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GroupFeel at the DNC | The Nation

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GroupFeel at the DNC

I spent today with LGBT Democrats--it's very important here to say L/G/B/T or else someone will make a point, later on in conversation and not so subtly, of reminding you about a very important issue for the Bs or Ts (and sometimes Ls) that flies under the gaydar. I'll blog about those later tonight, but right now I'm heading off to the Pepsi Center for the second night and so, as mental armor, share my thoughts about the first.

The Pepsi Center is quite simply the biggest echo chamber I've ever encountered, not so much groupthink, but GroupFeel--an attunement of emotion that would seem overly choreographed (picture: Beijing Olympic ceremonies) if it weren't also visibly earnest. I watched Michelle Obama's speech next to a group of older women delegates, and by the end, all were openly weeping. Afterwards, the one question everyone got asked by everyone was--whaddya think of Michelle's speech?--by which they really meant--how much did you LOVE Michelle's speech? A lot or a lot?

For the record, I thought it was fine, as far as the odd genre of first-lady-in-waiting speeches go. But it's hard to discern, inside the bubble, just how it played to the outside. Wishing I had watched from a red-neck bar on the outskirts of the city, I made due and asked some friends at home who watched on TV like most Americans what the going read was. "Off-Broadway monologue," quipped one. "She seemed really black. I worry about racist backlash more than before," said another. These are not conceivable ideas inside Pepsi where the only other possible answer to--whaddya think of Michelle's speech?--is the kind of pundit neologisms that pervade electoral politics and in which, thanks to cable news, everyone is well versed. "She humanized Barack. Home Run!" and "She successfully beat back her negatives." Before these were heard on CNN, this blogger heard them on the floor.

I say this all because the power of group affect seems really key at this convention in particular. It's not like Boston and 2004, when Democrats were almost unanimous in their dispassion about Kerry. Without treading into the cult of personality meme about Obama, there is a very powerful pull to manifest belief here, to radiate, like everyone else, hope, cheer--Yes, we can. But there are a lot of people here who, quietly and almost secretively, can't go along for the emotional ride. Eve Fairbanks at TNR reported yesterday on a quasi-secret "safe space" for Hillary die-hards, a suite where PUMAs can go to vent about Obama-maniacs and watch Fox News. Her dispatch, and my talk today with some gays for Hillary (more about that later) made clear to me that whatever role the media has played in inflating the PUMA storyline, there is a legitimate kernel of interest in the matter. People need a "safe space" at a convention to discuss their political opinions? A roll call vote is going to destroy the party?

I thought I was at a political convention--you know, about politics and stuff. That Hillary Clinton's candidacy is the vehicle to remind us about the actual democratic function of democratic parties is, well, both ironic and imperfect. But there you go.

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