DENVER – In 1908, when Democrats first gathered in Denver, African-American activists asked the party to make a place for them — inside the convention, in the platform and in the campaign to come. At the very least, they asked, Democrats should take a stand against lynching.
William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic nominee for president, vetoed even that modest outreach — fearing that to do so would weaken the party’s hold on what was then referred to as “the solid south.”
One hundred years passed. A civil rights movement rose. A new generation of political leaders – most, though not all of them, Democrats — stepped gingerly toward the future.
And on Wednesday afternoon, at around 4:50 p.m., the Democratic party nominated an African-American man for president.
There has been a lot of talk, too much talk, about this being a “transformational moment” in American politics.
But it must be said that, if the quadrennial convention is the measure of a political party, then the Democrats have, a century on from their first gathering in Denver, completed a process of transformation.
Despite the bizarrely determined efforts of convention organizers and the campaign of Barack Obama to shift the focus away from nominating speeches and a clumsy roll-call vote — by restructuring the schedule to complete the process while many Americans were still at work — the most historic moment of the convention was its most traditional.
Far from the prying eyes of prime-time television, Democrats undertook the rituals of nominating two candidates for president — Hillary Clinton, the woman who began the campaign as the all-but-certain Democratic nominee, and Obama, the man who upset those best-laid plans.
Such was the desire of the managers of the convention to downplay the actual work of the delegates who have traveled from across the country to be a part of this moment that those chosen to place the names of Clinton and Obama in nomination delivered almost perfunctory remarks.
Michael Wilson, a registered Republican from Florida and an Air Force medic who served in Iraq, nominated Barack Obama with an on-message declaration that, “I’ve seen war up close. I support Barack Obama because America needs a president who has the strength, wisdom and courage to talk to our enemies… who will respect our veterans when they get back home instead of letting them languish without the medical care they deserve.”