With one breath, the Democrats speaking at the virtual Democratic National Convention constantly assure us that Biden is a unifying figure.
"Joe will bring us together," the vice presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, said Wednesday night.
"Honest leadership to bring us back together," is the way Jill Biden put it Tuesday night.
"Unite not divide," is how Bill Clinton framed it Tuesday night.
Yet with the very next breath, the Democrats themselves divide America, by economic class. "It's wrong that the wealthiest Americans got $400 billion richer during the pandemic while 40 million people lost their jobs," Hillary Clinton said Wednesday night.
"Our economic system has been rigged to give bailouts to billionaires and kick dirt in the face of everyone else," Senator Elizabeth Warren said Wednesday night.
President Obama, Wednesday night, was perhaps the most divisive of all, setting up a dichotomy between "they" and them—"the wealthy and well-connected"— and "you" and we": "this president and those in power – those who benefit from keeping things the way they are – they are counting on your cynicism. They know they can't win you over with their policies. So they're hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn't matter. That's how they win. ... That's how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. ...We can't let that happen. Do not let them take away your power."
There are actually two misleading elements here, not one. The first falsehood is obvious—that Biden and the Democrats are unifiers, when in fact they are treating "the wealthiest Americans" "billionaires," and "the wealthy and well-connected" just as negatively and divisively as President Trump treats illegal immigrants. Never mind that in America great wealth is usually accumulated through voluntary exchange by providing a good or service in a competitive market in a way that benefits consumers and provides value. I guess the Democrats can claim they aren't actually being divisive but just reporting honestly on a division that does exist in reality, and that they are only highlighting the distinctions as a step along the path to eventually obliterating them. But that seems cynical, too—almost, though not at all precisely, like Bolsheviks portraying themselves as unifiers while dwelling on the wealth of the Romanovs.
But there's a second falsehood, too—the idea that it's just Trump and the Republicans allied with the wealthy and well-connected, and that the Democrats are a bunch of lunch-bucket types showering off the coal dust from their days laboring in Scranton coal mines. Come on. The Democrats are the party of the rich—J.B. Pritzker, Ned Lamont, Jared Polis, Michael Bloomberg, John (Mr. Teresa Heinz) Forbes Kerry, Joseph (son of Sheila Brewster Rauch) Kennedy III, Tom Steyer. The Wall Street Journal reports that Kamala Harris and her husband own three homes, worth a total of nearly $8 million. The Bidens were scraping by with only two homes worth about $5 million, but also last year "rented a large Georgian-style home in the D.C. area that once belonged to former Secretary of State Alexander Haig," according to that same excellent Journal dispatch. Elizabeth Warren and her husband reported $905,742 in total income on their federal tax return for 2018. The Democrats are the party of the rich and well-connected, too—the Democrats' rich people are just trial lawyers and tenured college professors, clean-energy venture capitalists, and Hollywood and fashion-industry executives.
Reasonable people may differ on whose policies—Democrats or Republicans—are better for which set of rich people, or for poor or middle-income people, or whether it even makes sense to analyze it that way. But the Democrats-as-unifiers message is in tension with the Democrats-as-defenders-of-the-poor-against-evil-billionaires message. And the Democrats-as-defenders-of-the-poor-against-evil-billionaires message is in tension with the reality that a lot of leading Democrats are extremely rich themselves.