Part Three-- A Political Convention: What’s It Like to Just Be There ?
If you have ever been in the audience at a live TV show, then you begin get a glimmer of what it was like to be in attendance at this political convention. Here there was some entertainment (e.g., James Taylor) and celebrity speeches (e.g., Eva Longoria). I kept thinking I was at a variety show “infomercial.”
So I actually sat through five hours of speeches and films each night for three nights. In my role as political scientist, I was thinking, “only political junkies and true believers can do this.” In my role as Democratic Committeeman, I was thinking, “Although it is taking longer than I would have liked, I am compiling arguments and getting inspired for the election in November.” I have to say that my tears joined that of thousands (maybe millions around the country) when Gabby Giffords recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Lamentably, no-one mentioned the issue of gun control. It is hard also not to choke up watching the film of the highlights of the career of Ted Kennedy. Anyone who likes the rough and tumble of political campaigns has to admire the old-fashioned barnburner speechifying of former Governor (Ohio) Ted Strickland, former Governor (Michigan) Jennifer Granholm and Representative (Florida) Robert Wexler.
After a while it was clear that the Democrats created a shape to the Convention. Speeches alternated between heartwarming (mostly women and youth) and barnburning (politicos). Short films were interspersed with speakers, a number of whom were not politicians, just “ordinary” folks. Memorable speakers for me in this vein were: Cristina Saralegui, a Cuban American TV star, Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood recalling her mother Anne Richards, former Governor of Texas, Sister Simone Campbell, of “Nuns on the Bus,” who oppose Church doctrine on abortion, and the Carmax and Costco founders who expressed the ethical obligations of business owners. It was quite inspiring, even if you were not a fervent supporter.
The only spontaneous moment over three days of speechifying, was the re-insertion of two clauses in the Democratic Party Platform, by voice vote. One had to do with us as a nation “under God.” The second was about Israel, re-affirming that Jerusalem was its capital. Both had been omitted as part of the already approved platform. The Chairman of the Convention, Mayor Villagarosa of Los Angeles, called for a voice vote. Twice it appeared that the nays exceeded the yeas. After consulting the Convention Parliamentarian, the Chair called for a third voice vote. Despite the same result, he declared the motion passed.
The story of how this came about and how it was amended remains contested. But it does indicate that perhaps the party activists (who are always to the Left of the party voters in the Democratic Party, just as the activists in the Republican Party are to the Right) are growingly secularist and, in addition, are growingly more open to the Palestinian case vis a vis the Israelis.
The roll call of the states to nominate the President and Vice President went on past midnight. Obama/Biden went over the top long before Pennsylvania had its turn. Quite poignant was Mississippi, which cast its votes via its 94 year old woman delegate, who voted for Roosevelt in 1936.
So what is my feeling in terms of policy and the horse race after viewing the Republicans on TV and being a part of the Democratic Convention? It seemed to me that Democrats displayed more energy and more creativity than the Republicans. The Democrats in Charlotte displayed a concern for veterans and for the men and women currently serving in the armed forces, an issue sometimes conceded to the Republicans. Several speakers, including the First Lady and the President, made a point of caring for the wounded who return home. Tactically, this is “poaching” –something pioneered by Karl Rove and his followers when they “swiftboated” John Kerry on the issue of his military service and his medals. Romney did not mention troops in Afghanistan in his acceptance speech in Tampa, a strange oversight. In Charlotte, the Democrats talked about upward mobility as both an individual and a family endeavor, bending the dialogue about individual advancement toward co-operation and community. This amounts to a “traditionalist” appeal in the face of Republicans who now emphasize rugged individualism and materialism and business-like approaches to policy. The Democrats also seized foreign policy as a campaign issue, both in Obama’s own speech and in a forceful and entertaining address by Sen. John Kerry. Osama Bin Laden is gone and the Iraq war is over. Foreign policy may be a marginal issue this year, but it favors Obama — and close elections are won on the margins.
In my previous blog, before I left, I speculated about the future of political conventions and offered a modest proposal to have a one day rally, with multiple regional and neighborhood home rallies. The present system costs taxpayers and the parties millions. But It does seem to finish up the long nomination process, bringing together the most committed of each party and fire them up. Then they carry their torches to their neighborhoods. I guess infomercials get some people’s attention; and the two major acceptance speeches do create a prologue to the Presidential Debates, which many more people watch.