BOSTON -- When Barack Obama was delivering the finest keynote address heard at a Democratic National Convention since Mario Cuomo's 1984 speech in San Francisco, the nation's broadcast television networks were airing their usual mix of police dramas, a program about a Disney cruise and a show that asked the question: "Who says pageant girls don't eat?'
ABC, NBC and CBS chose not to air any of Tuesday night's convention proceedings. For the first time since the development of broadcast television, Americans could not tune into one of their local commercial television stations and watch nation's oldest political party reinventing itself for the newest campaign.
To be sure, the cable networks offered a reasonable mix of live convention coverage -- ranging from the incessant play-by-play chatter of CNN to the potshots from Fox and the uninterrupted feed of CSpan -- but the broadcast networks chose not to be carry the convention. As such, they sent a powerful signal regarding the extent to which they take seriously their responsibility to provide citizens with the information that is the lifeblood of democracy.
It is true that much of what is said from the convention podium these days adds up to little more than a partisan informercial. But there are still meaningful moments, and Obama's address was one of them. In fact, the Illinois state senator's speech was an exceptionally significant expression of the ever-evolving story of American citizenship and political engagement. Obama's often poetic message -- with its "E pluribus unum. Out of many one" theme -- was the talk of the convention.
It was not, however, the talk of the nation because, of course, the networks chose not give it the same time and attention they devoted to that program about the eating habits of their "pageant girls."
The failure to broadcast the speech by a man many believe could be the country's first African-American president struck even some media veterans as troubling. On ABC's "The View," co-host Meredith Vieira spoke of how, "After (Obama) got done speaking, I had chills" and complained about the decision of the networks to neglect the keynote address. "He is a man that America needed to see," she said.
By any measure, Vieira is right.
But don't expect broadcast television to get the message. The networks have replaced the civil and democratic values that once a played a role in decisions about what to cover with commercial and entertainment values that dictate a denial of seriousness or perspective when it comes to political stories.
That's one of the reasons why so many Americans objected last year to Federal Communications Commission proposals that would have lifted the cap on the number of local TV stations a corporation could own -- and the amount of the viewing audience network-owned stations could reach.
Despite the intensity of the FCC rule fight, the campaign for media reform in America is only beginning to have a serious impact on the political process. But it is growing. And, while the neglect by the networks of the Obama speech is troubling sign, there is an encouraging sign coming out of this convention.
On Tuesday night, delegates approved a platform that recognizes the burgeoning media reform movement in the United States. The language that was added to the platform, under pressure from unions such as the Communication Workers of America that have become increasing active in the fight for media reform, was not radical. But it was on message. "Because our democracy thrives on public access to diverse sources of information from multiple sources, we support measures to ensure diversity, competition, and localism in media ownership," argues the new platform language.
There's a lot more that Democrats should stand for with regard to media reform. And, hopefully, anger over the decision of the networks to skip coverage of Tuesday night's proceedings will cause party activists to recognize that complaining about the conservative bias of Fox is not enough. When the major networks choose pageant girls over political history, they themselves are making the case that democratic renewal cannot be achieved without radically altering the style and structure of our media system.
Did you know that, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll, nine out of ten delegates gathered in Boston think the US should not have gone to war in Iraq and say the gains from the war were not worth the loss of American lives...Only seven percent say "the US did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq," while eighty-six percent say the US should "have stayed out."
This is the first presidential convention that has an official "Blogger Boulevard." And there's lots of excitement about the blogging phenomenon. After all, today there are at least two million people who have started one of these online journals. According to Technorati, a website that tracks what blogs are talking about, the number of new blogs is increasing at a rate of 12,000 a day. Yes, it's true that about one third of these sites don't last--people get bored with their own musings--but the other two thirds are still going at a steady pace. And according to surveys, something like one to fifteen million people say they spend some of their time on the internet reading other people's blogs. If I'm not mistaken, that gives the blogosphere at least as much impact as the cumulative subscription base of all the alternative newsweeklies in America.
How will bloggers affect the coverage of this convention? No one knows. But one of the most popular bloggers sounds a cautionary note. Arriving in Boston, Joshua Micah Marshall blogged in Talkingpointsmemo: "I've never been much for the blog triumphalism that seems always to be so much a part of the blog universe. Blogs make up a small, specialized niche within the interdependent media ecosystem--mainly not producers but primarily or usually secondary consumers--like small field mice, ferrets, or bats...I've always thought of this as just a vehicle for writing--a mix of reporting and opinion journalism, done in a format that allows a maximum degree of flexibility, not bound by limitations of space--the need to write long or short--or any of the confining genre requirements that define conventional journalism. The whole thing is mystifying to me."
Blog Note:Don't miss numerous Nation weblogs this week from Boston. Click here to read them all.
Howard Dean on the Convention Floor
Howard Dean on the convention floor, looking subdued when pressed about Nader: "The base will not forgive Ralph...after getting on the ballot in Oregon with help of anti-gay rightwing forces, Ralph appears to be not just like another politician but worse than some he's attacking."
To strains of "You're Still The One," Senator Edward Kennedy exited stage left, surrounded by family--heading to a tribute at Boston Symphony Hall. "The only thing we have to fear," he told the cheering crowd, "is four more years of George Bush....We will retire Cheney to an undisclosed location."
Across the river, earlier in this afternoon, Michael Moore nearly caused a riot when some 3,000 people descended on the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge for a confab with America's hottest film-maker. Earlier that day, some Bush spokesman had called Moore "the leader of the hate and vitriol celebrity." Two thousand people were turned away by the organizers--the Campaign for America's Future--but they soon gathered on a side street outside the hotel, awaiting Moore's arrival later that afternoon.
Inside the hall, Moore enthralled the crowd with tales of Dale Earnhardt Jr, tirades against the corporate media, jabs at Disney and its honcho Michael Eisner, advice for John Kerry and a warning to Ralph Nader.
Check out these riffs:
* "The true patriots are those who think it's important to ask tough questions. The villain of my film is George W. but the unstated villains are the national media. My film outs them as shills for the Bush Administration, as people who were cheerleaders for the Bush Administration, as journalists who fell asleep on the job. We the people need you in the media to ask the tough questions. Don't be afraid of being called un-American. It'spro-American to ask the tough questions."
* "Whether they use labels or not, most Americans in their heart are either liberal or progressive. It's only a minority who hate. The people running this country are not patriots, they're hatriots."
* "I predict that we'll see the largest percentage of people voting in our lifetime. It's cool now to talk about politics."
* "Dale Earnhardt Jr took his crew to see Fahrenheit 9-11 to prepare for a big race and then he said all of America should see this movie. Hope Bush wasn't eating pretzels watching that race."
* "Here's my plea to John Kerry and the Democrats. You will not win this election by being wimpy, weak, by failing to stand up for your convictions. Only way this is going to happen is if you stand up for what you believe, stand for a liberal/progressive agenda. If you move to the right you'll encourage millions to stay home."
* A word about Ralph (hisses in the hall)..."Yes, Republicans do love Ralph. Just came from Michigan and Ralph gathered fifty thousand signatures--forty-three of those gathered by Michigan Republicans...Ralph, you already did your job. The Democratic party of 2004 is not the Democratic Party of 2000. They got it. Howard Dean carried on and so did Dennis Kucinich...they helped push Dems to liberal/progressive side. Even the Al Gore of 2004 is not the Al Gore of 2000. My appeal to the Nader voters and Green voters...you have a different job to do this year. What you are doing is so misguided, so uncool. I wouldn't have Dems spend any time attacking Nader. They should be giving those people reasons to vote for Kerry."
Many Americans oppose the war in Iraq, and they want to vote for a party that will bring the troops home. The Democratic Party has not promised to do that, which is why antiwar protesters have gathered in Boston.
They had hoped to stage a series of peaceful protests, to show the Democrats, who are holding their convention in Boston this week, how strongly they feel. The problem is that organizers of the convention have said protesters can gather only in a large wire cage that has been built under Boston's elevated train tracks. It has one entrance and one exit, and is topped by razor wire. As AP reporter Mark Jewell wrote, "The maze of overhead netting, chain link fencing and razor wire couldn't be further in comfort from the high-tech confines of the arena stage where John Kerry is to accept the Democratic nomination for president."
Click here to read a report on the DNC Protest Pit by Caroline Overington from the Sydney Morning Herald and click here to listen to Amy Goodman's Democracy Now!, which is broadcasting live reports on what's happening on the streets of Boston.
Just as I thought they were going to start playing Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen's oldie "Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive (Mister in-Between)" in the convention hall, former President Jimmy Carter came out swinging. God bless him. Seems that Carter--party statesman, nearly 80 years old--didn't have to run the gauntlet of DNC apparatchiks screening speeches for any harsh anti-Bush rhetoric. Carter spoke forthrightly, deploring the fact that the "Middle East is ablaze," and blasting Bush's extremism, deceit and exploitation of American's fears.
As America's 39th President, rightly insisted, "the Middle East peace process has come to a screeching halt for the first time since Israel became a nation. All former presidents, Democratic and Republican, have attempted to secure a comprehensive peace for Israel with hope and justice for the Palestinians." That is until 43. (Click here to read the full text of Carter's remarks.)
BOSTON -- The Democratic party platform that will be adopted this week includes one particularly significant change from the platforms adopted by the party conventions of 1992, 1996 and 2000. During the platform-writing process, the drafting committee quietly removed the section of the document that endorsed capital punishment. Thus, for the first time since the 1980s, Democrats will not be campaigning on a pro-death penalty program.
Why the change?
Simply put, on the question of execution, John Kerry is a very different Democrat from Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Clinton and Gore, while surely aware that capital punishment is an ineffective and racially and economically biased vehicle for fighting crime, were willing to embrace it as a political tool. When he was running for the presidency in 1992, then Governor Clinton even rushed back to Arkansas during the 1992 campaign to oversee the execution of a mentally-retarded inmate.
With Clinton and Gore steering the party's policies, Democratic platforms explicitly and frequently endorsed capital punishment.
But Clinton and Gore are no longer at the helm. And, as of tonight, the party will no longer be on record as supporting the death penalty. Asked about the removal of the pro-capital punishment language, U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the chair of the committee that drafted the document, explained that, "It's a reflection of John Kerry."
Kerry, who is often accused by his Republican critics of flip-flopping, is made of firmer stuff than most politicians when it comes to the issue of capital punishment. He opposes executions in virtually all cases -- making an exception only after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, when he said he would consider supporting capital punishment, in limited cases, for foreign terrorists.
On the domestic front, Kerry has earned high marks from death penalty critics. Last fall, when the Students Against the Death Penalty project of the American Civil Liberties Union rated the nine candidates who were then seeking the Democratic presidential nomination on a variety of death penalty-related issues, Kerry and Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich were the only two who received perfect scores.
Kerry opposes the execution of juveniles, supports greater access to DNA testing for death row inmates and argues that studies "reveal serious questions, racial bias, and deep disparities in the way the death penalty is applied." Kerry was a cosponsor of the National Death Penalty Moratorium Act of 2001 and of the National Death Penalty Moratorium Act of 2003.
"I know something about killing," Kerry says, referencing his service in Vietnam as a swift-boat commander. "I don't like killing. That's just a personal belief I have."
Polls show a majority of Americans support the death penalty in at least some instances. But since the late 1980s, enthusiasm for capital punishment has been slipping. Many Americans, including some political leaders such as former Illinois Governor George Ryan, have come to question the morality of state-sponsored executions, as the use of DNA analysis has led to the exoneration of dozens of death-row inmates.
Still, the death penalty remains a divisive issue. Not since 1988 has either major party nominated a critic of capital punishment for the presidency. The 1988 Democratic nominee, former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, was attacked by that year's Republican nominee, George Herbert Walker Bush, for opposing the death penalty. Whether Kerry will face similar attacks from Bush's son, an enthusiastic backer and frequent practitioner of state-sponsored executions during his days as governor of Texas, remains to be seen. But the volatility of the issue may explain why Democrats have been so quiet about the shift in platform language.
It is notable, however, that, in addition to Kerry's home state of Massachusetts, eleven other states bar executions. Among them are a number of the battleground states that could decide the November election, including Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Maine and West Virginia.
To bash, or not to bash? Bush, that is. And that is not the question. For it has already been answered. And the answer is, no. But not exactly.
The Kerryniks have decreed that this shall not be a week of overt W. slapping. In press conferences and interviews, Democratic honchos have said that criticizing Bush is not the aim of the convention. They want to use those valuable three hours of primetime coverage to boost John Kerry's positive. During the campaign Kerry freely slapped Bush about. He called Bush's foreign policy the most arrogant, inept and reckless in decades. Yet in campaign speeches on the road to the convention he has barely mentioned that guy he wants to trounce in November. And a chief Kerry strategist told me that "the Bush part of the story is already known. We don't have to talk much about it at this stage. We need to talk about John."
Before the official proceedings began on Monday, I wondered if it was wise for the Democrats to throttle back on the Bushwhacking. After all, I wrote a book entitled The Lies of George W. Bush, and anti-Bushism has been the main fuel of the Democrats' efforts this year. Could it be that the Kerry campaign was spooked by Republicans and conservative pundits, who have tried to characterize vigorous criticism of Bush as irrational "Bush-hatred" and who have attempted to portray Kerry as a doom-and-gloom pessimist?
When Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe opened the convention on Monday evening, it did seem that the Dems were going to go easy on Bush. McAuliffe went vegetarian and stayed clear of red meat. He recited the usual Democratic litany about the Bush years: three million more Americans in poverty, four million more without health insurance, the largest budget deficit ever, the worst jobs-creation record in decades. But his conclusion was gentle: "We can do better." This was not the usual pitbull barking cable TV viewers have come to expect from the chairman.
Former Vice President Al Gore poked at Bush, but without the harshness and anger he has displayed in recent speeches. After reminding the delegates they had to make certain that every vote would be counted in the next election (not that such a reminder was necessary) and running through a series of self-deprecating jokes (he called America "a land of opportunity, where every little boy and girl has a chance to grow up and win the popular vote"), he did note "the way the [Iraq] war has been managed by the administration has gotten us into very serious trouble." And he criticized Bush for "confusing al Qaeda with Iraq." But in his menschy speech, there was no name-calling, no rough stuff. He left the stage without reprising the line he used at the 1992 convention (and which was swiped by Dick Cheney at the 2000 Republican convention): "It is time for them to go."
But then came Jimmy Carter and the Clintons, and it became evident that the Democratic strategy is not to eschew Bush-bashing. Instead, the Democrats are engaging in Bush-bashing without the Bush. That is, they are going after the deeds and the decisions, not the man.
Carter showed how this could be done. He never referred to Bush directly. But he remarked that Kerry "showed up when assigned to [military] duty." Nod, nod, wink, wink. Carter talked about the need for a president who "would not mislead us" and maintained that electing Kerry would "restore the judgment and maturity to our government that is sorely lacking today." He pushed this theme hard: "Truth is the foundation of our global leadership, but our credibility has been shattered and we are left increasingly isolated and vulnerable in a hostile world. Without truth--without trust--America cannot flourish." The crowd cheered when the former president declared, "A cowardly attack on innocent civilians brought us an unprecedented level of cooperation and understanding around the world. But in just 34 months, we have watched with deep concern as all this goodwill has been squandered by a virtually unbroken series of mistakes and miscalculations." Another crowd-pleaser was Carter's observation that "in the world at large we cannot lead if our leaders mislead." He never directly called Bush a liar. But he politely presented a rather sharp indictment of the unnamed president.
Then Hillary Clinton threw several brickbats at you-know-who. Praising John Kerry, she said, "He will lead the world, not alienate it. He will lower the deficit, not raise it. I know that he will create good jobs, not lose them. And he will solve a health care crisis, not ignore it." When she referred to the recently released report of the 9/11 commission, she noted that the 9/11 commission would not have existed had it not been for the persistence of the 9/11 families--which was a dig at Bush, who initially opposed the creation of the commission.
But leave it to Bill Clinton, the political master. In a home-run of a speech, he showed how the Democrats could engage in devastating Bush-bashing while smiling and not becoming disagreeable, shrill or discourteous. He remarked that Kerry and Bush were "two strong men who both love their country." But with wit and passion, he sliced Bush to bits. "We Democrats will bring the American people a positive campaign," Clinton said at the start of his speech, "arguing not who's good and who's bad, but what is the best way to build the safe, prosperous world our children deserve." He sharply contrasted his party with Bush's party:
"We think the role of government is to give people the tools and conditions to make the most of their lives. Republicans believe in an America run by the right people, their people, in a world in which we act unilaterally when we can, and cooperate when we have to."
"They think the role of government is to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who embrace their political, economic, and social views, leaving ordinary citizens to fend for themselves on matters like health care and retirement security. Since most Americans are not that far to the right, they have to portray us Democrats as unacceptable, lacking in strength and values. In other words, they need a divided America. But Americans long to be united. After 9/11, we all wanted to be one nation, strong in the fight against terror. The president had a great opportunity to bring us together under his slogan of compassionate conservatism and to unite the world in common cause against terror."
"Instead, he and his congressional allies made a very different choice: to use the moment of unity to push America too far to the right and to walk away from our allies, not only in attacking Iraq before the weapons inspectors finished their jobs, but in withdrawing American support for the Climate Change Treaty, the International Court for war criminals, the ABM treaty, and even the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty."
Then Clinton let loose:
"For the first time ever when America was on a war footing, there were two huge tax cuts, nearly half of which went to the top one percent. I'm in that group now for the first time in my life....They protected my tax cuts while withholding promised funding for the Leave No Child Behind Act, leaving over 2 million children behind; cutting 140,000 unemployed workers out of job training, 100,000 working families out of child care assistance, 300,000 poor children out of after school programs; raising out of pocket healthcare costs to veterans, weakening or reversing important environmental advances for clean air and the preservation of our forests."
"Everyone had to sacrifice except the wealthiest Americans, who wanted to do their part but were asked only to expend the energy necessary to open the envelopes containing our tax cuts. If you agree with these choices, you should vote to return them to the White House and Congress. If not, take a look at John Kerry, John Edwards and the Democrats."
Like a jazz musician, Clinton pushed the riff further. If you agree with the White House decisions to cut police funding and not to push for extending the ban on assault weapons--"they're taking police off the streets and putting assault weapons back on the streets"--then vote for the Republicans. If you agree with the White House's opposition to a bill that would have diverted $1 billion in tax cuts for the rich to a program to boost security inspections of cargo at ports and airports, then vote for the Republicans. "If you think it's good policy to pay for my tax cut with the Social Security checks of working men and women, and borrowed money from China," Clinton said, "vote for them."
Clinton, who was assailed by the right for being a draft-dodger, did not call Bush the same. But he made the point: "During the Vietnam War, many young men--including the current president, the vice president and me--could have gone to Vietnam but didn't. John Kerry came from a privileged background and could have avoided it too. Instead he said, send me."
As he hailed Kerry, Clinton still zinged a certain somebody. "In a time of change," he observed, "[Kerry] has two other important qualities: his insatiable curiosity to understand the forces shaping our lives, and a willingness to hear the views even of those who disagree with him." Now what might Clinton be suggesting about that other fellow? Clinton never explicitly questioned Bush's abilities. But he did say, "Their opponents will tell you to be afraid of John Kerry and John Edwards, because they won't stand up to the terrorists--don't you believe it. Strength and wisdom are not conflicting values--they go hand in hand." That line drew shouts and applause.
After his speech, conservative and liberal commentators (at the parties I attended) concurred that it had been a bravura performance. Clinton was generous in his praise of Kerry and Edwards. But talking up a nominee is not hard for any experienced pol. More importantly, Clinton pummeled Bush in a most sophisticated and effective manner. One need not be a Clinton fan to acknowledge that he showed his party how best to engage in Bush-bashing. It may sound odd coming from me, but it is not necessary to call Bush a "liar" to make the point. Clinton, who was pounded by the right and who had his own problems with truth-telling, demonstrated to his comrades how it is far better for them to wield a stiletto than a sledgehammer when trying to cut up a political foe.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is NOW AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."
The Democratic Party is more unified and energized going into this convention than it has ever been.
Say that 50 times in 90 seconds, and you will have an idea of the preconvention message that DNCers--party chairman Terry McAuliffe, convention chair Bill Richardson, and John Kerry spokesperson Stephanie Cutter--were pushing the day before the convention opened. Usually, when politicos mouth the same line ceaselessly they are trying to peddle a falsehood. But this time, the spin seems to be true.
As Kerryfest '04 opens, there is little conflict in Dem-land. No major tussles over who will get to speak from the podium in prime-time. No battles over the party platform. The protests on Sunday--ghettoized in Boston Common--were small and insignificant. The so-called Social Forum, a gathering of lefties, has produced no sparks noticeable to the thousands of delegates and mediafolk who rush from one reception to the next in this summer camp of politics-and-journalism. At an event honoring the late Senator Paul Wellstone, prominent progressives--Al Franken, Arianna Huffington, Jim Hightower--all said Job No. 1 is booting Bush. Once--if--that is done, there will be plenty of time for pushing and pulling with Kerry.
A few of the Wellstonian Dems did voice their frustration with their party. "Too much of the Democratic structure has run away from us," complained Anna Burger, the vice president of the Services Employees Industrial union. Representative Barbara Lee said, "We must insist that Democrats be Democrats...That's the only way we'll take out country back." Author Jim Hightower groused, "The Democratic Party is too tied to monied interests." Going much further, Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner claimed that the "military-industrial complex controls both parties, that the corporate-funded Democratic Leadership Council "controls" Kerry, and that "it doesn't make sense to vote." But Turner, who also declared that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by the US government because he challenged militarism, was outnumbered. The other progressives, despite any misgivings they have about the Democratic Party, saw no reason to apply pressure upon Kerry.
Not that they could. The crowd at the Wellstone event, I am sorry to report, was small--about 200. And the audience did not appear to contain many--if any--delegates or others working within the party (outside of the panelists). This was unlike the days of the 1984 and 1988 conventions, when Jesse Jackson brought progressives to the conventions as delegates and as a force making demands. These days there are few pissed-off (at the party) Democrats. Another sign of the times: on Sunday night, Representative Jim McGovern, a strong liberal, and his wife Lisa hosted a party for George McGovern, the party's 1972 nominee (who is no relation to Jim). The place was jammed with old McGoverniks and Democrats of more recent generations. McAuliffe dropped by. Bill Clinton was supposed to do so, too. (Clinton, George McGovern noted, devoted 21 pages of his new book to the 1972 McGovern campaign). So here was George McGovern, the great liberal, being feted by all parts of the Democratic Party, and the progressive Dems in attendance were not grumbling about their party. This would have been inconceivable at recent conventions: a gathering of McGovernite Democrats and no bitching about the party and the nominee.
Bush has been an uniter-not-a-divider...for Democrats and progressives. The prospect of four more years of W. has concentrated the mind of these folks. "Where are all the fights Democrats are famous for?" the Washington bureau chief of a major newspaper asked me in the lobby of the Westin (where hotel employees were doling out free clam chowder and free lemonade).
The primaries, I replied, might have ended with some disappointment among the backers of the losing candidates, but there was little anger at the end of the process. None of the other candidates every really challenged Kerry. Howard Dean was crushed as soon as the vote-counting began. There were not many intra-party wounds left over from the primaries. And there were not that many sharp ideological differences among the different camps. The candidates had disagreed over the vote to grant Bush the authority to launch the war in Iraq. But that difference did not seem to capture the imagination of most Democratic voters.
Now there appears little taste within the party for a debate over what should be done in Iraq. Some progressive Dems back the notion of expressing a date-certain for a pullout of troops, but Kerry does not. Still, this has not become a pitched fight. Perhaps that's because it's an academic question. Should Kerry win in November, he would not take office until January 20th. Who knows now what will be the appropriate policy then? In terms of big-picture principles, Kerry is for trying to internationalize the mess in order to withdraw US troops. And even Dennis Kucinich and Win Without War, the antiwar coalition, don't advocate yanking US troops without replacing them with forces from elsewhere. But the best "plan" Kerry might be able to offer at this point for dealing with the enormous problem Bush created is the argument that he will muddle through better than the guy who screwed things up in the first place.
In any event, the Democrats are shining, happy people. Kerry aides and senior Democrats are even saying they see little reason to go heavy on the Bush-bashing this week. (More on that later.) They want to use the convention--that is, the three precious hours of prime-time coverage they are receiving from the broadcast networks--to boost Kerry's positives. The convention is one big infomercial. And maybe that is as it should be. After all, who can tell what will reach those few likely voters who remain undecided?
But even if all goes well with the infomercial, one Kerry pollster told me, don't look for a big Kerry bounce. It is unlikely the convention will change the minds of the small slice of undecideds, who might well stay flummoxed until they have to cast a vote in November. What Kerry strategists hope is that the convention will strengthen and deepen the support for Kerry that already exists. A convention of unity and comity provides Kerry and other Dems plenty of space to make the case for the nominee-to-be.
Despite all the warm-and-fuzzy feel-goodism of the convention, the structural disconnects of the Democratic Party remain evident. Kerry attacked special interests during the primary campaign. Yet special interests are funding much of the convention, contributing tens of millions of dollars to subsidize events at the convention. This is a same-old/same-old story. But on Sunday night, there was a particularly trenchant example.
At a Congressional Black Caucus reception in the State House to honor the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP)--which in 1964 challenged the all-white delegation to the Democratic convention--a large photograph of Fannie Lou Hamer, a leader of the MFDP, hung next to a banner for Lockheed Martin, the aerospace firm. Lockheed Martin and Verizon were picking up the tab for this celebration. Was that because Hamer, the longtime civil rights champion, was a proponent of antimissile defense systems or a fan of telecommunications reform? No, in a business-as-usual fashion, these two corporate giants were underwriting an event in order to make nice with members of Congress. And the legislators did not mind taking the money.
Speaking to fourteen veterans of the MFDP, Representative Bennie Thompson, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus from Mississippi, said, "Thank you for scratching the conscience of America." Then he turned the podium over to Art Johnson, an executive of Lockheed Martin, who praised the CBC for the "great job they do day in and day out." Johnson added, "We're pleased with the relationship our company has with the Congressional Black Caucus." Was he pleased with the CBC's call for cutting the military budget by a third? Johnson did not say. But no doubt Lockheed Martin is pleased with its ability to lobby the CBC members on a host of legislative matters.
When Representative Elijah Cummings, the head of the CBC, passed out awards to MFDP vets, standing by his side was Peter Davidson, the chief lobbyist for Verizon. As these civil rights advocates came up to the podium one by one, it was Davidson who handed them the awards that bore a photo of Hamer.
I doubt more than a few of the hundreds of people present even thought for a moment about the incongruence of this event. The worst of the Democratic Party (corporate backers looking for--and gaining--access and influence) and the best of the Democratic Party (civil rights heroes) were literally side by side, in collaboration. Talk about coalition building. But in this week of unprecedented unity, it might be impolite for anyone to question that. It would be off message.
**********DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is NOW AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."
BOSTON -- When Tammy Baldwin takes the stage at the Democratic National Convention Monday night, with a prime-time speaking slot on a star-studded bill that includes two former presidents, a former vice president and a former first lady, she will pause to recall just how far she has come from an empty apartment on a very different convention night.
Back in 1984, Baldwin was fresh out of college and back in her hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. She had just sublet a small, unfurnished apartment. There was a mat on the floor, a pan her aunt had given her and a tiny, black-and-white television set. Baldwin remembers sitting alone in the apartment, watching the Democratic National Convention that was held that summer in San Francisco.
"I was 22 years old, very interested in politics, but I didn't really know what my options were," Baldwin explained. "That 1984 convention was the one where the Democrats nominated Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman, to run for vice president. I was so excited. So there I was, in my little apartment, watching Geraldine Ferraro delivering her acceptance speech and thinking, 'Wow, I can do anything in politics. The barriers are being broken. The sky's the limit."
Baldwin would go on to break a few of those barriers herself. After serving in local government, she won a seat in the legislature and, in 1998, she was the first out-of-the-closet lesbian elected to a seat in Congress.
As one of the youngest women in the House, a leading light on the Judiciary Committee, a key player in the Congressional Progressive Caucus and, still, the only open lesbian, Baldwin is something of a political celebrity nationally -- and as much of an inspiration to a growing number of young progressive women as Ferraro was for her two decades ago. "I think Tammy Baldwin is one of the most interesting people in Congress, and she's certainly one of the most interesting speakers at this year's convention," says Laura Flanders, the Air America radio host who recently authored a book on women in and around the Bush administration. "I'm more excited to hear her speak than just about anyone else on the list."
But when Baldwin addresses the convention and the country Monday night, on a bill that will feature Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, among other Democratic luminaries, she won't be addressing women's empowerment, or the same-sex marriage debate in which she led a spirited floor fight against conservative House Republicans just last week.
Rather, she will focus on what has long been her signature issue: health care reform.
As one of three members of the House chosen to address key issues of the campaign, Baldwin says, "It's my job to explain the challenges that we face in our health care system -- lack of coverage for tens of millions of Americans, inadequate coverage for tens of millions more -- and to explain why John Kerry would do a better job of addressing these issues than George Bush. In some senses, that won't be hard. There are night-and-day differences between their plans: John Kerry's got a proposal that would move quickly to cover 29 million more Americans, especially children. The president's plan only covers 1.6 million more people."
Baldwin, one of the most prominent backers in Congress of a single-payer health care system that would cover all Americans, admits that the proposal put forward by Kerry, the man Democrats will nominate this week for president, does not achieve the full coverage that a single-payer system would deliver. But she says that, after meeting with Kerry and reviewing his proposal, she is enthusiastic about making the case for the Massachusetts senator.
"My perspective is different on how we get there, but I'm very satisfied that John Kerry is committed to working toward getting quality health care for all Americans," says the congresswoman, who will save her single-payer rap for House debates. "The speech to the convention is not about walking on stage and telling the nation what Tammy Baldwin wants to do. This is a nominating convention and my job is to talk about why I think it is essential to nominate John Kerry."
That does not mean that Baldwin's address will be a dry recitation of Kerry's positions. She has written a speech that will use the stories of constituents from her Midwestern district to illustrate health care concerns and issues. And, in this day of scripted conventions, Baldwin says she was pleasantly pleased by the free hand she was given in preparing her remarks.
"I wrote a speech and submitted it to the Kerry people. They said they loved it – and it's a little too long," recalled Baldwin. "There was never any pressure on content, they just said I had to keep it to under 10 minutes."
Two other Democratic members of the House, Ohio's Stephanie Tubbs-Jones and New Jersey's Robert Menendez, will address the economy and national security issues, respectively, as part of the program that includes Baldwin. Tubbs-Jones is an African-American, Menendez is a Latino, and, of course, Baldwin is one of the handful of lesbian and gay members of the House. Unlike Republican conventions, however, Baldwin says she and the other speakers are on stage to deliver substance, not symbolism.
"Democrats aren't going to typecast anyone. They're embracing us as individuals who have made our mark on fundamental issues facing the country -- not just as symbols," says Baldwin. "That's what's really exciting about this party and this convention."
Still, Baldwin says she hopes there will be young women, some of them just out of college and sitting on the floor of their first apartments, who will be inspired both by what she has to say and by her presence in prime time.
"A few years ago, I met Geraldine Ferraro," Baldwin recalls. "I told her I probably wouldn't be in Congress if I hadn't seen her speech. I know that times have changed and there are a lot more women in prominent positions. But I would be so happy if I could do for someone else what she did for me in 1984."
Though they won't come close to matching the intensity or volume of expected protests at the Republican National Convention in New York City at the end of August, there are numerous progressive demonstrations taking place all over Boston this week as the Democrats convene.
The Boston Social Forum is winding down today after a standing-room-only weekend of alternative networking, performances, discussions and debates. On Monday, the Black Tea Society will sponsor a rally against police brutality, prison abuse and the Patriot Act from 10 am to 12 noon on the Boston Common, followed by a march to the Fleet Center; Dennis Kucinich and his supporters will hold a public forum on Civil Liberties at 12 noon at St. Paul's Church on Tremont Street and the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union will host an Alternative Freedom Trail Tour through Boston from 2:00pm to 5:00pm.
On Tuesday, the American Friends Service Committee will sponsor the Eyes Wide Open Exhibit opposing US war in Iraq from 9:00am to 9:00pm in Copley Square with speakers and music starting at 7:30pm. And on Wednesday, the Campaign for America's Future and The Nation team up to present a forum on Iraq, the US and the Democrats featuring Katrina vanden Heuvel, Joe Wilson, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, Gail Smith and Tom Andrews. Watch this space and click here for more info on planned events in Boston.
Bonus Media Link: Click here to read Anne-Marie O'Connor's July 24th Los Angeles Times op-ed surveying the activist community for its views on protesting at this year's DNC.