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Democratic National Convention – Part 1: Opening night

Democratic National Convention – Part 1: Opening night

Friday 29 July, 2016
Identity politics, a victim fest, the greatest hits of Trump and the last(ish) stand of Bernie. If you thought the DNC would be sensible, yeah nah.
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The Democratic Convention could not have had a less auspicious start. Wikileaks unleashed a well-timed barrage of emails shrouding the opening night in suspicion and discontent. The leak purports to show complicity between media outlets and the Democratic Party, with DNC chairman, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, at times “instructing” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd to “drop stories” or “unfavourable narratives”.

If this wasn’t enough, a deliberate strategy to deny Bernie Sanders and crown Hillary Clinton was laid bare.

I’ve just watched Mike Cernovich “periscoping” from outside the convention centre. Mike places the number of Bernie Supporters at around 5,000 – 10,000. Pressed up against the fence surrounding the convention centre, they chant, “Hell no DNC, we don’t want no Hillary…Hell no DNC, we don’t want no Hillary…” I can’t interpret this as evidence of a united Bernie/Hillary front.

Adding to this dysfunction is the sobering reality that Trump now leads Clinton in the last three national polls. This brings her aggregated lead to 0.4%: hardly laurels to recline upon. Of course, Donald got a significant boost from all his convention attention (Mitt Romney experienced a 5% bump in 2012). So, all things being equal, Hillary should pull a little ahead after hers…But that’s the thing: I don’t think things are equal. Wasserman-Shultz has promised to resign as DNC chair after the convention, while a full-throated endorsement on stage today by Bernie Sanders seems disingenuous at best, and a betrayal at worst. I don’t imagine the Bernie delegates will boo from the floor today (as happened to Ted Cruz at the RNC), but in spite of what will be professional decorum, Politico has it right when they say: “Dems in Disarray”.

Full disclosure. I am not expecting to enjoy this.

I have little tolerance for either identity politics or the sacred art of pandering. Neither do I enjoy sitting through victim diatribes or phony stories of manufactured “hope”.

Having just summarised the Democratic Party platform…I feel like a glutton for punishment.

First Speaker, a Latino woman talking about coming to America with nothing but a little doll. Great start. “I was worried every day that someone might find out that we were undocumented…My parents risked everything for the American dream”. Look, I get that Mexico probably sucks and the United States seems better, but you’re talking about breaking the law. Lots of people want to go to America, but it’s really hard. I have perhaps 20 friends who would love to live and work there, but they can’t because immigration law makes it virtually impossible. “When Donald Trump talks about deporting 11 million people, he’s talking about ripping families apart.” Yes, that would be a horrible thing to happen, but at some point, people have take responsibility for their own actions. No one invited illegal immigrants to put themselves in that position. The only reason they stayed long enough to put down roots and now feel they have something to loose, is that the existing laws are not being enforced. A trivial matter. The moral appears to be, “If you have a sympathetic story, the law need not apply”.

Representative Luis Gutiérrez: “My parents grew up in San Sebastian, in rural Puerto Rico. They came to America without even a winter coat.” I’m not surprised. Not much call for Kathmandu on equatorial islands with an average temperature of 24 degrees. They’re really trying to cement that Latino vote. Donald Trump currently has 35% support within this demographic.

No doubt the objective is to present a Democrats Party of diversity, contrasted with constant references to Trump’s wall and hypothetical Gestapo-like deportation squads. “I will raise my voice against the bigot who thinks a judge born in Indiana can’t do his job because his parents were born in Mexico”. The reference is to the scandal between Trump and Judge Curiel. It was the low point of Trump’s campaign to date: responsible for his biggest drop in the polls, and turning reporter Joe Scarborough from a neutral observer intoan advocate for Hillary Clinton (Joe’s a registered Republican and former member of Congress!). “We won’t let him round up 11 million people”. That statement is as equally “fear-mongering” as any discussion of imminent ISIS threat. Especially for the people to whom it’s directed: the Latino community whose votes are being courted. It’s worth noting Trump has no plan to round up 11 million people (this was something Ted Cruz floated). However, Obama has deported over 2.7 million illegal immigrants during his term (more than any other president in history). But let’s move on – no need to get bogged down by facts.

Jason and Jarron Collins: “I want my kids to know that anything is possible here. When it comes to Donald Trump, how do you tell your kids not to be a bully when their president is one…?” Jarron calls Trump a racist and a misogynist. “I’d now like to introduce the first openly gay athlete in American professional sports…my brother”. Wow, that was the full identity politics sampler: an appeal to LGBTs, African-Americans, women, and Latinos. “I came out privately to the Clintons and I knew they would pave a path to acceptance.” This conversation must have taken place in the last three years since prior to that Clinton was against gay marriage.

I am 100% behind social justice and progressive values. I just have little tolerance for hypocrisy and pandering…

There is a video montage featuring Hillary Clinton advocating for LGBT rights, “All Americans deserve equal rights accorded to citizens…I’m proud to be fighting right alongside you”. It’s a great clip. Very touching.

I’m getting pretty bored. I’m yet to hear, after two hours, a single policy that would move the US forward. All we get are promises to make people feel special and included, sandwiched between, “vote for Hillary because she’s not Trump”.

The next speaker is a proud, female, African American member of the LGBT community, military veteran, pastor, and current member of congress. Wow! That’s an amazing resume! “Today, members of the LGBT community can serve proudly in our military”. Anyone with a historical memory should find this statement slightly jarring. It was Bill Clinton after all who signed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation into law…pesky facts getting in the way of a good narrative again. I should stop that. “Marriage equality is nationwide…that’s progress, ladies and gentlemen, that’s progress.” Yes, it is. How can a country that spawned the KKK and Donald Trump have national marriage equality, but Australia can’t?

Please explain.

“She’ll slap a tax on companies that export jobs overseas, and reward companies that stay here in America”. Senator Bob Casey makes the case that Clinton will be better for manufacturing than Trump. Apparently, Hillary does this by employing the policies thatappear on Trump’s website.

Senator Al Franken: “I am a world-renowned expert on Right-wing megalomaniacs…I got my doctorate from Trump University…sure I had to take a reverse mortgage on my house to pay my tuition…” That’s pretty funny. Franken was a comedy writer before he went into politics. “Their course on bankruptcy is known throughout the real estate community for its ‘creativity’.” The room loves the shtick. “Rather than vote for someone who has spent their entire life only doing things for themselves, let’s vote for someone who has spent their life working to get things done for the American people”. Working for the American people sure pays well. The Clinton’s are worth $111 million.

A shocking compilation of Trump’s “greatest hits” appears on the big-screen.

After this downer, the next speaker trundles on stage in her wheelchair. Yes! I knew there was one group missing from the victim-fest that is Night One of the Democratic Convention: the disabled.

What? Did Hillary save your life? Pull you out of a burning car? Let me guess: you were offended by Donald Trump’s supposed mocking of a disabled reporter, so you’re voting for Hillary Clinton? “She believes in me…Hillary Clinton sees me”. Okay, that pretty touching. Everyone deserves to feel included in society. “I’m the proud daughter of immigrants…” Ding, ding. Ring that anti-xenophobia bell. “I honestly feel sorry for anybody with that much hate in their heart”.

Hmm, that’s a low blow.

I’m getting pretty bored. I understand that society should be about inclusion, but I’m yet to hear, after two hours, a single policy that would structurally move the United States forward as a nation. All we get from Democrats are promises to make people feel special and included, sandwiched between, “vote for Hillary because she’s not Trump”. I can tell you one thing, this evening is going to do nothing to bring the Bernie Sanders supporters back into the fold. Their concerns are: ending political finance corruption, ending neoliberal trade policies, and ending wall street bail-outs. Oh my God, what am I thinking? That’s the legislative antithesis of everything Hillary Clinton stands for. Carry on…

Sarah Silverman: “This past year I’ve been feeling the burn…relax, I put some cream on it.” No. No…that’s just gross. That sort of gag might fly on Twitter, but a party convention? Please. Franken (who’s beside her at the podium) asks, “What did you say?” Sarah replies, “I said ‘I put some cream on it’.” Really? Jesus. Now, bizarrely, Franken suggests that people hop online and donate to the Clinton campaign for the chance to win a trip to Philadelphia and meet Hillary…I don’t know if that sort of funky telethon sales pitch usually happens at Democratic conventions, but it was pretty sad.

Silverman comes back to the lectern. She explains she used to be a Bernie Sanders supporter. Sarah mentions Citizens United (the law that allows unlimited campaign donations through Super PACs), “I’m glad that Hillary has vowed to overturn it”. I’m not convinced. In part, because Hillary has raised $941,278 from Citigroup, $923,538 from JPMorgan, $893,019 from Goldman Sachs and $873,498 from Morgan Stanley – and in part because Silverman said “vowed” not “will”. You know the phrase, “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”? It just came to me. No idea why…

“I will proudly vote for Hillary Clinton.” The Bernie supporters in the audience boo her, give her thumbs-down, and madly wave “Feel the Bern” signs. This is not going well. “Bernie…Bernie…Bernie…” The crowd isn’t buying it either. Franken and Silverman try to pretend this section of the crowd is chanting, “Unity”, and “Hilary” – they aren’t. “Can I just say…to the Bernie or bust people…you’re being ridiculous”. Yowzers! Way to win people over. Insult them. These Democrats are mental. “Bernie…Bernie…Bernie…” Yep. It’s getting awkward in here. Now it’s a muddle of raucous voices chanting, “Billary…Bernary…Bernally…” The two speakers attempt to “fill” what appears to be a mistake in the scheduling. They are making a meal of it…Franken suggests that they (he and Sarah) are a “bridge”. Silverman looks confused. He continues, “Over troubled…” Silverman shudders and smiles painfully, looking to see if someone off the stage will save them. “Oh good lord” she says before he can say “…waters”. What a disaster. I’m pretty sure Franken wasn’t meant to characterise the current dysfunction in Democratic ranks as “troubled waters”, but he did…it’s out there now. Maybe someone will do something about that. Probably not. Calling the disaffected group “ridiculous” is not a strategy for success.

A musical interlude with Paul Simon. Thank God. I’m sweating. Holy crap…! I just realised why Franken succumbed to the word-salad. Please, please, please let that be the song Paul sings. Nope. Shame.

Michelle Obama takes the stage. She is the model of grace and poise. Michelle speaks exceptionally well. “Hillary has spent decades doing relentless, thankless work…” $111 million. I’ll just leave that there. “When she didn’t win the nomination eight years ago, she didn’t get angry or disillusioned. Hillary did not pack up and go home. Hillary knows that this is so much bigger than her own desires and disappointments.” Well, we all know whoMichelle is addressing right there. Honestly. Democrats. Get this through your smug skulls: you’re not going to shame, humiliate or lecture Bernie Sanders supporters into voting for Hillary. The only way you’ll do it is by showing them you care one scrap about the things they care about. Real things. Meaningful things. Not empty promises and rhetoric.

One of the Kennedy offspring (no idea which one, just one of the brood) introduces Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren. She’s long been a “darling” of the Left. Let’s see if the Bernie supporters treat her with that respect. There have been persistent boos and shouts of “Bernie…Bernie…Bernie…” ever since Silverman admonished them. Sarah triggered, rather than tamed. “Donald Trump has never sacrificed any-thing for any-one.” There is no doubt that Warren is the best anti-Trump advocate the Democrats have. When she’s not railing against him from the podium, she’s getting into florid midnight Twitter wars – gold for the morning papers. “I’m with Hillary…I’m with her”. There is a sizeable roar from the crowd. But when that dies down, unmistakable chanting from Bernie protesters prevails. “We trusted you!…We trusted you!…We trusted you!…” Warren, it seems, is not immune. Bernie Sanders – the man – the myth – is up next.

I’m on the edge of my seat.

It is abundantly clear that the Bernie supporter will not go quietly into the night. The distinction was too plainly drawn during the nomination contest for assertions that Sanders and Clinton are comparable candidates to ring true.

Bernie takes the stage. The crowd goes ballistic. He’s waving like a champion and half the room imagines he’s the nominee. Let’s see how Sanders breaks the news to them: relieving them of that delusion. The camera finds a crying woman…awwww. It’s a pity the nominee isn’t decided by decibel meter. They won’t let him speak. They love him too much. Too much. “Its an honour to be here tonight”. The crowd chants “Lie…Lie…Lie…Lie…” This is a mess. “We. Love. You. Bernie!!” One woman yells loud enough to be heard in his mic. Impressive lungs.

Now tell them you’re supporting Hillary. This will be madness. “I look forward to your votes during the roll call tomorrow night” What?! What is he saying? That there’s still a chance? For God’s sake Bern, just pull the plug – euthanise these poor buggers already. You’re only prolonging their misery. The camera finds a woman balling. Six minutes into his speech – no mention of Hillary Clinton. Ten minutes into what can only be described as a “Sanders stump speech” and no support for Clinton. “Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States”. Massive cheer from the crowd. Lets see what the residual noise becomes. Oh…boos. Yeah, figures. “Booooooooo…Boooooooo…” We’ve now got the “Billary…Bernary…Bernally…” confusion again. “She understands that we must raise the minimum wage to a living wage”. Bernie attributes his entire campaign platform to Hillary – a rhetorical slight of hand meant to convince the audience she actually supports these things. The crowd is restless and disgruntled. It could be worse, but harmonious it ain’t. Sanders closes his half-hour address with, “I am proud to stand with Hillary Clinton”. The crowd cheers madly and the band starts playing – presumably to cover the inevitable disapprobation of the Sanders revolution.

It is abundantly clear that the Bernie supporter will not go quietly into the night. The distinction was too plainly drawn during the nomination contest for assertions that Sanders and Clinton are comparable candidates to ring true. No matter how hard Sanders tries, how hard the media tries, or how hard Warren, Silverman and Franken try – the only voice that counts is Hillary’s. And the only message that will beckon these voters into a Democratic embrace is one that articulates a commitment to pursue the practical changes they believe in. I don’t think Hillary Clinton is capable of making that appeal. I don’t think she wants to, or indeed accepts the need to.

Consequently, I don’t believe she will.

Here’s the takeaway from opening night of the convention: there is a devastating legislative cleavage within the Democratic electorate and no obvious intention to mend it.


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