More antics and analysis from the Democratic convention in Denver four years ago (Part II of II). For those of you participating in the music tournament, we’ll have the results from Day 1 up as soon we can. Please commence with Day 2 and Day 3 voting.
“If John McCain is the answer, the question must be ridiculous.”
-New York Governor David Paterson
Wednesday morning was the toughest of times, the point in the Big Weekend where only the indomitable nature of the human spirit allows you to carry on after your body says no. Cursing myself as I narrowly missed multiple buses, I rushed as fast as my gimpy legs could carry me to the Tent. The day’s main attraction was T. Boone Pickens, an old deuschebag, a right-wing Texasbillionaire oil man. He was sharing the Big Tent stage with Sierra Club Executive director Carl Pope and Center for American Progress (moderate left) founder, John Podesta. Pickens is long-time oil and gas speculator who has made literally billion dollars in the oil industry. He played a big role in the Swift Boats debacle, and has been a big financial backer of true right-wing idiots like Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who thinks global warming is “a giant hoax.”
Podesta and Pope seemed awed and baffled that they were sharing a stage with an old foe like Pickens. Pope even made the alliterative and probably correct comment that, “You know our politics is broken when Podesta, Pope and Pickens agree on something, and it’s still not getting done.” Pickens seemed unfazed, even annoyed. He knows these stooges on stage with him will last as long as he needs them, at which point he’ll eat them alive.
You see, Pickens has this thing he calls “the Pickens plan.”Though couched in a lot of talk about wind energy and solar energy, where Pickens perhaps believes he can make his next billion dollars, what the plan actually amounts to is putting Pickens in charge of our country’s energy policy. Picking a convenient time to go ‘non-partisan’, Pickens insists he has met with both Obama and McCain, and is willing to be appointed energy czar no matter who is elected president. How thoughtful! A snake in the grass is a snake in the grass. I’ll trust this septuagenarian oil mogul with our renewable energy policy like I’ll trust Paul Wolfowitz with running Dennis Kucinich’s Department of Peace or Ricky Martin with getting Pink Floyd back together.
I was dithering on the stairs a little later when I heard the booming voice of Dan Rather coming from the upstairs stage. Rather was engaging in the most typical mainstream media self-flagellation.The crowd hissed as Rather went through the mainstream media’s complete failure to focus on substantive stories, its subservience to the Bush administration in the lead-up to the War, its lack of fortitude in the face of “access-restriction” threats. Indeed, today’s mainstream journalists are complete wusses and worthless lemmings at the very least. The crowd gave Rather no credit for his periodic, “I do no except myself from this statement.” After all, the damage was done, and giving self-loathing talks on the academic cocktail circuit won’t repair it. One novel reason (at least to me) Rather gave for the media collapsing on itself was the diversified holdings of major media companies, which cause them to act profitably with respect to the media channel, which but also answer to a larger company that doesn’t really care about its news content at all. These mega companies leave ownership too diffused for someone like Anchor Rather to have an individual he can point to as “running CBS.” It was sad, sad but boring. I agreed to meet Paul on the street.
MSNBC was doing its best to make its “live studio” sitting in the middle of nowhere, a mile from the Convention, interesting.As it turned out, the Roll Call vote was going down, so we stayed to watch on the big screen. My friends, let me tell you something.I’ve worked on two presidential campaigns, and run meetings with Robert’s Rules of Order for two years as Student Body President, but the Roll Call vote was one of the strangest procedural events I’ve ever witnessed. First of all, each state gives its “Chamber of Commerce” pitch:
“The great state of New Jersey, home of Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, with its gorgeous beaches and green mountains (??), home of our great Senators Bob Menendez and Frank Lautenberg…” This goes on for a maximum of 45 seconds, though that self-promotional rule is constantly violated. At the end of the pitch, the state declares, “the State of New Jersey proudly casts its 126 delegates for the next president of the United States, Barack Obama!” Now imagine that, for every state, in alphabetical order. And Guam. At one point, California passed. No one was sure why. Then Illinois passed. Then, for the grand finale, New Mexico deferred to Illinois, so that Mayor Daley could take the mic and defer to New York, where the delegation marched into the room, with Hillary leading the way. I have to admit welling up in pride a little bit- we have a damn fine delegation: Governor Paterson, Attorney General Cuomo, the dean, Congressman Rangel, Senator Schumer…these guys aren’t perfect, but they are tough as nails, and I’m happy they’re in office to stand up for our interests. Somehow Shelley Silver ended up with the mic though, and as he nasally crooned for Hillary, Chris Matthews interrupted to observe ‘how amazing it was that we all have such different accents in America.’ Hillary then motioned to suspend the rules and make Obama the nominee, cool pageantry, if not rendering the whole exercise something of a waste of time.
We were about to walk away when I spotted a costumed representative of Nos Energy Drink. It was like Red Bull, but grosser, as I’d discovered on my last trip to Canada. You don’t get your nickname in a can every day, and I’ve become a volunteer endorser of the product. Perhaps sensing this, the Nos representative handed me a few cans, and asked if I could pose for a picture holding them. Clint, ever the thorough journalist, lined up to take one as well. Then a random dude, sensing that this was a picture worth taking, lined up his camera too. This caught the attention of more random journalists, not wanting to miss out on the Big Photo, and the bored crowd, who by this point assumed the recipient of all this attention must be a celebrity. I was wearing a silver shirt, after all.
Lesson learned. Paul and I made a pact that next Convention we are bringing a video camera and taking turns pretending to follow the other one around. Washington has always been called “Hollywood for ugly people”, and in this environment, it’s pretty easy to convince people you’re important just by acting like it- there’s no People Magazine to verify who’s who in politics.
After the Roll Call, I met up with Brett, who had also acquired a free bike, and was casually following a massive anti-war protest, taking pictures. The protest had been declared by Rage Against the Machine, who were holding a concert several miles from the convention. The band, forming an intimidating alliance with Iraq Veterans Against the War, descended on downtown Denver, with an army of anarchists, hippies and Code Pink demonstrators in tow. It was an impressive show, and reminded me of the old days. Outgrowing the spirit of the movement is one thing, but the chants you just grow sick of. There’s only so many times you can yell ‘Whose streets? Our streets!’ into a megaphone. Sally said her least favorite is the inane, ‘If the people are united, they will never be divided.’ ”It’s largely incorrect, and it doesn’t even rhyme.” My favorite was always ‘money for schools, not for war.’ Keep it simple and on message. In my attempt to meet up with Brett during this circus I had found an embankment near a bank, and yelled, “I’m on the grassy knoll!” over the phone several times before I realized that might send the wrong message to the hundreds of cops standing near me.
All the energy drinks in the world couldn’t help me get through Evan Bayh’s speech, but sleep was impossible, as the loud drone of speakers introducing speakers introducing speakers wore on and on. Markos Moulitsas gave me a supportive high five when he saw I was fading- by the way, the DailyKos founder is one of the nicest famous people I’ve ever met, straight up. At this point the line-up for National Security Night came into focus. Evan Bayh.Jack Reed. John Kerry. Bill Clinton. Finally, Joe Biden.Apparently, in the Democratic Party, as in the rest of America, “having national security credentials” is just another phrase for being a bellicose old white man.
John Kerry was speeching like it was 1971, thundering, “patriotism is not love of power, it is love of country” before delving into a great flip-flopping routine. Flip-flopping, of course, is the dirty word Republicans came up with to describe John Kerry’s ability to change his mind when the circumstances around a question evolved. In contrast, Stephen Colbert notes, “George Bush believes the same thing on Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened on Tuesday.”
Nevertheless, flip-flopping has been with us ever since, and John Kerry was more than happy to lay into the many, many occasions in which John McCain has changed his positions (sucks to have the paper trail of a longtime Senator, doesn’t it?). Kerry took McCain for violating his own campaign finance reform bill- “Talk about being for it before he was against it!” Kerry ended, “Before he ever debates Barrack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate he started against himself!” In 2010, after 26 years as an understudy, Kerry will finally become the Senior Senator from Massachusetts.
Next up, Bill Clinton. He may have been an SOB this primary season , but it’s hard not to get teary-eyed when Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow blasts out the speakers and President Bubba takes the stage to a sea of flags. The applause was epic, second only to Obama’s, and unable to talk over the wild cheers, Bill smiled, put his head down and muttered, “God I love this” into the microphone. Bill’s message that night was simple:
1. Rebuild the American Dream
2. Restore American Leadership in the world
“The world has always been more impressed by our power of example than the example of our power,” he preached. So simple: American can do better. After eight years, who would you rather trust to rebuild the American dream and restore American leadership in the world? A war-monger who admits to not understanding the economy, or a post-partisan leader who thinks in 21st century terms
“They actually want us to reward them for the last 8 years by giving them four more years,” Clinton continued. “Let’s send them a simple message: thanks, but no thanks, this time the third time is not the charm.” Having once again simply thrown down the Democratic Party’s core principles and why we must support Senator Obama, Bill ended with his classic line, “America Must Always Be a Place Called Hope.”
Closing out the night, even Joe Biden, who I’d always kind of regarded as kind of a tool, was searing with emotion, reminding people of the values his parents taught him, “that everyone is equal to you, and you are equal to everyone.” It seemed an odd line, almost socialistic. Biden also has a shelf-life at which point you just want him to stop talking, but near the end of his speech he nailed this line:
“In all of my years in the Senate, Washington has never seen so many people get knocked down, and do so little to help them up.”After the speeches we all met up at a dive bar and took in the events of the day. A lady offered us Joe Biden paraphernalia, including the big red signs you wave on a stick. I accepted. Joe is on the Moving Train now, and we’re going to ride this train together to the very end.