It's still about the meritocracy, by @DavidOAtkins

It's still about the meritocracy

by David Atkins

Writing this post late Tuesday night after being on the floor of the convention. Need to get up again in a little under five hours, but wanted to share two quick thoughts.

First the good news. The positive energy on the floor of the arena wasn't fake. It was real. It's quite clear that Democrats actually care about and like these candidates, by and large. The speeches were positive and on point, the video presentations moving, and it all touched on a consistent emotional narrative. Remember that this is what Republicans usually do much better than Democrats. But not this year. This year the emotional narratives are much stronger on the Democratic side, which is fairly remarkable given nearly four years of a Presidency marked by technocracy and obsessive compromise-seeking. That's partly due to advances in the skills of Democratic rhetoricians, and partly due to the desperate, mendacious meanness of the modern Republican message. On the electoral side of the equation, the convention gives me confidence that the President's team knows what it's doing.

The bad news is that as emotionally compelling as many of the speeches were tonight, the key themes almost all centered around equal access to opportunity. Over and over again, the theme was that success should be available to those who work hard. Michelle Obama celebrated her father who went to work every day despite physically devastating illness just to pay for her college education, and even took out loans to make it happen. She said that it mattered less how much you made, and more how hard you worked.

And all I could do at certain points was sigh and shake my head.

No. As inspiring as I'm sure those points sound to most people, they're problematic. We shouldn't live in a society where a man with multiple sclerosis must work long hours just so that his bright young daughter can attend college. We should not be a society where long, hard work merely affords the opportunity at success. We shouldn't be a society that worships people who work 50-60 hours a week at the expense of leading a decent life with time to actually raise a family and develop pursuits and interests.

We need to be a society that does much more than provide equal access to our deeply unjust and flawed pseudo meritocratic system. We need to be a society that guarantees basic dignity for all people, a society that understands that luck is just as big a factor in most people's success as hard work, and a society that understands that there is more to human life than simply destroying one's life and soul to maximize some corporation's profits.

We can't expect our leaders to come out and say these things right now. That conversation must percolate upwards, at first from those who are considered "unserious" and have the opportunity to shift the Overton Window. But we do need to begin having the conversation that undermines the notion of the meritocracy itself. Big thanks are due to Chris Hayes for getting that conversation going.