Political conventions are about the future. I don’t mean that in the way scores of podium speakers have been saying, This election will decide the future of our great nation. Conventions are where party leaders try to determine (and boost) their own futures within the party. Even when a decisive election is only three months away, there still is time and opportunity for politicians (and their handicappers in the media) to gaze further down the road. Throughout the 2004 campaign, the post-2004 gameplan of Hillary Clinton, assuming she has one, has been on the minds of political junkies. Should John Kerry fail to oust George W. Bush, might she become the leading (and perhaps inevitable) Democrat in the 2008 sweepstakes? And when John Kerry chose John Edwards as his running mate, this first-term senator/whippersnapper became a presumed rival to Hillary Clinton and another potential heir to the nomination.
But other politicians are angling for a piece of the party’s pie. Both Howard Dean, the governor-turned-insurgent, and Barack Obama, the Democrats’ impressive candidate for Senate in Illinois, have laid claims to the future of the party. With a brilliant and well-received keynote speech on Tuesday night, Obama signaled he is a hot property. Dean still has some work to do, but he does seem willing to do the heavy lifting.
On Tuesday afternoon, Dean attended a rally/conference organized by Campaign for America’s Future, which was also headlined by filmmaker Michael Moore. Nearly a thousand people were in the hotel ballroom, and thousands of disappointed rally-seekers had been turned away. It was unclear how many were Deaniacs and how many were Moore-iacs, though there is much overlap between the two constituencies. Dean received a hero’s welcome from the assembled. In front of this group–which did not appear to include many (if any) delegates from the actual convention–Dean called for those who were inspired by his campaign to stay with him and “rebuild the Democratic Party.” Voting for John Kerry would not be good enough, he said. He urged them to run for office–for local posts like school board and library trustee. “If you want democracy to work,” he said, “…build your own campaign organization.” He reported that his new outfit, Democracy for America, was working with 800 progressive candidates across the country. Noting that “95 percent” of Americans want the same four things–a job that pays more than the last one they had; health care for them and their kids; public education that works; and effective national security policies “consistent with American morality”–he voted to take the progressive message to spots considered unfriendly for lefties: Mississippi, Idaho, Alabama. Eventually, he said, people in these states “will get tired of voting on guns, god, and gays….Whatever it takes, we will win America back.”