‘The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party’

By CHRISTOPHER KROHN Special to the Planet
Friday July 30, 2004

If Paul Wellstone were alive today he might say that Wednesday night was the night of the ‘democratic wing of the Democratic Party.’ Rev. Jesse Jackson, presidential candidate and U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich, and presidential candidate Rev. Al Sharpton all still cling to the progressive values of the Democratic Party: a party, they say, that is pro-labor, pro-women, pro-minorities, pro-jobs, pro-environment, pro-education, and pro-civil rights. All spoke within the same 90-minute period during prime time Wednesday night between 7:15 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.  

If Jackson is the soul and Kucinich is the conscience, then surely Sharpton has taken on the role of the oratorical voice of the party. There were long and sustained ovations during each of these three leftish speaker’s remarks, but it was Sharpton’s tone and wit that raised the roof most often. 

The Democrats, from John Kerry to top party officials, have issued orders for a gentler, less Bush-bashing approach at this convention. Many delegates are not in that mood. They’ve come to Boston to get ready for the fall fight, sure to be a bruising political brawl. This is the final pep talk for delegates before they get their orders for the next 93 days. Many have come to hear party stories that reflect their own stories, their own realities. So just as nervous officials could not stop former President Jimmy Carter on the first night of the convention—“The United States has alienated its allies, dismayed its friends, and inadvertently gratified its enemies by proclaiming a confused and disturbing strategy of ‘preemptive war’”—they could not shut down Jackson, Kucinich and Sharpton, the soul, conscience, and voice of a re-invigorated Democratic Party.  

Perhaps all three represent the overwhelming anti-war sentiment at this convention among delegates (90 percent according to the New York Times): A Democratic Party victory in November must include a plan to end the Iraq war and bring the troops home. Their speeches were replete with references to historic Left icons: Crispus Attucks, Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, Fannie Lou Hamer at Atlantic City in 1964, the Rainbow Coalition of 1984, the New Deal, social security, minimum wage, collective bargaining, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Cesar Chavez, Paul Wellstone, and most recently, Ray Charles. 

Jesse Jackson started it off with his evergreen theme, “Keep Hope Alive.” Kucinich poured it on with a tribute to the multicultural Democratic party. And Sharpton finished the progressive manifesto with an array of emotional body blows about “living up to the promise of America.” 

“Let Eagles fly to Washington,” said Jackson. “It’s time to bring to bring our troops home from Iraq and send Bush home to Texas.” 

Kucinich was blunt. “Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 or with al Qaeda’s role in 9/11. There was no ‘gathering threat,’” he said. “There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” Then the congressmember took the warrior language and brought it home. “I was mayor of Cleveland,” he said, “and I tell you I have seen weapons of mass destruction in our cities. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. Joblessness is a weapon of mass destruction, homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction, racism is a weapon of mass destruction, fear is a weapon of mass destruction.” 

Finally, Rev. Sharpton, as he did so many times on the campaign trail for the past two years, gave a poignant, humorous, story-filled talk—what may very well come to be known as the most rousing speech of the entire 2004 convention. “How did we squander the opportunity to unite the world for democracy and to commit to a global fight against hunger and disease?” He paused. “We did it with a go-it-alone foreign policy based on flawed intelligence.” He concluded his remarks about the war by saying, “And when it became clear the weapons were not there, the president sought to shift the purpose of the war and to challenge our patriotism.” 

All three were united. All three were ready to take on Bush. And all three gave their full support to the Kerry-Edwards ticket, but no one here expects that Kerry in his acceptance speech will put forward a definitive plan for ending the war in Iraq and bringing the troops home. The New York Times called for one in a Thursday editorial. In separate interviews, both former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and California Congresswoman Maxine Waters asked the nominee to make that commitment, but they offer little hope that it will actually happen.  

The question posed by many Democrats in Boston on the last day of the convention was this: Is John Kerry doing a campaign-lite in order not to offend voters in the swing states? And if he is, isn’t he in jeopardy of squandering some of the energy of his base as the last 93 days of this campaign begin? 

The speeches made by the Democratic Party hierarchy thus far show no signs that they’ve heard these questions from the party faithful. The upcoming campaign will tell whether they’ve been listening here in Boston.