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.