The Democratic National Convention: Days One and Two

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Party conventions are usually very pointless exercises. Regardless of which party you’re talking about, they only ever amount to a pep rally. In fact, short of a preacher actually turning his back to his congregation and speaking to the choir, I can’t think of a better example of preaching to the converted. Content matters very little since everyone who leaves the convention will all say the same things: “We’re just so energized,” or “This is one of the most important elections in history, so we really have to get out there and support <insert candidate’s name>,” or my favorite, “U-S-A, Num-ber-1!”

Well, my political leaning not withstanding, this year’s Democratic National Convention has had some truly remarkable moments and has had enough family drama to fuel a season’s worth of Wife Swap. The first night’s family drama began with the Ode to a Dying Dynasty (since Ted Kennedy assured us that he was returning to the senate, I assume that that statement isn’t insensitive). Even though we as Americans are inculcated into the myth and legacy of the Kennedys from an early age, I remain somewhat in awe of what power and tragedy that family has endured over the last half century. They are the quintessential American aristocracy, full of self sacrifice and social consciousness, but oozing power and privilege. What struck me most in Kennedy’s speech and the tribute to him, was just how different the role of a senator is from a president. The skills and talents that make one a great senator–personal communication, ability to compromise, viewing issues in their complexity not simplistically, bi-partisanship, etc. –are not those of a strong president. That’s not to say that a president can’t have those qualities, but they are a bonus, not essential. If Ted Kennedy deserves the laurels that were laid at his feet on Monday, he owes them to his failure to follow in his brothers’ footsteps and become a successful president or presidential candidate.

The second episode of All in my Party was equally intriguing. Michelle Obama spoke in what I believe will be hailed as a singular moment in American history. While Obama may be considered safe to most Americans–as one NPR pundit put it, he is the Cliff Huxtable of American politics–Michelle Obama is not. Though brought about by misguided bigotry and selective quoting, the opposition has been able to pain Mrs. Obama just as The New Yorker portrayed her (i.e. the misguided bigotry):

So, in many ways her speech was more important than Barack’s. While Barack can wow the American electorate with his eloquence and policies, Michelle Obama can only ever sell herself. And, for better or worse, I believe she can only do that by showing herself to be motherly and nonthreatening. In her speech on Monday she certainly showed herself to be motherly: her daughters on the stage with her and the content of her speech continually reinforced her image and role as mother. If she is now nonthreatening to the American electorate is yet to be seen, but I dare any right-wing bigot to try and paint her with the “anti-American” brush they’ve used thus far with her. They’ll do it, but I don’t think it will work after America has seen her on the stage, her two daughters delightfully going off script (in what was otherwise a very contrived moment) as they said goodnight to their dad.

The third episode of All in my Party was, of course, Hillary Clinton’s speech last night. I must say, with very grudging respect, that Hillary is a powerful, powerful orator. I think that she is a candle that has been forced to stand too near the fire her whole public life, first with Bill and now Barack. Ignoring completely the content of her speech, I think she did more for her legacy tonight than anything up to this point in her career. That was an impassioned speech that had rhetorical merit, stinging one-liners, and enough pro-Obama moments to at least let us believe that she is ok with the outcome of the Democratic Primary. The truth is, and everyone knows this, that the so-called Hillary holdouts want to vote for Obama. No ardent Hillary supporter is going to vote for a guy who’s pro-life, even if his commitment to that issue is a recent one brought about by political necessity. They are like the person in a fight who knows the fight is over, who is reconciled to the outcome, and really would just like to get back to normal. But their pride, or sense of how things are supposed to work, won’t let themselves let it go until either sufficient time passes or an act of contrition by their opponent allows them the chance to “forgive” the other’s wrong doing, even if the “wrong doing” is an imagined slight. This forgiveness has nothing to do with who was in the right and who was wrong, they just have to be given the opportunity to absolve the other party in such a way that they feel re-empowered. (So we’re clear, I’m not being sexist, I’m describing how I feel after a fight.) Now that Hillary and her supporters have had their moment of catharsis, look for the overblown divisions between the Obama people and Clinton people to evaporate.

So there you have it, the first two days of the Democratic National Convention. And I must say, that after watching those speeches, I’m just so energized because, after all, this is one of the most important elections in our nation’s history.

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