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The Times, They Have A-Changed | The Nation

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The Liberal Media

The Times, They Have A-Changed

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I make my living as a seasoned cynic when it comes to politics, so I've been more than a little reluctant to go on record with how moving, inspiring and, damn it, thrilling I found Barack Obama's convention speech. I spent much of the weekend trying to calculate the damage I'd be doing to my reputation were I to come clean on how patriotic I felt during those forty minutes at Invesco Field until Sunday morning, when I woke up to a David Broder column that left me no choice. As if watching the speech from an alternate universe, the "dean" of Beltway reporters complained that Obama's "jibes at John McCain and George Bush were standard-issue Democratic fare, and his recital of a long list of domestic promises could have been delivered by any Democratic nominee from Walter Mondale to John Kerry. There was no theme music to the speech and really no phrase or sentence that is likely to linger in the memory.... Al Gore, the famously wooden former vice president, gave a more lively and convincing speech than Obama did."

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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Good God, man. Even Pat Buchanan, whose fear of a liberal President is rivaled only by his nostalgia for the good old days of Joe McCarthy, called the speech "the greatest convention speech...[one that] came out of the heart of America and...went right at the heart of America." To be fair, Broder, at 78, is six years older even than McCain. But old age is not his problem; brain death is. Broder complained in 1967 when antiwar forces in the Democratic Party opposed Lyndon Johnson. Not long after, he complained about challenges to Richard Nixon's illegal expansion of that war, and when it came time to hold Ronald Reagan accountable for Iran/contra, he opposed that too. Broder thought Clinton's blowjobs were worse than Watergate. Eight years ago he lauded Bush's acceptance speech as having "contained almost everything good political rhetoric can provide" and positively kvelled over Bush's choice of Dick Cheney as Vice President, saying it was evidence of his "sense of responsibility."

Contrary to his pretense above, however, Broder also demonstrated no patience for Gore's 2000 convention speech either, what with its "crammed agenda" and attempt to exploit "the hoariest of Democratic arguments: Don't let Republicans take your Social Security away." (Who'da thunk it?) And just like the mighty Allman Brothers Band, Broder's road goes on forever. Last year, ten days before predicting Bush to be "poised for a political comeback," he chastised Wesley Clark because he "repeatedly invoked the West Point motto of 'Duty, Honor, Country,'" thereby "forgetting that few in this particular [Democratic] audience have much experience with, or sympathy for, the military." Meanwhile, "by picking Palin," the dean says, "McCain has strengthened his reputation not as an ideologue, not as a partisan, but as a reformer--ready to shake up Washington as his hero, Teddy Roosevelt, once did."

I dwell on Broder not because he's so influential but because he's so representative. A Pulitzer Prize-winner, he was chosen as the Best Newspaper Political Reporter by the Washington Journalism Review and ranked as "Washington's most highly regarded columnist" by editorial page editors and members of Congress in a Washingtonian magazine survey. Thomas Kunkel, until recently dean of the University of Maryland's journalism school and a fine fellow in every way, described Broder as the nation's "most respected political journalist."

The upshot here is that nothing short of a divine thunderbolt will get through to these people. They were wrong about Vietnam, wrong about Reagan, wrong about Clinton, wrong about Gore, wrong about Bush, wrong about Iraq, wrong about McCain, wrong about Obama, wrong about everything important to the political life of the country. And they were not only wrong; they were, and remain, proud of being wrong. Remember Richard Cohen on Iraq? "You and your kind were wrong to be right; we were right to be wrong," he said. (Cohen--who, coincidentally, was also wrong about Clinton, Gore, Bush, Iraq, McCain and Obama--was quoting a French ex-Stalinist approvingly in that statement, thereby laying bare the similarities among power-worshiping courtiers across time, space and ideology.)

It is this mind-set that stands like a dike before the Obama change agenda, a mind-set that finds no significance in the sight of a middle-class white woman from North Carolina standing before 80,000 people and countless millions on TV and the Internet proclaiming her allegiance to a biracial man for the presidency just five decades after he might have been lynched for looking at her funny.

Instead of focusing on the astonishing power of the historical moment--evidenced in thousands of ways during this extraordinary convention--the media obsessed about dramas of their own making. Tiny, clownlike clusters of Hillary hardliners--people with the political judgment of Naderite nudniks and even less intellectual coherence--got more coverage than the nearly 80 percent of Democrats who told pollsters they support their nominee. (Obama's support from his party is higher than was Gore's or John Kerry's at the same point in their candidacies, but you'd never know that from the coverage.)

From where I stood, the Democratic convention was a smashing success. As I like to think I prove in Why We're Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which powered Obama's nomination victory, is the de facto supermajoritarian party of mainstream America. Not since FDR's second inaugural have so many Americans had the chance to hear the case for our better angels made with such power, grace and dignity by someone with the ability (God willing) to make it happen. If I'm not kidding myself, a mighty metaphorical flood is a-coming this November. And the mentally moribund members of the Beltway establishment had better start swimming or they'll sink like a stone.

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