Breaking News: former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm just leapt over the Empire State Building, throttled a velociraptor with her bare hands, and unhorsed Gregor Clegane in a jousting match.
But seriously, folks…
Whatever else it was, that was one hell of a show they put on in Charlotte last week. In terms of sheer showmanship, the Democrats put on the most masterfully choreographed convention I have ever seen or even heard of. The main-event speakers brought it with a force and vigor not seen in Democratic politics since William Jennings Bryan and the “Cross of Gold” speech. Even the junior varsity speakers rose up righteous and delivered peak performances, none more so than Granholm, who my sources tell me just shoved Chuck Norris up his own ass with such velocity that he simply disappeared.
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Weirdly enough, the president’s acceptance speech was the exception, at least in my opinion. Mr. Obama didn’t blow it, but he definitely did not deliver in the way all the previous speakers had. Perhaps this was by design, and he was hewing to the idea that everyone who came before him had made the case so forcefully that there was no need for a reprise of the 2004 convention thunderclap that put him on the map. I will admit to being a little let down, however; it was a State of the Union speech delivered at the end of a rock concert, and if we all agree that modern conventions are TV shows, it felt like ending a really great Super Bowl with an episode of Mr. Rogers. It was good, but it could have been great.
“Great,” as it is currently defined, encompasses the once-in-a-lifetime performance of William Jefferson Clinton. I knew it was going to be good – hell, everyone knew it was going to be good – but the man managed to surpass all superlatives with a defenestration of the modern Republican Party that left even GOP-leaning talking heads on the networks giggling like a flock of titmice. It was a clinic, a masterpiece on every level that had the “fact-checkers” in the news media scrambling for purchase. Whoever in the Democratic Party is responsible for messaging would do well to parse that speech line by line, and then send all relevant portions around to surrogates in all appropriate targeted areas, for use in arguments to be made henceforward. As I have not been alive for two and two-thirds centuries, I cannot with full confidence claim that Bill Clinton is the greatest natural American politician of all time…but in this day and age, and within all recent memory, that speech was the best it’s ever been done.
It’s easy to gush over such a well-executed performance, especially when it comes on the heels of the scrambled festival of nonsense and incoherence that was the GOP convention. In comparing the two, there is no contest. It was the hammer vs. the nail. When Rep. Gabby Giffords stood up to lead the Pledge of Allegiance, the planet paused in rotation, and everyone who saw that shared a moment of joy, grief and simple patriotism that could never be duplicated. It was a Truth, a moment in time forever.
But the allegedly pro-labor Democratic Party chose to hold its convention in Charlotte, one of the most notoriously anti-labor states on the continent.
But virtually none of the speakers over all three days dared say a bad word about the banks and the bankers who so thoroughly shafted us all.
But it was Bill Clinton who brought us the American labor disasters of NAFTA and GATT, the apartheid of DOMA and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the unleashing of Wall Street wolves with the death of Glass-Steagall, and the murderously damaging conglomeration of the media brought on by the Telecommunications Act. It was Bill Clinton who kept the brutal sanctions on Iraq for eight long years, which consigned millions to death and suffering. It was the Clinton administration that fumbled health care reform so grievously that the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress was able to happen, which led inexorably to his impeachment for lying about a relationship with an intern he embarked upon despite knowing full well that the whole realm of the right was hunting him.
But we are living with Mr. Clinton’s mistakes right here, right now, today…much the way we are living with Senator John Kerry’s mistakes. Mr. Kerry delivered a roaring defense of the Obama foreign policy doctrine at the convention, delivering perhaps the best verbal dagger of the whole event: “Mr. Romney, before you debate President Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself.” Yet it was John Kerry, in that same speech, who labeled the war in Iraq a “war of choice,” without mentioning that he chose that war, too, with his vote in the Senate back when it was all on the line.
But the cops outside the convention hall were so hostile to the basic First Amendment concept of free expression that it was dangerous to even raise your voice:
The day after Hurricane Isaac swiped Tampa, I wandered through the security zone, perhaps a quarter mile around the convention’s outer security perimeter. Stopping at a Salvation Army truck for some cold water, the only other civilian was a sun-crisped local. Appearing dazed, he gestured to the empty streets, speaking to no one in particular, “It’s a military zone. Jesus. It’s a war zone.”
Squads of camouflage-clad cops marched by; pelotons of bicycle police cruised streets; posses of horse-mounted police stood at the ready; heavy-duty golf carts crammed with law-enforcement personnel zipped by; platoons of riot police shadowed protesters; two-man teams on overpasses scanned areas below with binoculars, Secret Service in bulletproof vests secured checkpoints; assault boats plied the water; choppers circled above.
…and no one with power or name recognition with access to a microphone or a news camera inside that convention said a thing. Given what transpired at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, the silence was loud indeed.
American politics is a whorehouse. Anyone trying to make the argument that Democrats are different from Republicans these days has a hard row to hoe. To be sure, the GOP has been overtaken by Taliban Christians who hate women across the board, and there aren’t any Democrats trying to limit access to the voting booth in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas or Florida…but when it comes to the money, to the powers behind the throne, to the “Too Big To Fail” entities standing above reproach in the halls of power, both parties bend the knee, to our collective detriment, and that is fact. Mr. Clinton and Mr. Kerry are only two examples of Democrats who screwed the common good in recent memory because it was expedient. George W. Bush was terrible and awful and a disgrace, but a large number of the disasters that took place under his administration came with many, many votes labeled ‘D.’ The war in Iraq was but one example.
And yet…and yet…
And yet Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), speaking on the issue of those who work to thwart American voters from casting their ballots in November, said this at the convention:
My dear friends, your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful, nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union. Not too long ago, people stood in unmovable lines. They had to pass a so-called literacy test, pay a poll tax. On one occasion, a man was asked to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap. On another occasion, one was asked to count the jelly beans in a jar-all to keep them from casting their ballots.
Today it is unbelievable that there are Republican officials still trying to stop some people from voting. They are changing the rules, cutting polling hours and imposing requirements intended to suppress the vote. The Republican leader in the Pennsylvania House even bragged that his state’s new voter ID law is “gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state.”
That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not just. And similar efforts have been made in Texas, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina. I’ve seen this before. I’ve lived this before. Too many people struggled, suffered and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote.
And yet Elizabeth Warren, Democratic candidate for the Senate in Massachusetts, said this:
People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here’s the painful part: they’re right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Wall Street CEOs-the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs-still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.
No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die.
One of my favorite passages of scripture is: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25:40. The passage teaches about God in each of us, that we are bound to each other and called to act. Not to sit, not to wait, but to act-all of us together.
There was more truth in those two speeches than in the entirety of the Republican convention in Tampa, and that counts for something. That, in fact, counts for quite a damn bit.
The Democrats put on a better TV show than the Republicans, but history is history. If we as Americans want better leadership, it falls on us to work for it, demand it, and to show up on that first Tuesday in November and vote for it. Elizabeth Warren said it exactly right: we are called to act, all of us together.
The TV shows are over. The election has just begun.
P.S. Jennifer Granholm just made a cold fusion reactor out of rubber bands, some string and three AA batteries.