Friday, July 29, 2016

#211 / Convention Commentary #5

As an Alternate Delegate, I was never in a position to get on the Convention Floor and capture this kind of a photo, so the picture above comes from The New York Times. The picture does symbolize, I think, what has happened here in Philadelphia this week. The political party headed by President Barack Obama has handed off political leadership to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has been officially presented to the Party as its new leader, and whose personal qualities have been extolled, and whose political leadership and political abilities have been celebrated.

Someone in the Virginia delegation, or in the New York delegation, might have been able to take a picture like the one above. Those delegations were seated right down in front of the podium because when the chairs were set up, Party organizers already knew who the candidates would be. Convention organizers knew that Hillary Rodham Clinton from New York would be the Presidential nominee, and that Tim Kaine from Virginia would be the Vice Presidential nominee. Except....they didn't really know that, officially.

If you are sensing a kind of "theme" here, in my Convention commentaries, you are probably accurately picking up on my genuine distress that the Democratic Party did not deal very well with the fact that the decision about who the nominee would be was not, officially, settled at the time the chairs were set up. And it wasn't even settled on the first day of the Convention, either, since the roll call vote didn't happen until Tuesday.

My personal comments must be understood as the comments of someone who was elected and sent to Philadelphia by voters in California's 20th Congressional District precisely to advocate, in every way I could, for the selection of Bernie Sanders as the Democratic Party's nominee for President. Because I was privileged to be an Alternate Delegate, I was able to see, firsthand, that the Democratic Party apparatus was operated to favor those within the Party whom the Party Establishment had predetermined should take power, and to disfavor those supporting a different option; in other words, to disfavor Bernie Sanders and all of his delegates.

In all fairness to the Party, the situation this year was extraordinary, as Bernie Sanders' campaign was extraordinary. Normally, the Party actually does know, officially, who the Party's nominee will be long before the Convention begins. The normal thing to do is to design the Convention as a "pageant of praise" for the nominee. But this year, things actually were different, in that almost 1,900 people came to the Convention, as I did, as delegates committed to a candidate different from the candidate favored by the Party Establishment, and with an expectation that there would be an actual vote of the delegates before the curtain went up on that "pageant of praise" thing. How the Party decided to deal with this unusual situation was revealing, and it was profoundly distressing to virtually all the Sanders delegates.

As I have indicated earlier, the Convention organizers should have put the roll call vote first. But the organizers didn't do that. Therefore, as speaker after speaker on the first day kept referring to Hillary Clinton as "our candidate," and as "the nominee," the Convention organizers sent repeated messages to the Sanders Delegates that they were irrelevant and unwanted interlopers. Some of these Sanders Delegates "booed."

On Day Two, after the roll call vote, which Hillary Clinton clearly won, the Chair of the Convention twisted the motion of Bernie Sanders, who asked the Convention to suspend the rules, and to direct that the votes be recorded, and then to "declare Hillary Clinton as the nominee." Instead of presenting that motion to the Convention for unanimous approval, Convention Chair Marcia Fudge sought to transform Sanders' generous gesture into a false claim that Hillary Clinton's election was "by acclimation." Many Sanders Delegates walked out.

On Day Three, the Party apparatus actually made a number of unsuccessful but noticeable efforts to drive the Sanders delegates out of the Convention entirely, to get rid of them and their disturbing presence, utilizing various techniques reported upon yesterday.

On Day Four, Hillary spoke. Before giving my review of Hillary's speech, let me make a few other, more or less random, comments.

All California delegates got a free ticket to the "Camden Rising" concert, featuring Lenny Kravitz and Lady Gaga, which took place on Lundy Lawn yesterday, Thursday, July 28th, at 1:00 p.m. The weather was rainy, as you'll see if you click the link above. I am not sure how many California delegates actually went, but I'm pretty sure virtually no Bernie Sanders Delegates attended. The weather was definitely not encouraging, and it wasn't all that easy to get from downtown Philadelphia to the concert location (or, at least, it didn't seem like it was going to be easy to those delegates who, like me, were not familiar with the territory). Those factors were discouraging to attendance, but most discouraging was the fear, based on what happened on Day Three of the Convention, that not being at the Convention early would mean that Sanders Delegates would be shut out. In fact, this fear turns out to have been legitimate. Click this link for a little video giving a real time report of a Bernie Delegate from the Convention Floor. Ultimately, those delegates with Floor privileges did get to sit down and participate.

ALL delegates (or a large percentage of them, at least) arrived at the Wells Fargo Center in a condition best described as "fully drenched." A massive rainstorm hit at about 2:00 p.m., just as everyone was trying to get out to the Arena for the 4:00 o'clock drop of the gavel. No discrimination against Bernie Delegates is alleged. There are two routes to the Wells Fargo Center; you can go by bus, or you can go by subway. Either way, you'll get wet if it's raining. Once there, you have to walk about a half-mile outside. "Fully drenched" is perfectly descriptive.

A popular "chant" relied upon by Bernie Sanders Delegates on Days One and Two of the Convention was: "This is what democracy looks like."

Politics IS about debate, and differences, and dissension, and discussion. All that conflict and controversy, ultimately, leads up to a decision, but you don't get to the decision stage in a democracy without going through the debate and disagreement stage, first. Efforts to make Sanders Delegates "sit down and shut up" led to that chant: "This is what democracy looks like!" Philadelphia, of course, is the perfect place to remember what democracy is supposed to be all about, and I have to confess that I, and I know other delegates, got teary eyed at times at the thought that this Convention, held just blocks from where the Constitutional Convention was held, might be coming at the ending of our democratic experiment. There is worry enough about that with thoughts of what might happen with the election of Donald Trump. But even the conduct of this convention was not, as you will have seen from my reports, very comforting for those who love democracy.

Let me highlight one of the most wonderful things that happened at the Democratic National Convention - and it happened multiple times, and was inspiring every time it happened. I assume that television viewers must have seen this happen, the way we in the Wells Fargo Center Arena saw it happen. 

A number of times during the Convention, which was highly scripted, suddenly the activity on stage stopped, music came up, and the jumbo screens visible to Delegates and visitors began showing pictures of the crowd, generally as Delegates danced, or mugged for the camera, or hugged, or waved banners, or flags, or signs. People would look at the screen, and if their little area came on camera, they would recognize that, and go crazy. These interludes were high energy breaks in what were sometimes long and perhaps even "tedious" recitations of the greatness of the next President of the United States. There was a chant that captured the essence of this exercise in the recognition and celebration of the diversity of the Delegates and others in attendance: "This is what America looks like." The diversity of the crowd in Philadelphia speaks volumes about the commitment of the Democratic Party to a politics of inclusion. Actually, the entire Convention program did that, too. It made me proud to be a Democrat! Anyone remember the diversity present in the Republican Party Convention? No? Me neither!!

The most disturbing presenter on Thursday, from my point of view, was Retired Marine Corps General John Allen. His presentation on the stage, flanked and backed by many other unnamed military representatives, was obviously approved by Hillary Clinton, and the General yelled out every word he spoke, dramatizing the bellicosity that he promised Hillary Clinton would deliver. Hillary, he said, "knows how to use all instruments of American power," and she will "defeat" evil, and "defeat" ISIS, while "protecting the Homeland." On behalf of future Commander in Chief Clinton, Allen called out our "enemies," and promised them, "you will fear us," and "we will defeat you." 

In other words, if Allen is right, we can look forward to a vastly increased reliance on our military in a self-satisfied effort to let everyone in the world know that if they oppose American desires, "we will defeat you." I was sensitive to Joe Biden's claim that "America owns the finish line." As I reported yesterday, I didn't like the implications inherent in that promise. But Biden's statement was clearly nothing compared to Allen's rant, which asserted that Hillary Clinton will get us to the finish line by an unrestrained willingness to use military force. Donald Trump may be scary. But to my mind, so is General John Allen, and if he truly speaks for Hillary, that's scary, too. I well remember what Hillary Clinton said after the death of former dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who was killed in a revolt in Libya promoted and advanced by Hillary Clinton, as one of her personal projects as Secretary of State. Laughing with reporters as she first learned of Qaddafi's death, she joked, "We came, we saw, he died."

General Allen said of the upcoming election that this is "the opportunity" for America. Opportunity for what, I wonder and I worry?

As readers will remember, I was not on the Convention Floor on Thursday night, since my Alternate Delegate status put my assigned seat up in the rafters. I didn't experience what I understand was uncomfortable tension in the section of the Arena assigned to the California Delegation, since the initial efforts to lock Bernie Sanders Delegates out, ultimately unsuccessful, did carry over into tension between Clinton and Sanders Delegates as the evening drew to its conclusion.

The conclusion of the evening, of course, was the much-anticipated speech of Hillary Clinton (followed by the "balloon drop," I guess I should say, which was also much-anticipated). Back in the hotel room, long after midnight, I heard from Alan Haffa, who was a Delegate, and who was on the Floor, that protests and chants took place among some (not all) of the California Sanders Delegates, even as Hillary Clinton made her speech. Bernie Sanders specifically asked his Delegates, in a text that I got, too, not to protest, and to be respectful. I couldn't see that anything happened otherwise, but it seems that there was an "otherwise," involving a few Sanders supporters.

From where I saw the speech, it was, simply, terrific, with only one footnote to that "terrific," in my view. I feel certain that Hillary wants to convey that she is capable and willing to use military force, in the role of Commander of Chief of the United States Armed Forces. However, I have a continuing concern about Hillary Clinton's willingness to try something besides military force, as the United States faces a world that many believe is defined by a struggle of decency against "evil," and terrorism. Her speech was not completely reassuring to me on that point. Maybe that General really does speak for Hillary?

That concern expressed, I did think that Hillary Clinton's speech was terrific, and incorporated a very forthright and much-appreciated effort to state her commitment to the progressive principles that the Bernie Sanders campaign insisted must be the foundation of the Democratic Party's platform and program, going forward. I thought Hillary Clinton was inspiring, and called out to the best of America. I was comforted by my thought, as she made her speech: "Yes!! Hillary Clinton will win the Presidency!"

Particularly given the other choice, it is imperative that she does. Those who care about the future of our politics (and indeed our nation), need to help make that happen.

That's my bottom line takeaway from the Convention.

And as for the "political revolution" ignited by the Sanders' campaign? I am never giving up on that! And I'm hoping that the Sanders Delegates I met aren't giving up, either!

Image Credit:


  1. Gary, thanks so much for telling us what the remarkably disciplined TV coverage did not show us. We guessed that the random eruptions of "Hill-a-ree" were incited to drown out boos or "No More War" chants from significant numbers of delegates. But it's really disappointing to hear that my party's operatives were sent out to suppress dissent in the delegations.
    We also found General Allen's rant terrifying and surprising...although as Thursday night went on it was clear that the convention coverage (last night especially) was specifically slanted to appeal to Republicans with doubts about Trump. And maybe, if any of them were watching, it won a few of them over. Seemed like a calculated risk on the part of the ever-calculating Clintonistas: Placate the base during the first three nights, throw some red meat to disaffected opposition during the one night they are most likely to watch.
    All of this would be more worrying if the stakes weren't so incredibly high in this election. We're in uncharted territory going up against a charismatic demagogue. We don't know yet what it's going to take to prevail against him, let alone prevail decisively enough to reassure the world that the US (like Austria, for instance) isn't on the totalitarian bubble.
    So, while I deplore the DNC's anti-Sanders machinations before and during the convention, I hope the planning and discipline we saw in Philadelphia (inspire of all the dead trees!) carries through to the campaign. If Hillary Clinton doesn't win, we're going to have another revolution on our hands, not just "political."

    1. Janet, thanks for this nice note. I agree with you about what happens if Donald Trump wins the presidency. Those stakes are HUGE!

  2. Thanks so much Gary, for your measured thoughtful sharing of the general experience of the room, and your personal reactions to it. Serious and humor throughout (still chuckling about the rain drenching). Here was an interesting further read pointed out to me by a strong HRC supporter.

    1. i enjoyed that Buzzfeed article. Thank you! The tactics they rehearsed were quite effective!


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