Monday, August 25, 2008

Live From the Democratic Convention!!!

Let's hope that the Obama troops are able to keep this madness under control. The madness I'm addressing, of course, is that which always afflicts the Democratic Party whenever it scents sure victory. But as for me personally, I'm enjoying watching and reading about this convention (for now anyway) entirely for its own sake and my memories of past conventions that formed much of my political character. The first thing I got excited about was the piece about this bit of history courtesy of Victor Navasky of The Nation:
Thus, while most of those roaming the Elitch Gardens "Welcome to Denver" Saturday night party (billed as "A Celebration With Altitude"), were buzzing about Obama's selection of Joe Biden for Veep, my thoughts went back to the Democratic Convention in Miami in 1972. That was the year that George McGovern designated the ill-fated Tom Eagleton as his running-mate (later replaced by Sarge Shriver after the shocking revelation that he had undergone shock therapy). But as not many remember, that was also the year that Endicott "Chub" Peabody, the former governor of Massachusetts, announced his campaign for the Vice Presidential nomination under the slogan, "Endicott Peabody, the number one man for the number two job!" When I asked Dick Tuck, who had a sort of underground reputation as the Kennedys' court jester, what I should know about Peabody he said, "He's the only man in Massachusetts history who has had four towns named after him: Endicott, Peabody, Marblehead and Athol." This time around, not even Hillary campaigned for Vice President. But it nevertheless seems apparent that the only really spontaneous (in the sense of unplanned) moment will be on Hillary speech-night, when nobody knows what the diehard Hillary delegates will do, I think back to 1968 when I was covering the proceedings in Chicago for the New York Times Magazine, and I remember looking out the 18th-floor window of the Newsweek suite at the park across the street from the Hilton, where Allen Ginsberg, Jean Genet and others were working the crowd. One of the speakers interrupted his message (urging his listeners to "off the pigs") and shouted, "Everyone in the Hilton who agrees with us, blink your lights!," after which Newsweek's lights started blinking. I was standing next to Jim Ridgeway of the Village Voice, who turned to me and said, "It's a fucking revolution," at which point all non-Newsweek personnel were ordered to evacuate the premises. Although rallies and counter-convention panels and protests and marches (including one by a group called "Recreate Sixty Eight") are scheduled, my own suspicion is that this time around, the closest thing to serious protest action at the Denver convention itself, will come, if at all, from the Hillary camp. Not from Hillary, who today announced that she has released her delegates. But those who are involved in choreographing her convention moment, and those whom Gloria Steinem (a post-Hillary call-for-unity Obama supporter) and Trudy Mason of Common Good, have memorialized in a PUMA Party button, As Trudy Mason explained to me, a latecomer to the PUMA party, which has attracted much back-and-forth on the Internet, PUMA stands for "Party Unity My Ass."
And then there was Teddy Kennedy, who was introduced by his niece Caroline, and the shouts of "Teddy, Teddy, Teddy" that erupted from every row of the Pepsi Center and his "It's so wonderful to be here. And nothing is going to keep me away from this special gathering tonight." His intensity was a joy to behold (and a great surprise after the surgery for gliomal brain cancer on June 2 and his amazing recovery after the chemotherapy in time for the Convention (he arrived from a hospital stay in Denver where he had been checked out in order to ensure his level of health before leaving to give his speech)); and the fervor of his speech was not a whit changed from his earlier days of great political passion for his country and party, and in closing he unexpectedly promised to be present next January when the torch was passed to the next generation of Americans led by Barack Obama, which was answered by even more heart-stopping resounding applause. I was honored to have just heard Jim Leach's speech for Obama. He is representative of independent Republicans (not Rethuglicans) who have decided to support Obama because he wants to change the circumstances that his party has inflicted on our country (in the face of strident opposition from his party leaders). His speech sounded heartfelt, and David Brooks just said to Jim Lehrer on PBS that you could probably bet that he had written it himself. The short film before Michelle took the stage was almost tear-jerking in its sweetness about the Obamas as a couple, her parents' support and personal sacrifice for her and her brother's educational opportunities and herself as an American success story. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has also given a very compelling speech where she related her personal feelings saying "I know this son of a single mom will stand up for the dreams of our daughters. And I know John McCain won't." She also stated that Obama's candidacy was one that could truly lead the country to greatness, and then she spoke about Michelle Obama and her hopes for a Democratic victory, ending with a "Thank you and yes we can!!!" as she echoed Kennedy's words to explosive applause. Craig Robinson, Michelle's brother, who also attended Princeton as an undergraduate like Michelle did and is currently the basketball coach at Oregon State, was the next speaker. He presented a professionally perfect evocation of their life as they grew up, their Father who had been diagnosed with MS in his early 30's, and had passed away, and their Mother who had been so supportive of them and who also had assumed the task of taking care of the Obama children when their parents were campaigning. He listed a number of Obama's traits, ending with "He won't back down from any challenge," which I believe everyone there cheered (although I'm not sure about the PUMA's). It was quite noisy and flags were wildly waving. And then Michelle began to speak. She is so polished and such an accomplished speaker that I wouldn't be surprised if people began to tout her as a co-President. (Just kidding! Like they need that problem!) I loved her line that you could tell from her and her brother's college educations, which were gained in large part due to her parents' hard work and determination, that "the American dream endures" and that her husband had decided not to pursue a high-paying career as an attorney after Harvard Law, but to come back to Chicago to work to help people who lived in challenging situations and had had their jobs disappear after the closing of the steel mills. My favorite part of Michelle's speech was about her Father, probably because it reminded me of how I feel about my own Father. She said he "was our provider, our champion, our hero. As he got sicker, it got harder for him to walk, it took him longer to get dressed in the morning. But if he was in pain, he never let on. He never stopped smiling and laughing — even while struggling to button his shirt, even while using two canes to get himself across the room to give my Mom a kiss. He just woke up a little earlier, and worked a little harder." "He and my Mom poured everything they had into me and Craig. It was the greatest gift a child can receive: never doubting for a single minute that you're loved, and cherished, and have a place in this world." She then honored the two anniversaries being celebrated this week - the 88th anniversary of women winning the right to vote, and the 45th anniversary of the March on Washington when "Dr. King lifted the sights of our nation" - to reverberative applause. Then, surprise, she hailed Hillary Clinton for putting "18 million cracks in the glass ceiling" with her accomplishments, Joe Biden for being a fighter from a lower-class socioeconomic background (originally upper-class in his Father's generation, devastated by economic chaos) who had risen to the highest levels in politics on his personal and professional merit, ending by saying "that is why I love this country," and that is why I work so hard to contribute to the life of this nation. She said that Barack knows the thread that connects us all, that hope that brings us together and the change that we need. She then added "And in my own life, in my own small way, I've tried to give back to this country that has given me so much. That's why I left a job at a law firm for a career in public service, working to empower young people to volunteer in their communities. Because I believe that each of us — no matter what our age or background or walk of life — each of us has something to contribute to the life of this nation. It's a belief Barack shares — a belief at the heart of his life's work." She concluded with a vignette of how he brought her and their first daughter home from the hospital, crawling along at a snail's pace, so careful and protective of them both "peering anxiously at us in the rearview mirror, feeling the whole weight of her future in his hands, determined to give her everything he'd struggled so hard for himself, determined to give her what he never had: the affirming embrace of a father's love." "And as I tuck that little girl and her little sister into bed at night, I think about how one day, they'll have families of their own. And one day, they — and your sons and daughters — will tell their own children about what we did together in this election. They'll tell them how this time, we listened to our hopes, instead of our fears. How this time, we decided to stop doubting and to start dreaming. How this time, in this great country — where a girl from the South Side of Chicago can go to college and law school, and the son of a single mother from Hawaii can go all the way to the White House — we committed ourselves to building the world as it should be." "So tonight, in honor of my father's memory and my daughters' future — out of gratitude to those whose triumphs we mark this week, and those whose everyday sacrifices have brought us to this moment — let us devote ourselves to finishing their work; let us work together to fulfill their hopes; and let us stand together to elect Barack Obama President of the United States of America." She even said "God Bless America" at the end of her speech. For just a moment I thought I might be at the Republican Convention already. (Once again, just kidding!) It was a great speech that undoubtedly fulfilled its requirement of making the viewers much more comfortable with the beautiful, powerful black woman whose husband may become the President of the United States. And then Barack appeared on a widescreen TV on stage by satellite from Kansas City to comment on her speech stating that now we understood why he kept asking Michelle out again and again even after she kept turning him down. I have to say that those moments where he spoke to Michelle and traded remarks with his daughters about their Mother's speech were amazingly touching. Many of the women in the audience were seen wiping tears from their eyes, and several who were interviewed later said they were surprised to be so touched by her story of her life with her family. So, the gambit worked perfectly. If it was a gambit, and considering that this is political theater, it may have been, but like the Teddy moment, it worked wondrously. So, it was a clearly historic first day of the 2008 Democratic Convention and I enjoyed all the speeches and not so much the TV commentary. On a less epochal note, however, I have also been inundated with the sHillary forces' news of how they've been wronged, had their triumph stolen and were not going to stand for it. And then I got this article about how Bill also feels he's not being respected. I'm guessing they ultimately aren't going to be too upset if Obama doesn't win in November. After all, she will still be the Senate Majority Leader and Senator from a very powerful state (although Bill will not have a particularly easy entry into the Senate on a daily basis). Not a bad consolation prize. Suzan _________________________________________


Dave Dubya said...

I think it was a perfect introduction of the Obama family.

How can anyone NOT like these people?

Oh, I forgot, this is America...

I'm afraid racism will raise an incredibly large and ugly head before we're through here.

Suzan said...

It's happening right now. I just saw Jim Lehrer's MSM report on PBS that was totally consumed with the white people and white women who would not vote for Obama.

And the sucker punch was David F. Brooks telling us in all sincerity that if Hillary Clinton had been nominated that the Democrats would be talking about "fighting" the Republicans at this Convention instead of the weak-kneed "Unity Theme" that the Obama troops are chatting about.

Right. David F. Brooks - Democratic (or is that "Democrat?") campaign consultant.

Kill me now!