually every speaker at the Republican convention spoke in negative and fearful tone with virtually no let up. The array of topics included the economy, foreign affairs, immigration, wall building, ripping up NAFTA, all in a consistent negative tone.
A few examples from each convention are worthy of note.
Melania’s plagiarized speech which was compounded by her falsified college degree. The Leslie Stall interview where Mr. Trump said the Iran vote by Governor Pence’s supporting the war was acceptable, but not for Hillary. Ted Cruz’ speech without an endorsement followed by even more negative comments the next day about Mr. Trump. The lack of electeds attending the convention. Rudy Giuliani was amongst the most negative speakers at the convention, and many of the others who spoke were unknowns, like TV stars from the 80s, Tim Tebow, etc. Even Mr. Trump’s children spoke in dark tones and the combination of Melania and his children gave no insight into the man. Statements by Mr. Trump such as he “would rip up NAFTA” show both a negative tone and a lack of understanding about how our democratic government works.
In contrast the Democrats had the Debbie Wasserman Schultz mess, and at least in the beginning, the obstreperous Bernie supporters. This turned nicely with Michelle Obama’s speech, the numerous personal stories of Tuesday night. The stars who appeared who were people both of achievement and quality, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and General John Allen. The important inclusion of the blue lives matter representatives on Wednesday night, and Michael Bloomberg’s endorsement. On Thursday night, the father of the Muslim officer (Captain Kahn) killed in Iraq was incredibly moving and his final point that Mr. Trump had sacrificed nothing for America I thought was one of the more poignant messages ever delivered at a convention. Chelsea’s warm-up was close and personal.
Mr. Trump won the speech sweepstakes, but I wonder why. I suspect it was because no one knew what he was going to say, and after all, he is selling entertainment.
I traveled to Philadelphia during the Democratic Convention to participate in some gatherings, although I did not attend the Convention. In the course of traveling to and from the airport, and around the city of Philadelphia, I had the opportunity to visit with two taxi drivers, and heard the taxi driver’s view of politics. One of whom was an immigrant from Haiti, and the other from Palestine. The concerns of these two men were dramatically different.
The gentleman from Haiti was very concerned about immigration policies and what the election of Donald Trump might mean. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, and was excited at having the convention in Philadelphia.
The driver from Palestine was one of eight children, all of whom were attending or had graduated from college. His father made his living by driving a taxi cab. He was most excited by the fact that the Convention brought substantial business for taxi drivers which he said had been pretty slow during the course of this summer season. This young man had just graduated from Temple, was married and expecting twins. It was initially my interpretation that he concerns were almost solely economic, the conversation took a slightly different turn. He felt that concerns of the Palestinian people were largely ignored by US politicians, and that as a result most of the Palestinian community did not vote.
What I really learned in Philadelphia was that immigrants are living the American Dream. We are in fact a beacon of light in the world. That’s good news, so let’s not slip into darkness.
Former congressman Bill Owens represented New York's North Country from 2009 until retiring from the House in 2015. The Democrat is now a strategic advisor in the Washington Office of McKenna, Long and Aldridge, and a partner in the Plattsburgh firm of Stafford, Owens, Piller, Murnane, Kelleher and Trombly.
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