The unifying theme of last night's speeches was striking. Here was the modern Democratic Party, in its most left-leaning phase since 1972, making profound appeals to authentic conservatism. After Bernie Sanders' stabs at a leftist "political revolution," the party came together and offered itself as a conservative-progressive solution, much as it did under the tutelage of FDR. Under President Obama's ingenious guidance, the Democratic Party has again grown up. It's holding true to its progressive credentials and aims while appealing to the nation's genuinely conservative instincts, because — like it or not, Bernie-or-Busters — that is where the American electorate is.
The conservative-progressive, or progressive-conservative, theme (viewer's choice) was unbroken throughout the evening. Former Republican and permanent billionaire Michael Bloomberg subordinated all ideologies and opted instead to portray the Republican Party's millionaire nominee as both insane and a world-class charlatan. "The richest thing about Donald Trump is his hypocrisy," said Bloomberg, adding, “Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s running his business. God help us!" His is a "record of bankruptcies and thousands of lawsuits and angry stockholders and contractors who feel cheated and disillusioned customers who feel they’ve been ripped off." Trump is a fraud, as is his self-proclaimed "conservatism."
Sitting Vice President Joe Biden cast Trump's ideology as a "cynicism … unbounded," wholly void of "empathy and compassion" — attributes scarcely at the root of Burkean conservatism. Future vice president Tim Kaine was even blunter: old-school conservatives still have "a home" in "the party of Lincoln," which now happens to go by something other than its original partisan name.
And then came President Obama, who, much as he did in 2008, reached out to disaffected, disillusioned, disoriented conservatives. "Ronald Reagan called America a shining city on a hill. Donald Trump calls it a divided crime scene that only he can fix." Obama cited the progressive-conservative activism of Teddy Roosevelt as a contemporary Democratic trait, and he wondered just what in hell that recent unpleasantness was all about. "What we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican – and it sure wasn’t conservative. What we heard was a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn away from the rest of the world. There were no serious solutions to pressing problems – just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate."
Obama also bashed Trump as the almost demonic opposite of traditional Republicanism in foreign affairs: "He cozies up to Putin, praises Saddam Hussein, and tells the NATO allies that stood by our side after 9/11 that they have to pay up if they want our protection. Well, America’s promises do not come with a price tag. We meet our commitments."
Finally, the president reminded the hard ideological left of what has always been true — as true today as it was in the era of modern progressivism's founder, FDR. Hillary Clinton, said Obama, "knows that … even when you’re 100 percent right, getting things done requires compromise… But I promise you, when we keep at it; when we change enough minds; when we deliver enough votes, then progress does happen."
That's the essence of FDR-Obamian progressivism and Burkean conservatism: a sane, intelligent meeting of the minds; graciousness in defeat; confidence in the future; and above all, always above all, necessary compromise and yet incremental progress.
Such was the collective, unifying theme of last night's speeches. And it was striking.