Wednesday, August 27, 2008
DENVER -- There are two Democratic National Conventions here in Denver.
The first one is the official convention, which has a sole purpose: to sell Barack Obama, not as a different kind of Democrat, but as a red-white-and blue everyman. Mr. Middle America.
The speakers Monday night downplayed the accomplishments and uniqueness of Barack and Michelle Obama by highlighting what makes them like an average family. Michelle Obama's brother, Craig Robinson, introduced his sister as a woman who wouldn't be on the campaign trail if her mother couldn't watch the two daughters.
For her part, Michelle Obama told the convention that, "what struck me when I first met Barack was, that even though he had this funny name, and even though he had grown up all the way across the continent in Hawaii, his family was so much like mine." Which is ludicrous -- not so much because he was raised by a white mother and white grandparents, but because he grew up acutely aware that his father had abandoned him.
Read Joshua Green's piece in September's "The Atlantic" on the strategies debated by advisers to Hillary Rodham Clinton and you understand this convention. As Clinton pollster/guru Mark Penn argued, Obama is "unelectable" because of his "lack of American roots."
"Every speech should contain the line you were born in the middle of America to the middle class in the middle of the last century," Penn told Clinton in a strategy memo. Team Obama has ripped a page from that strategy, and you hear it echo wherever you go. At this convention, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., announced, "Illinois is America."
In a similar vein, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters, "Joe Biden is the all-American boy." Pay attention, heartland: Democrats want you to know that they are Middle America, not that they know what is best for Middle America.
This is a convention of progress: It shows an America in which black and white Americans don't live in different worlds, and share the same values.
This convention also represents progress for the Democratic Party, which for years now has been the organ of identity politics. The old Democratic Party emphasized differences and grievances. It was the party that has been quick to see racism and quick to cry foul.
That old party is the party of the Under Convention in Denver -- the convention of Hillary Clinton supporters, who feel betrayed by Obama's nomination. They complain that Obama staffers haven't courted them -- they never call. Some of them were big wheels in the Clinton machine. Others were committed believers. None of them likes being treated as if they are yesterday's news.
The Hillary faithful at this Under Convention either think Obama can't win, or deep down they just want him to lose.
It must gall them to see that in winning, Obamaphiles transcend identity. The Hillary brigade knows that if Obama loses, his supporters will return to the fold of identity politics. They will say that Obama lost because he is black -- yes, even some of the Obama supporters who now scoff at Hillary supporters who believe she lost because of her gender.
I talked to a number of women attending the convention who straddled both worlds. They supported Obama, but identified with the laments of Hillary's femme fatales. They believe that the news coverage was sexist, but they want Obama to win in November.
Some believe that the media have overplayed the Obama-Clinton riff. Only time will tell if they are right.
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