Barack Obama

and his running mate,

Joe Biden

, are supposedly very different pieces of the Democratic puzzle. Obama is the newcomer to Washington, the change agent. Biden is the senior “man of Washington,” the old hand who can make change a reality. But Obama and Biden have one thing in common: they’ve both done stints as constitutional law professors. Obama taught at the University of Chicago Law School–along with brilliant former jurist and liberal Congressman

Abner Mikva–while Biden has for many years taught at Widener Law School in Delaware. This unique pairing intrigues New York Congressman

Jerry Nadler

. “Wouldn’t that be a change?” mused Nadler, who chairs the Constitution subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee. “After eight years of trashing the Constitution, we might have an administration that actually respects the document.”

Wisconsin Democrat

Tammy Baldwin

, a House Judiciary Committee member, hopes that “if we are not able to hold the current Administration to account, then when this Administration hands over its responsibilities and authorities to a President Obama and to a Vice President Biden, they will responsibly choose not to exercise some of the powers that we would argue were overreaches by this Administration. I would hope, also, that they would choose to help us to renounce the activities–torture and rendition, spying on American citizens without a warrant, outing CIA agents, whatever it is–that have been identified as abuses. Given their grounding in constitutional law, they should be inclined to do that.” So maybe when a new President and Vice President swear oaths to defend the Constitution, they might actually mean it? “Exactly,” says Baldwin.   JOHN NICHOLS


It’s midway into the DNC and many journalists, it appears, are here hunting


s (“Party Unity My Ass”), the die-hard supporters of Hillary Clinton who increasingly seem more like a figment of Chris Matthews’s imagination than a species of Democrat. The Nation‘s convention team, however, left the chase to talk to less sensationalized delegates from across America. Christopher Hayes attended the inaugural meeting of the

Muslim Democratic Caucus

, headlined by Minnesota’s

Keith Ellison

and Indiana’s

Andre Carson

, the first and second Muslims, respectively, to serve in Congress. Hayes spoke with

Aftab Siddiqui

of Texas, who identified 9/11 as the Muslim community’s “moment of need,” during which the Republican Party “wanted to have nothing to do with us.” As a result, says Siddiqui, “it’s very hard to find Muslims who say they are Republican now.” While such a meeting might provide fodder for Islamophobes on the right, Hayes concludes that the event follows in the long tradition of American ethnic groups like the Irish, Jews and African-Americans, who have “organized themselves and sought to achieve a measure of political power as a means of mitigating the challenges they faced.”

On his way into the convention center, Bob Moser ran into

Les Spencer


Tony Veissman

, two self-proclaimed “rednecks for Obama” who came from Rolla, Missouri, to support the Democratic nominee. Galvanized by a moment several years ago when the late Democratic Missouri Governor

Mel Carnahan

was called a “redneck from Rolla,” these two Bubbas for Barack have embraced the label with gusto; Veissman’s daughter even has a website,, complete with photos and merchandise. Spencer told Moser he has raised hogs, cattle and chickens; owns guns; and likes NASCAR–and that he’s here to tell his fellow rednecks, “Don’t be afraid to vote for Obama.”

At a meeting for LGBT conventioneers, Richard Kim ran into

Amanda Simpson

, a male-to-female transgender delegate for Obama from Arizona. Simpson told Kim that she works in the aerospace industry but can’t say more about her job without clearance from her supervisors. Does this rocket scientist feel embraced by the party? Absolutely, she says. “I had breakfast this morning with a fellow Arizona delegate, a retired one-star general and his wife.” What issues do they agree on? Almost everything, says Simpson, including getting rid of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

To read these dispatches in full and more convention coverage from Ari Berman, Patricia J. Williams, Katha Pollitt, Victor Navasky, John Nichols and Ari Melber, see


Much will be made of Connecticut Senator

Joe Lieberman

‘s speech at the Republican National Convention. But what of the impressive address delivered at the Democratic National Convention by

Jim Leach

? In it, the former Congressman from Iowa, who also served as a delegate to the Geneva Disarmament Conference and the UN General Assembly, said, “As a Republican, I stand before you with deep respect for the history and traditions of my political party.” But “it is clear to all Americans,” Leach continued, “that something is akilter in our great Republic. In less than a decade, America’s political and economic standings in the world have been diminished.” Bluntly worried by the machinations of the Bush/Cheney Administration, Leach told the delegates, “Little is riskier to the national interest than more of the same.” That sounded almost like a campaign slogan, and Leach will be able to deliver it as a charter member of

Republicans for Obama

, a group that includes former Rhode Island Senator

Lincoln Chafee

and a number of other Grand Old Party names. Indeed, for all the talk about Democratic defections to John McCain, this election could well see massive Republican crossovers–as occurred in the early caucuses and primaries, where hundreds of thousands of Republicans backed Barack.   JOHN NICHOLS


Margarita Akhvlediani

, a Georgian journalist who has reported on the recent conflict for The Nation, was attacked and robbed by South Ossetian paramilitaries in mid-August while driving near Gori.

The Dart Society

at the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma has established a fund to assist Akhvlediani after the theft of her car, camera and other professional equipment. To make a donation, contact the Dart Society at