Special to the Planet
Friday August 06, 2004

So, you invited a bunch of Democrats to town. They came, they convened, and they went. Was it successful? Did the Dems do what they needed to do? Where do they go from here? Here are some observations by a totally non-objective bystander about where the Democrats came from, where they were at the Boston convention, and where they are going next.  

What yardstick are successful conventions judged by? It seems to be a moving one. Some say network coverage: only three prime time hours for this one. Some say it is the absence of major gaffes: none here. Others will talk about the “bounce” factor: Zero to eight percentage points for Kerry, depending upon which poll is used. Here are some good, some bad, and some ugly interpretations of what actually happened last week in the former English colony. (Apologies to Sergio Leone.) 


The Good 

• Virtually everyone—delegates, protesters, swing Boston voters, everyone—fell into line behind the former “presumptive nominee,” now nominee, John Kerry. Unity like this has not been seen within the party in over 50 years. 

• Since the rhetorical/charisma bar was set so low for nominee Kerry, he just about hit a home run…okay, okay he wound up on third base and really did, at least, hit a triple, unlike some Bushes of a bygone era. 

• No Democratic Party food fights were in evidence on the convention floor this week. There was only one minor protest—Medea Benjamin’s “No War in Iraq”—and it was covered up fast by party officials. 

• No street demonstrations to speak of, which means, can you spell N-Y-C? 

• A Band of Sisters has become a major force within the Democratic Party and it was evident in a big way at this convention. Nancy Pelosi could be next speaker, Emily’s List continues to be a powerhouse funder for women candidates, and there are now nine female senators. Rising female star to watch: Jennifer Granholm, governor of Michigan 

• The democratic wing of the Democratic Party is alive and well represented by: Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rep. Maxine Waters, Rep. Barbara Lee, and yes, even Tom Hayden was seen rabble-rousing inside and outside of the convention. Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama should be a part of this group, but is not…yet. 

• In his acceptance speech John Kerry did not back away from the war Ronald Reagan called “a noble cause.” He owned up to the fact that Vietnam was bad, real bad for this country. 

• The Vets for Peace Convention, Boston Social Forum and “Take Back America” seminars drew hundreds of party activists, loyalists and malcontents. They focused on how to lobby Kerry once Bush gets his walking papers back to Crawford. 


The Bad 

• A potential crisis was averted in Teresa Heinz Kerry’s “shove it” remark to a conservative newspaper editor from Pittsburg. Shelf life of comment: 18 hours. 

• Looking very un-presidential, Kerry’s “bubble boy” picture (in clean room garb) ran in the local papers for two days, hearkening back to Michael Dukakis’s photo in a tank. Kerry’s advisors were holding their collective breath for days. 

• The lavish, at times gluttonous, Democratic Party party scene was doing its best to out-republican the Republicans’ penchant for conspicuous consumption. 

• Demo platform statement was a somewhat useless all-things-to-all-people document, going all the way from embracing SUV drivers to wishy-washy language on the war in Iraq. 

• Convention looked good on television, but was anyone watching? 


The Ugly 

• Kerry rushed through his acceptance speech because network TV was pulling the plug at 11 pm…preposterous! 

• Carole King and Willie Nelson are great, but come on! How is the party ever going to attract the under-40-somethings? New, younger blood is badly needed in the Dem Party...both Maxine Waters and Willie Brown talked this one up. 

• Kerry unveiled no plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq; this is potentially his greatest post-convention mine field with swing as well as base voters. 

• Insecurity x fear = secure insecurity. Are Dems falling into the Bush trap on questions of war an d peace? If the thousands of police and Fort Fleet Center security were any indication, the only fear we have to fear is our own collective ability to define what real security is. So far we are looking pretty afraid, but it’s not clear of what. Politicia ns like power and the more our constitutional rights are eroded the more powerful a few become, and the more difficult it is to wrest back our rights. This was in evidence everywhere in Boston: more than 3,000 cops with water canons and helicopters and only five convention-related arrests in five days. Thank goodness the “cage,” the so-called “free speech” area, was roundly criticized and ignored by all serious protesters. One hopes New York City was watching.