The Public Eye: Wrapping Up the Democratic Convention

By Bob Burnett
Tuesday September 02, 2008 - 04:58:00 PM

As Democrats left Denver, there was an overwhelming consensus that the 2008 Convention was extraordinarily successful. Dems united behind Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Here are a few final thoughts about the week. 

Hillary Voters: While we met a number of Democrats who had been supporters of Hillary Clinton, none indicated they would bolt the party for John McCain. That’s not to say there weren’t hurt feelings, but Clintonites seem willing to bite the bullet and support Obama. During the convention, the Bay Area’s most ardent Clinton supporter, Susie Tompkins Buell, said she’s supporting Obama. 

Sarah Palin: McCain’s selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate indicates he didn’t have any good choices. The leading male picks had serious problems: Lieberman and Ridge were pro-choice, Pawlenty was vapid, and McCain didn’t like Romney. The GOP bet on Palin because they hope a female candidate will attract Hillary voters—particularly independent woman. Furthermore, Palin is a conservative Christian, who solidifies that part of the Republican base and her selection generated excitement that’s been notably missing from the McCain campaign. 

CEO Obama: Republicans claim that Gov. Palin is a proven manager—of a state with a population of 683,000—80,000 less than that of San Francisco. Maybe the 21 months she’s been in office make her a proven manager, but during that same period, Barack Obama has managed one of the most successful political campaigns in American history: a campaign that just conducted the most effective Democratic Convention ever, ending with an acceptance speech in front of 84,000 people and watched by more than 40 million Americans. 

Diversity: More than half of the delegates were women, another quarter were African-American, and one-sixth were Hispanic. Clearly, the Democratic Party is no longer the party of old white men. In this sense, Barack Obama is representative of Democrats: his youth and race stand in stark contrast to that of John McCain. 

It’s the Economy: Lost in the excitement generated by Obama’s magnificent speech was the fact that he focused on the economy and got much more specific about his plan to help working Americans. It’s hard to imagine that John McCain can put together an effective economic plan—and certainly the case Sarah Palin won’t help him with this aspect of his campaign, whereas Joe Biden will help Obama. 

Women’s Issues: On Thursday night, Obama spoke of the necessity to reduce “the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country” and to ensure women have “equal pay for equal work.” To this point in the presidential campaign, women’s issues, such as reproductive rights and pay equity, have been submerged by the economy, gas prices, and Iraq. The addition of Sarah Palin will change that as she’s resolutely pro-life and almost as bad as McCain, who has a dreadful record on issues affecting women and children. Look for the Obama campaign to run an ad, featuring Hillary Clinton, which criticizes McCain-Palin and urges women to vote for Obama. 

Patriotism: Wednesday night during the Tammy Duckworth convention speech, when attendees chanted “USA” and waved thousands of American flags, Democrats took back the issue of patriotism, arguing they’re the party that supports our troops. 

Winners and Losers: There were several big winners: Michelle Obama’s Monday night speech was much better than anyone expected; her public appearances were marked by humor and grace. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s Tuesday night speech on energy policy was both savvy and funny. 

The big loser was the mainstream media, which exaggerated the dissension between Clinton and Obama supporters. Another loser was the American public, which—unless viewers happened to be watching CSPAN— missed some great speeches that the main channels didn’t feature because they focused on a couple of big-name speeches each night. 

Future Stars: Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar ran the DSCC “meet the Senate candidates” breakfast and was smart and funny. When women wonder would could be the next Democratic female presidential candidate, they should keep an eye on Klobuchar. The Senate candidate with the most buzz was Andrew Rice, who is opposing the dreadful James Imhofe in Oklahoma. Rice shouldn’t have a chance in such a heavily Republican state, but the combination of his personal history—he’s a former Christian missionary whose brother died in the 9/11 attacks—and Imhofe’s extremism has turned this into a close race. We also met Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, who is charismatic and energetic and probably will run for Senate one of these days. 

Best Joke: We liked this analysis of Republican leaders: “George H.W. Bush was born on third base and thought he’d hit a triple. George W. Bush was born on third base and promptly stole second. John McCain was born on second base and married third base.” 


Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at