WHO IS AL GORE?
The Second Session of the 43rd Democratic National Convention
Wednesday, August 16, 2000
RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
The Second Session of the 43rd Democratic National Convention, meeting in Los Angeles, was called to order shortly after 1 o'clock P.M. Pacific Daylight Time (2300 UTC) on Tuesday 15 August 2000 by Convention Organizing Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe in his capacity as "Convention Chairman" (more or less the equivalent of a "Temporary Chairman"- a role he was sharing with Democratic National Committee National Chair Joe Andrew). Three children (I assume they were Mr. McAuliffe's) actually together wielded the gavel calling the assemblage to order.
The Colors were presented by the University of Southern California ROTC Joint Services Color Guard and the invocation was given by Dr. Maher Hathout of the Islamic Center of Southern California. Jennifer Powers, the reigning Miss Illinois and a granddaughter of President John F. Kennedy's aide Dave Powers sang the National Anthem. Following the retirement of the Colors, the delegates (the few assembling so early) were entertained by the band Los Lobos.
Today was to be the first full day of Al Gore's Convention- the presentations and addresses at today's session would be the first specifically devoted to defining the Vice President and the policies of the Democratic Party of which he would be the titular head once his nomination was made official the following evening. Much of what Al Gore would project of himself and his views in the ensuing Fall Campaign would be first glimpsed at this session- much as the entire Republican National Convention was a glimpse into George W. Bush's issues. It got off to a rocky- but, perhaps, little noticed- start.
After the musical performance had ended, there was a video on the big screen which was obviously intended to explain why Al Gore- although opposed to the Vietnam Conflict- served anyway. The Vice-President's Harvard University classmates- most notably the actor Tommy Lee Jones- and at least one person who knew him from Carthage, Tennessee tried to explain Gore's internal conflict from their personal knowledge of him at the time. While perhaps this was, in part, intended to further separate Al Gore from the draft-related controversies of the Vietnam Era which dogged President Clinton, it seemed more as an attempt to be both 1960's anti-war and patriotic all at once. There was mention of him enlisting and hoping no one would notice him- but there was no mention that he was the son of a United States Senator, which was why noticing him was a particular problem.
As I watched this video clip which only served, in my opinion, to muddy the waters as to what Al Gore was all about in, admittedly, a rather trying era for his generation, I thought of the comment a friend of mine from Massachusetts- a woman who had graduated from Boston University in my Class- had once said about how the Vietnam Conflict was proving problematic for a whole generation of men now coming to power in our society. This issue- Al Gore and his service in Vietnam (he ended up as a military journalist)- might be a thorny one for the Democratic nominee-presumptive this Fall and the confused nature of what this video was trying to convey may yet come to color his presidential campaign. I myself wondered if it had been shown to a mostly empty Hall so early in this session's proceedings to, more or less, get it out of the way. (Just for the record, I re-watched the video- on the videotape I had made of the proceedings- after the Second Session had concluded Tuesday evening: I found it to be even more problematic the second time round!)
After this rather strange start to the proceedings, the Democrats began the consideration of their Platform. Here I give the Democracy much due credit over the Grand Old Party: the Republican Platform planks themselves were barely mentioned at the other Convention; that Platform as a whole was spoken of in glowing terms by such Republican luminaries as Governor Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and Congresswoman Sue Myrick of North Carolina- but, as I myself pointed out in my Commentaries of two weeks ago, the Republican Platform was, despite some "toning down" of the harder conservatism of recent Election Cycles, largely invisible in Philadelphia as the Elephant was, indeed, being re-invented! The Democrats, on the other end, shoe-horned what, to be fair, were the usual political speeches- not all that much different in kind from those of the other Major Party- into a presentation of many of the planks of the Democratic Party Platform. I came away from the first portion of this Convention session with a much better sense of what the Democratic Platform actually was than I had ever had of its GOP counterpart.
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Platform Committee co-Chair, led things off. He scored the Republicans by opining that Democrats "just don't talk about inclusion and diversity every four years at a Convention but actually practice it", citing 1960 nominee John F. Kennedy as the first Roman Catholic President, Geraldine Ferraro as the first female on a Major Party ticket in 1984 and now Joe Lieberman as the first Jew on a Major Party ticket.
Durbin was followed by Minneapolis, Minnesota Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, the other Platform Committee co-Chair, who argued that home ownership- "the bellwether of Progress"- was on the rise over Bill Clinton's two terms and that the Platform better protected the interests of those who "deserve the right to be rural".
Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island now addressed the assemblage and urged that the country not go back to "the crazy days of the 80's". He also goes down as a Convention footnote as the first person (but not the last!) to use the "R" word so scored by Governor Bush in his Acceptance Speech when he referred to a "risky tax plan... that threatens to bust the budget". Reed was followed by "North Carolina's Education Governor" (as he was billed in the introduction to his segment) Jim Hunt, the co-Chair of the Platform Drafting Committee, who claimed that his Party's Platform shows that the Democrats were "determined to provide every child the excellent schools they deserve" and- lest there be any doubt as to what type of schools to which he had been referring- "make America's public schools the very best schools in the World". He pointed out that the plank on Education addressed the five things necessary to accomplish these goals: High Standards and School Accountability, a Smart Start, Good Teachers, Safe Schools and Family, Business and Community Involvement. He argued that, with this plank, "every 8th grader will be computer-literate" and that the "achievement gap" between minority children and others in the country would be eliminated.
Congressman Jim Davis of Florida then addressed the Convention, more or less as a follow-up to Governor Hunt's remarks, recounting- through anecdotes about the schools in his district- just why the proposals in the Democrats' plank on Education were needed. Davis was followed by Pennsylvania delegate Marla Ray Davis, a health care worker, who just happened to come from Philadelphia- the host city of the GOP Convention and she, in turn, was followed by Hoboken, New Jersey councilman Ruben Ramos, Jr. who had just undergone treatment for Hodgkin's Disease who argued for health care without regard to pre-existing conditions.
Congressman Jay Inslee of Washington addressed the Convention about the Platform plank intended to protect the right of privacy which, he argued, was "under siege in this Nation today". "When it comes to Privacy", Inslee claimed, "Democrats 'get it'!". He was followed by Mayor Jack Ellis of Macon, Georgia who recited the failings of "the only Bush Administration we want to see" as regarded urban policy and how much better cities had fared under Clinton/Gore. He urged urban- and, by extension, inner city minority- voters to "dance with the one who brought us"- meaning, of course, the Democratic Party.
Iowa's Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge then presented the plank regarding Farm Policy. She recounted the problems the family farmer had been experiencing of late (all of which, I noted, occurred DURING the Clinton Administration!) and talked of how- with the current Platform plank- the Gore/Lieberman ticket "should" be doing this or that for rural America. This, of course, implied that the current Democratic Administration hadn't: it seemed to me as if Farm Policy was going to be as problematic for the Democrats- though for different reasons- as it might prove to be (as I noted in one of my Commentaries on the GOP Convention) for Republicans. Considering that the Midwest was a key battleground region in the November election, this could very well prove to be either Party's undoing!
Boston, Massachusetts Mayor Tom Menino spoke about free trade and urged Americans to "say 'no' to sweatshops whether at Home or Abroad". He was followed by Nashville, Tennessee Mayor Bill Purcell who spoke on how the Democrat Platform would bring American government- at all levels- into the 21st century (kicking and screaming, I would bet!). He was followed by Richard Trumka, the Secretary/Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, who argued that the essence of the Party's Platform was that "all those who work hard should get ahead". Next came Texas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, who opined that "we are at a fork in the road: one path will take us back to the failed policies of the past and the other one- OUR path- leads us to unprecedented prosperity for all". She, too, scored the GOP Convention's theme of Inclusion: "unlike that other Convention, what you're seeing here is real: I am an actual African-American office-holder" (and what- pray tell- was Republican Convention co-Chair Congressman J.C. Watts, then?). "In Philadelphia, the world saw a 'made-for-TV' movie", Johnson claimed. "In Los Angeles, this is the real world."
Then followed a whole succession of speakers: New Mexico Speaker of the House Raymond Sanchez, Florida Attorney-General Bob Butterworth (who spoke on the "Progress plank" of the Platform), and Territorial Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia (who, interestingly, was introduced as "Representative"- as a voting Congressman would have been) passionately urging full voting Congressional representation for the Nation's Capital (it was almost a throwback to late 19th Century National Conventions where Territories which had delegations seated in the Convention would use their status therein as a platform for urging Statehood for themselves!).
Iowa Attorney-General Tom Miller came out to speak on the Crime Policy plank but, instead, his address was more of a talk about Vice Presidential nominee-presumptive Joe Lieberman, who had been Connecticut Attorney-General prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate 12 years ago. He was followed by Arizona Attorney-General Janet Napolitano, who talked about what the plank hoped to accomplish regarding Internet crime (I immediately thought of "Carnivore", the controversial "Web-tapping" tool and wondered just how well this plank could possibly dovetail with the Privacy plank discussed by Congressman Inslee earlier... yet another contradiction for the Gore/Lieberman ticket to deal with down the stretch!)
The next speaker was Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who talked about her footnote to history as the first Member of Congress to give birth while in office back in 1974 (but, to me, she was a "Convention blast from the past"!... I well remember her somewhat friendly confrontation at the dais- during the fractious 1972 Democratic Convention [for which she was serving as a co-Chair]- with Alaska Senator Mike Gravel who was attempting to give a speech seconding his own nomination for Vice-President). She was followed by Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who spoke on the health care plank and- in a dig at the GOP- asked "if you are not in favor of health care for all, who would YOU leave behind?". Congresswoman Karen Thurman of Florida spoke about the Medicare prescription drug benefit in the Platform and argued that, to force someone to have to choose medications over food was "neither compassionate nor... fiscally responsible".
Now we were treated to a video in the series "friends of Al Gore" (this was the same series which, during the previous session, had featured the couple from Washington State struggling to deal with health insurance for their infant son): this one was about a World War II veteran from Pennsylvania who had been a POW and who had been wounded just before capture, but never received a Purple Heart because he feared reporting his wounds to his captors. A newspaper article was written up about his (and his daughter-in-law's) battle to have him finally receive his due honor, an article read by the Vice-President's wife. Al Gore had then stepped into the breach and cut the red tape so that this veteran could get his medal.
The first speaker after this video was environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (son of Bobby) who spoke on the environmental planks of the Platform. He was followed by Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who has found himself the proverbial "tail wagging the dog" as one half of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform bill. He gently chided the assemblage for the fact that "soft money has become so much a part of this Convention" (I'm sure this went down well with the Hollywood entertainment establishment as well... yeah... right!). He urged the Democratic National Committee to ban it at future National Conventions of the Party, stating this was "a family tradition that we do not need to preserve". He praised Joe Lieberman as a supporter of Campaign Finance Reform, noting that one of the Major Party nominees chose a running mate who supports this "but not George W. Bush!" (an obvious, yet subtle, reference to John McCain's challenge of Governor Bush for the GOP nomination in the early primaries and caucuses).
Congressman Marty Meehan of Massachusetts also came to the dais as a kind of follow-up to Feingold's remarks on Campaign Finance Reform. He was followed by Congressman David Wu of Oregon, the first Chinese-American ever elected to Congress. The next speaker was Rev. Susan Johnson Cook, the founder and senior pastor of the Bronx Christian Fellowship (Baptist) in New York, who talked about Race and called the Democrats "the most diverse Party in the history of the World". After her came Dr. Juanita Owens, the Director of the San Francisco Board of Education and, as she herself put it, "an out lesbian of color". She opined that "there are even gay Republicans, though I don't understand why". (I, of course, immediately flashed back to the silent protest of openly gay Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe's speech on free trade at the Republican Convention two weeks earlier... I had to admit Dr. Owens might actually have a point!)
Maria Elena Duraso, the president of Local 11 (the Los Angeles area local) of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Workers' Union addressed the assemblage, followed by Kristina Kiehl of Voters for Choice who assured the delegates that "both our Platform and our candidates are totally pro-Choice". She was followed by Governor Pedro Rosello of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico who, as D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton had earlier, urged that the territory be given full voting representation in Congress. Rosello also noted that Al Gore supports a "wholly democratic status" for the island: however, unlike the delegation from the island during the "Rolling Roll Call" in Philadelphia, Rosello stopped short of using- as Delegate Norton had had no hesitancy to do- the word "Statehood"!
Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon was next, noting that Al Gore would be able to "heal the wounds of the Vietnam War because he was there!" (an obvious dig at the Texas Governor, who had had the benefit of "alternative service"- but my own mind thought back to that rather odd video at the beginning of this very Convention session) . Congressman Grace Napolitano of California, the next speaker, noted that "we don't have to call Hollywood Central Casting to make us look inclusive" (yet another knock on the GOP). Congressman Norman Dicks of Washington then spoke to the plank endorsing "forward engagement", which Dicks went on to define as "addressing problems before they become crises", after which former National American Legion president James Dean of Tennessee spoke of Al Gore's patriotism from his own personal perspective.
Senator Bob Graham of Florida spoke on Medicare prescription drug coverage (apparently, speakers on the various planks of the Platform were being fit in wherever their own schedule permitted- as this had been addressed earlier in the presentation and had nothing at all to do with the defense-related speeches before and after Graham's). Graham described not providing such coverage as the equivalent of "driving a 1965 automobile on 21st Century highways". Graham became the second speaker to use the "R" words as he urged the surplus be used for this purpose instead of adopting "risky tax cuts" that would take the surplus away. He finished on a strange note when he asked that reforming Medicare not be treated like the "redheaded third cousin" at the family reunion.
After a recorded musical interlude, "former and future Congresswoman" (as the introduction called her) Jane Harman, a self-proclaimed "proud pro-Defense and pro-Choice Democrat", came to the podium surrounded by high school students from her "former and future" congressional district who were ushers at this Los Angeles Convention as Harman herself had been at the Democratic Convention in that city four decades before. She was followed by New York Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey who spoke of "a woman's right to choose" (the Democrat euphemism for Abortion- but at least those before this Convention were speaking of a subject barely mentioned at the Republican Convention: to my memory, only two speakers- Nebraska GOP Senate candidate Don Stenberg and presidential nominee George W. Bush himself- even mentioned the "A" word in any significant context!). She argued that the Republicans were holding "our U.N. dues hostage to their extremist anti-Choice views".
Governor Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, also a candidate for the U.S. Senate, spoke next before- to conclude the presentation of the Platform- Maryland Lieutenant-Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the co-Chair of the Platform Drafting Committee and the daughter of Bobby Kennedy, came to the dais. After opining that the Platform would allow the Gore/Lieberman ticket to "eradicate the 'Opportunity Divide' ", Mrs. Townsend moved its adoption. Boston Mayor Menino, acting as the Chair for this exercise, declared that the "Aye"s had it and, with that, the 2000 Democratic Party Platform (the last procedural business of this Convention except for the formal nomination of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates) was officially in the books.
A video account of the climb up Washington State's Mount Rainier by the Vice-President and his son Albert- along with footage of the mountaineer who guided them to the summit extolling Al Gore's leadership qualities on that journey- was shown, after which the Convention was addressed by Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii (another "blast from Conventions past"- for he was the Temporary Chairman and Keynote Speaker [it was traditional to combine both duties in one person at National Party Conventions of the late 1930's through the 1940's and 1950's on into the 1960's] for the very different and VERY fractious 1968 Democratic Convention), who urged the honoring of Native American Indian treaties with the Federal Government and also championed the cause of his fellow veterans. Inouye was followed by Senator John Edwards of North Carolina who queried as to why Democrats "always hope for sunny weather" on Election Day while the GOP "pray for rain" (an implication that high voter turnouts benefit Democrats... I'm not sure whether that is necessarily true, of course!).
The next speaker was Commerce Secretary Norm Mineta, who proclaimed- in yet one more dig at the Inclusion theme of the Republican Convention: "I am not from Central Casting... I am part of the real diversity and the real difference of the Democratic Party". There was a "re-take" of the Official Convention Photograph before the final speaker of this segment, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard of California introduced a video about caregivers, featuring one of the high school students severely wounded in the infamous Columbine-like gun attack in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Thereafter, another brief recess interrupted the proceedings.
The Convention resumed for the second half of its Second Session at 5 o'clock P.M. Pacific Daylight Time on Tuesday the 15th (0000 UTC, 16 August). The Colors were presented by the joint Boy Scouts of America/Girl Scouts of America Honor Guard and the Pledge of Allegiance was led by members of the Boys' and Girls' Clubs of Santa Monica, California. Actor Pat Morita sang the National Anthem a capella. A video then introduced the first speaker of this main- scheduled for East Coast prime time- segment of the Convention, former Mayor of Philadelphia Ed Rendell who was now Democratic National Committee General Chair, who proclaimed "we are the Party of Compassion!". He then recited areas of concern to Democrats (based on the earlier Platform presentation) in which George W. Bush's own State of Texas was lacking (I immediately recalled the Texas Governor's warning "Don't Mess with Texas!" in his Acceptance Speech... though I wondered if that declaration was to be, often as not, a rock to cower behind while Democratic bullets buzzed Bush's ears). Rendell quoted Governor Bush as having said that he would never knowingly appoint a gay man or lesbian to his Administration (Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe need not apply?) and, paraphrasing the movie Forrest Gump, declaimed that "Compassion is as Compassion does".
A video was now used to introduce Democratic National Committee National Chair Joe Andrew (one of the little factoids appearing in this video noted "1999- Joe Andrew uses a steamroller to demonstrate George W. Bush's tax plan"). "Al Gore will fight for the many", Andrew opined, "George W. Bush will fight for the few". Scoring the Texas Governor on Bush's opinion that flying the Confederate flag atop the South Carolina State House was merely a local issue, Andrew declared "that bus Rosa Parks rode on was just a local bus; that prison Martin Luther King wrote from was just a local jail". Andrew claimed that the Democratic Party didn't "care where you are today- just where you dream you want to be tomorrow".
Andrew was followed by Elizabeth Birch, the executive director of the Human Rights Campaign. Ms. Birch described herself as "a proud gay American". She argued- citing the beating death of gay man Matthew Shepard in Wyoming- that "we celebrate America's family but we know that America's family is not yet whole", arguing that "wise leadership never takes refuge in silence". She scored the pre-Clinton/Gore era (a period of Republican Administration) as one of "stony, silent government" particularly as regards the AIDS/HIV epidemic. "The other party's vision excludes as many as it includes", she declaimed, arguing that "they forego invective but embrace indifference and call it Compassion". In contrast, she opined, "Al Gore and Joe Lieberman have taken strong, courageous positions on behalf of equality- they have never run for cover of silence."
Kate Michelman of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League was the next speaker, arguing that a "woman's right to choose could be lost in just one day and that day is Election Day". Ms. Michelman was followed by Gerald McEntee, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Then followed a fast-paced video biography which illustrated the life of the first big-name speaker of the evening, Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr.- president and founder of the Rainbow Coalition and Operation PUSH and twice a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination: historically, the first African-American to make a serious run for the White House.
Rev. Jackson strode up to the dais to the chants of "Jes-SE! Jes-SE!" "The Long Arm of Justice", Jackson began, "reaches neither for the political Left nor the political Right but for the moral Center". He told the assemblage that they were physically meeting "in that Great Divide between Beverly Hills and South Central, between the dream-makers and the dream-breakers". Jackson scored the Republican Convention as one of "smoke, mirrors, hired acts... the Inclusion Illusion", adding that "they could not even mention the words Africa, Appalachia or AIDS once". In contrast, he opined, the Democratic ticket "headed by a Southern Baptist and an Orthodox Jew- this is America's Dream Team". He blasted Governor Bush for "standing up for Jefferson Davis and the Confederate flag in South Carolina, but Abraham Lincoln and the American flag in Baltimore", arguing that- to the Gore/Lieberman ticket- there is but "one America, one flag".
Rev. Jackson reminded his audience that "most poor people are neither brown nor black- they're white, they're female, they're young, they're invisible but they're all God's children. Let's have one big tent, America!". He accused the GOP of being like a sports team which would "change its uniform colors to blur the differences". He noted that George W. Bush "says to look into his heart but, whatever is in his heart, the question is 'what is in his budget?' ". Commenting on Bush's admonition to not mess with Texas, Jackson responded: "that's fair" but then- as Ed Rendell had done earlier- he proceeded to list the State's shortcomings, such as its having 10 percent of the poor children in the United States or having the fourth-worst dropout rate. "Don't mess with Texas?", Jackson indignantly asked, then added: "Don't mess with New York- or California. Don't mess with Illinois. Don't mess with America!" Citing the governmental shortcomings of former President George Bush and the Gubernatorial administrations of his two sons in Florida and Texas, respectively, Jackson urged America to "Stay out the Bushes!" Noting how close two earlier presidential elections were, Jackson stated that "in 1960, we won by Hope... in 1968, we lost by Despair". He urged the voters to turn out, opining that "Every vote counts, everybody counts". Leading the delegates in a chant that there would be "More with Gore", he finally closed with his trademark "Keep Hope Alive".
Jesse Jackson- certainly a tough act to follow- was followed by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Strangely, Daschle didn't even really acknowledge the preceding speaker (I can only conclude that, at this point, we were starting a new "Act" in the Democrats' "show"). Daschle claimed that the Democratic Party philosophy was "we are stronger together than we are alone" and scored the Republicans for a vision of "protect yourself, forget about others- if one stick breaks, just get yourself another". The Senator opined that a Gore/Lieberman victory "will strengthen America's bundle": he further argued that Democrats would never "trade a benefit for a risky market" and would "see our people lifted up, not left behind".
Next at the dais was Senator Evan Bayh who introduced this session's "American Dialogue" segment- this one on The Future. As in the previous evening's version with Governors Shaheen and Locke, a video was shown about ordinary Americans dealing with issues of moment to the Democratic campaign after which the persons featured in the video were brought onstage and "interviewed". In this task, Senator Bayh was joined by- first, New York Congressman Charles Rangel and then Vermont Governor Howard Dean, a licensed physician who closed the segment with yet another plea to have prescription drugs covered by Medicare.
A video now was shown in which British astrophysicist Stephen W. Hawking, confined to a wheelchair because of Lou Gehrig's Disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), addressed the Convention using his computerized voice-communications system. Right in the midst of this being shown on the big screen, there was a sudden commotion on the floor of the Convention as Vice Presidential nominee-presumptive Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut entered the Hall surrounded by a phalanx of security and media. Flashbulbs popped all round and a woman was heard shouting, "Everybody back!... Good LORD!!... are you OK?!" as the circus surrounding this rather ill-timed event distracted most of the assemblage from Hawking's message on the screen. Lieberman stood up amidst a delegation, waved to those in the Convention Hall who could see him and then, just as quickly exited the Hall much as he had come in. All in all, it was a very bizarre intermission!
The next video might very well have provided the reason for it- as it was of John F. Kennedy speaking about his own position as a Roman Catholic candidate for President forty years earlier in which he urged people not to vote "either for me or against me because of my religious affiliation: it is not relevant!" Since this segued immediately into another video in which Al Gore's Harvard roommate John Tyson recounted the Vice-President's early leadership qualities, it was apparent that the Connecticut Senator might very well have entered the Convention Hall one video too early- another case where the script of a very scripted Convention had, perhaps, broken down and nearly been disastrous. In the crush of media and delegates surrounding Joe Lieberman during his truncated tour of the Convention floor, someone could have been badly injured!
This last video was followed by a musical performance by Rhythm and Blues star Luther Vandross fronting the Angel City Chorale, after which there was another video in which the Athletic Director at Al Gore's old high school recalled the Vice-President as the "go-to guy", particularly on the basketball team. This was followed by still another video about Al Gore's career as an investigative reporter for the Tennesseean after coming out of the service and the reasons for his choice of a political career over a journalistic one. Logically, that first strange video regarding Al Gore's reasons for going to Vietnam even though he also opposed that war- seen at the very start of this Second Session- should have been amidst what we had been seeing of late... it wasn't. One is left to ponder exactly why large chunks of Al Gore's life but one- and a rather significant one at that!- were being shown in Prime Time Eastern/Central: the absence of the one "missing link" being all the more glaring by its very omission... at least to those who even SAW that "missing link" some six hours before!
We were now approaching the climax to the evening's program. The first speaker of the 10 to 11 P.M. Eastern Time "we beg you national TV networks to please... PLEASE!... carry our Convention 'live' " segment was Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg- of course, the daughter of the late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. She recounted the fact that she might not even exist were it not for Al Gore's parents who- as Tennessee Senator and wife- acted as "matchmaker" for the young Massachusetts Senator and Jacqueline Bouvier. Mrs. Schlossberg opined that "each one of us is necessary to make our democracy work" noting that- if people don't take charge of their government, somebody else will- and adding, "that somebody else's government is not what we want".
She then introduced her uncle, the Democrat icon- Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who strode to the podium to the sound of Orleans' Still the One. The Senator told the story of how his brother had found out he had been elected President the morning after the Election when then-toddler Caroline jumped on him in bed and said, "Good Morning, Mr. President". He cited a litany of Al Gore's policy proposals, adding that "if you believe in all of these, this is your Convention- this is your cause". The Senator recounted instances in which he and Al Gore worked with Senate Republicans to get legislation passed, saying "we weren't coasting, we were seizing the opportunity... we weren't drifting, we were moving ahead... that is called Progress, not Partisanship and that is Al Gore's way!" After praising the Vice-President's father as the sponsor of the original version of Medicare to be voted on by the Senate, he quoted his own brother John's words that this election was "a choice between public interest and private comfort".
Although he made his points in his usual, forceful way when he had to, he often enough stumbled as if he regretted having to use the teleprompter: he seemed strangely uncomfortable for someone to whom a quadrennial Democratic National Convention had, for more than four decades, been more like a family reunion- figuratively as well as literally. His delivery was, at times, very "unTed-like"; he seemed... well... old: TOO old for someone who probably was now in much better shape physically than he had been in a long time. But, as regards his political shape, he had- thanks in large part to his famous surname- peaked much too soon, perhaps before he was even ready. Forty years ago, he had been a young operative in his brother John's campaign at a Democratic Convention in this very city; slightly over two years thereafter, he was a 30-year-old Senator from Massachusetts as his brother John had been... now, before this Convention, he just seemed "played".
Ted Kennedy had enjoyed a longer-than-usual political shelf-life, which usually averages half of the time he has spent on the national stage (just ask Bob Dole!): sadly, that shelf-life was now finally beginning to turn the milk sour; the Kennedys now in the spotlight were those who had already spoken in this Hall: his son Patrick in the previous session and- earlier in this session- his nephew Robert, Jr. and especially his niece Kathy- perhaps yet a potential rising star in the Party, maybe even a soon-to-be Governor of- or a future Senator from- Maryland- and, of course, his niece Caroline- reminding all in the assemblage not only of her slain father but of her graceful mother Jackie. Somehow Ted looked out of place: in some way, the Massachusetts Senator was NOT a leader on Bill Clinton's "bridge to the 21st Century". I had the strange feeling that Ted Kennedy was about to become a museum piece in the Senate- the Democrats' Strom Thurmond, a strange relic of ancient days and long-ago battles: the village elder who could tell his fellow villagers just how different things once were. In the Kennedy clan, the torch- indeed- HAD been passed to a new generation just now coming into its own because it had- after fits and starts- finally grown up.
Speaking of "played", the next speaker was California State Senator Martha Escutia, a Bradley delegate to the Convention who introduced former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley, Al Gore's erstwhile opponent, who told the assemblage that his failed bid for the Party's presidential nomination had been "a joyous journey- and I have the scars to prove it". He said, of the Vice-President: "I support him, I endorse him, I'll work hard for him... America needs a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress and, more importantly, a Democratic conscience".
"We don't window-dress Diversity", Bradley declaimed, "we are the Party of Diversity. We don't declare ourselves compassionate- we have been acting compassionate for decades. We don't just talk about Prosperity- we make it happen. Don't read my lips [a reference to former President George Bush's promise before the 1988 GOP Convention to not raise taxes, which he later recanted], watch what we do!" The New Jerseyan opined that "as Democrats, we are not conservative with our compassion- we give it generously" ("liberally?"... oops!... better not use that "L" word!!).
After Bill Bradley had finished his remarks, there was a brief interlude of the Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers before the final speech of the night- the Keynote Address by Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. Congressman Ford acknowledged that, as a Black man, he owed his high office to those "who fought and stood and oftentimes sat down to build that 'More Perfect Union' ". He opined that "we stand at a magnificent moment with the ability to unleash an amazing amount of imagination" and called Vice-President Gore "that rare leader who has both a vision for the Future and understands that we can only realize its full promise when all of our people share in it."
Ford argued that this November's election embodies a choice that "in many ways, weighs heavier on my generation than on any other", an election not about "what kind of America will we have for the next four years but what kind of America we will have for the next forty."
"If we can find the will and the resources to build prison after prison after prison, the young Tennessee Congressman later pleaded, "then surely we can find the will and the resources to build new schools, hire new teachers and connect every classroom to the Internet." Recounting how he had addressed Kindergarten graduations in his first campaign for Congress four years earlier, he noted that- compared to later years of peer pressure and even joining gangs- "at 5 years old, they're still ours." Ford opined that- regarding elections in general- "in the end, it's all about them".
After this- what had to be one of the shortest and, frankly,
rather anticlimactic Keynote speeches I can remember ever watching or reading
about in accounts of Conventions held long before I knew what a National Party
Convention even was, there was a musical performance by the Angel City Chorale
followed by the benediction by Rabbi Robert Wexler. So far, given the tone of
this Second Session, Al Gore's road to establish himself as his own man had been
a bit bumpy... but the good news for the Vice-President was that, although
there had been a few potholes, the tires had not gone flat. The Third
Session of this Convention the next day would feature our first real
good look at Senator Joe Lieberman as a Vice-Presidential candidate- yet another
step on Al Gore's road.