William Rivers Pitt | Just a Show: The Calm Sham of the DNC

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There was high drama during the Democratic National Convention last night, but not on the floor of the show. It was in my den. See, my father was a life-long Democrat who loved these conventions the way some people (me) loved Grateful Dead concerts. More to the point, he was a Clinton man to the knife. The high apogee of his long legal career was the near-decade he served as one of Clinton’s US Attorneys. He would have eaten fire for Bill Clinton and happily asked for seconds.

When Bill Clinton took the stage last night, I was ready with a big glass of iced whiskey in my hand. However you may feel about the man — I am not a big fan — he is a showman; when the Big Dog comes to eat, everything stops. Family tradition.

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My father died in February. As I watched Clinton embrace the podium, I realized this was the first time ever my father was going to miss a major Clinton address. Bill standing up for his wife at the convention. Missed it by five months, Pop, I thought to myself, and I wept quietly — not for Bill, but for my father who should have been there to see it — so as not to disturb my own family. High drama indeed.

Compared to the Republican convention last week, the first two days of the DNC have been about as docile as a deer-filled meadow. Sure, there was the Debbie Wasserman Schultz thing which the media on Monday tried to turn into the Hindenburg catastrophe. She put paid to that effort by dropping the gavel and running out the back door, and good riddance. The Democrats will be dealing with now-documented evidence that Sanders got shafted deliberately and with intent in order to favor Clinton for a long time to come. She was a terrible chairwoman, and her departure is far overdue.

It was a shameful display with the worst possible timing, and could have derailed the whole convention, but then Michelle Obama deployed her amazing grace on Monday night and said, “Nope.” Corey Booker would have set his hair on fire if he had any. Elizabeth Warren continued her run as World Heavyweight Champion Of Making Donald Trump Explode … and then Bernie.

Oh, Bernie. They gave him the honor of the final speaking slot, and he took full advantage. Certainly there was loud disappointment in the hall when he threw his support behind Hillary Clinton, but between that speech and his Tuesday night motion to nominate Clinton by acclimation (while still calling for his votes to be recorded), Bernie Sanders showed himself to be the biggest class act in politics. Be proud, Vermont.

As for the rest of it, Bill was Bill at his usual folksy best and Hillary’s satellite appearance had its intended effect, eschewing the Trumpish hogging of the spotlight. The nomination roll call was machine-like in its efficiency.

However, when it was over, I realized something. I don’t like Hillary Clinton or her husband. She does not have my vote. I voted for Bill twice, and he went on to sign NAFTA, GATT, the Telecommunications Act and the Defense of Marriage Act into law. That’s on my conscience. I voted for John Kerry, who voted for the Iraq War, because I believed a second Bush term was intolerable, and that vote is on my conscience. I voted for Obama, his drones, his fracking enthusiasm, his TPP and his Keystone pipeline, and all that is on my conscience as well. Not this time. I intend to sleep at night come November.

The fact of the matter is that conventions are television shows, period. As far as actual policy substance goes, they carry as much weight as the party platform. Anyone can talk pretty; it’s what you do that counts. That being said, conventions are important if only to serve as an example that your party can make the trains run on time, and can snuff out problems before they get out of hand. The RNC was hopeless in that regard, while the DNC has, so far, been right on the beam.

Next up are Joe Biden and Barack Obama tonight, followed by Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech on Thursday. I have no doubt that all three will bring their A-game, and we will all be given a verbal vision of what we should be instead of what we actually are. Whatever; it’s just television after all. “Politics,” said John Kenneth Galbraith, “is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.” That has never been more true than this year.

Still, my father would have liked to see it. I will watch it for him, smile when he would have smiled. I will also shake my fist at the screen, and remember that it’s just a show.