FORGING A DEFINITION
the Third Session of the 43rd Democratic National Convention
Thursday, August 17, 2000
RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
The Third Session of the 43rd Democratic National Convention was called to order at 1 o'clock P.M. Pacific Daylight Time (2000 UTC) on Wednesday 16 August 2000 by Wellington Webb, the Mayor of Denver, Colorado. The Colors were presented by the Civil Air Patrol Color Guard. The invocation was given by Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, who had also appeared before the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia two weeks earlier. The a capella singing group Plus One then performed America the Beautiful before the Colors were retired.
The first portion of this session of the Convention was given over to a parade of candidates for Congress (some incumbent, some not) and other Democratic Party officials and guests too numerous to name individually. However, I will provide a few highlights:
Mississippi U.S. Senate candidate Troy Brown, Sr.- taking on Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott in the Fall- recalled the actor Charlton Heston holding up a musket at the National Rifle Association Convention with the words "from my cold, dead hands". "When he picked up that musket, he also dropped the staff. I have picked it up." Then holding up a shepherd's crook, he shouted: "Mr. Senate Majority Leader: let my people go!" "TNT- Troy 'n' Trent", he proclaimed Worldwide Wrestling Federation style, "is ON!"
Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan cited Al Gore's alleged courage in casting the tiebreaking vote as Vice President in the Senate, an action which adopted the Clinton Administration's "new economic plan" back in 1993. (Just for the record, there is little courage involved in a Vice-President casting a vote to break a Senate deadlock: presumably, Al Gore was acting on behalf of the President with whom he had been elected and the Clinton Administration of which he was a part. REAL courage would have been if the Vice President had bucked his own Administration- an act which would have, of course, thereafter made the frosty relationship between Calvin Coolidge and his Vice President, Charles Dawes, look positively warm and fuzzy! Yet we had- and would continue- to hear much at this Convention about what is, in its essence, merely a procedural element permitted under the U.S. Constitution as if Al Gore had singlehandedly fought the Redcoats during the American Revolution!!)
New York State Assemblyman Roberto Ramirez of the Bronx scored the Republicans for their alleged Inclusion at their Philadelphia Convention. He called it a "fake reality"- noting that "they deny Racial Profiling exists, yet they profiled Race at their Convention; they introduced 'English-only ' legislation in Congress, yet parade people speaking Spanish at their Convention; they undermine Affirmative Action, yet impose a quota for prime-time television at their Convention". He declaimed that "dancing to La Vida Loca in your Convention does not Affirmative Action make!"
A touching moment came near the end of this first portion came when 14-year-old Kyle Golizer of Greene County, Pennsylvania, wheelchair-bound due to his having Cerebral Palsy and a member of the non-partisan national disability rights advocacy group ADAPT spoke to the Convention through a computerized speaking device similar to that used by astrophysicist Stephen W. Hawking which was loaded with a powerful speech he himself had written. In an interesting echo of the "soft bigotry of low expectations" theme of the GOP Convention- an echo which suggested that the two Parties were not all that far apart rhetorically (one had to wonder just how much that which this observation addresses would affect turnout come 7 November: when the two Major Parties start to sound too much alike, do they still make a noise?)- young Mr. Golizer opined that it was "high expectations" which had, indeed, allowed him to survive in this world.
Another touching moment came when California Congressman Nancy Pelosi introduced two of the children of James Byrd, Sr.- dragged to his death behind a pickup truck in Texas for being black- and the parents of Matthew Shepard- beaten and, basically, lynched in Wyoming for being gay.
Toward the end of this first portion of this Third Session, an amateur video (which sounded as if it were shot by some members of the Gore family along with some friends- that was not made clear, however) was shown of the Gore family at the ol' homestead in Tennessee and then on vacation (the last vacation the Vice President would have before this Convention and the ensuing General Election Campaign). I admitted to smirking a bit- as a Boston University alumnus- as I watched the wife of the Democratic nominee-presumptive Tipper Gore in her red B.U. sweatshirt with white Times Roman capitals spelling out the school's name (as I happen to have one myself!)
This first half of this day's session then ended with 5 small children of different races and gender reciting a poem entitled When I Grow Up.
The evening half of this Third Session was called to order at 5 o'clock P.M. Pacific Daylight Time Wednesday (0000 UTC, 17 August) with the National Anthem being performed by blind Rhythm & Blues musician Stevie Wonder, blind Jazz diva Dianne Schur and the choral group known as Supervision. There was now a video showing scenes of the Vietnam Conflict which introduced Senators Max Cleland of Georgia and Robert Kerrey of Nebraska- both disabled veterans of that war- who came onto the stage to say they wanted those in the Hall to "acknowledge the health challenge [former GOP presidential contender and Senator] John McCain of Arizona faces tonight." (The news was just breaking at the time that Senator McCain had been diagnosed with melanoma- the deadliest form of skin cancer).
The two Senators were followed by Bob Chase, president of the National Education Association, who argued that "parents don't want the false choice of vouchers: they want the real choice to send their children to a quality neighborhood school". Chase further proclaimed that "Al Gore will make a great Education President". Chase was followed by a segment featuring the 41 female Democrat members of the U.S. House of Representatives who, at one point, were brought onto the stage in alphabetical order. Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald of California (who, with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York, hosted this segment) declaimed that "the other side talks a lot about closing the Gender Gap but what they really need is a Gender Map."
Next to the podium came AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, joined by four labor union members who were also delegates to the Convention. Sweeney argued that the Gore/Lieberman understands that one has to give "a booming economy more time to lift the small boats." He opined that "our family, our faith and my father's union" were all essential to his own childhood in the Bronx, New York. After Sweeney came, once again, the Governor of the host State- California's Governor Gray Davis- who argued that both he and Al Gore had learned- while serving in Vietnam- "if you are going to apply the Character Test, you'd better pass the Character Test."
The next featured speaker was the man who wanted to be a Speaker [capital 'S'], House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri. He strode up to the dais to chants of "TAKE BACK the HOUSE!". Gephardt argued that average Americans "want leaders to address their kitchen table everyday problems" and called this November's election "a clear choice with consequences". He opined that a President needs a majority in Congress "that will put families first." Gephardt scored the Republican leadership in both the House and the Senate as "one-sided, intolerant of other views, unbending to compromise and consensus". "They don't communicate", he claimed, "they dictate!" He pledged that, should the Democrats win back control of the U.S. House of Representatives, "we will replace 'my way or the highway' with 'our way- together' ." (This, of course, remained to be seen- given how the Democrats had run things themselves prior to the GOP landslide in the 1994 mid-term elections... at the same time, I had to admit, I had never seen a victorious Party so squander a political advantage as when I looked back at the Republicans in Congress- particularly the House- over the previous nearly six years. The legacy of Newt Gingrich had been a car wreck!)
A video now introduced former Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, the Wall Streeter who was now hailed before this Convention as the architect of the longest economic expansion in U.S. History. Rubin himself hailed the "7 1/2 years of solid growth and low inflation", arguing that it was due to the Clinton Administration's "new economic plan" (again, it was noted that Vice President Gore cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate) based on "strong fiscal discipline, investments in our people and trade liberalization." The former Treasury Secretary argued that a President was needed "who does what is best for our economic future in a complicated world."
The next item on the evening's program was another "American Dialogue" segment, this one titled "Al Gore: Principled Fighter". Out to the dais came actor Jimmy Smits, famed for his roles in the TV series L A Law and NYPD Blue (well, the GOP Convention had presented his replacement in that last series, Rick Schroeder- so, why not?) who introduced West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller (known colloquially- as his full name is John D. Rockefeller IV- as "Rocky IV"). A video was then shown of three people dealing with health care issues after which the very people were on stage to be "interviewed" by the Senator. Washington State Attorney-General Christine Gregoire then came out to talk about environmental issues: scoring the poor record of George W. Bush's Texas regarding such issues and noting that Houston- not Los Angeles- was now "the smog capital of the world", she opined- using the famous words of the Apollo 13 crew made more famous thanks to a recent movie- "Houston, we have a problem".
Senator Rockefeller next introduced New York Senator Chuck Schumer who introduced the next video featuring three people who were adversely affected by crime and guns. Schumer "interviewed" these three on stage, a group that included the mother of a girl killed in the Columbine High School massacre. Schumer closed the segment by opining that a President "must pound the drum of Justice every single day."
A video was now shown on the big screen extolling Senator Joe Lieberman, the Vice-Presidential nominee-presumptive, and his work on behalf of his constituents in Connecticut. After the video, New Jersey Congressman Bob Menendez strode up to the dais. After noting that, as vice-Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, he was the first Hispanic to achieve a leadership position in Congress, he proclaimed that "we are the party of the people and they [meaning, of course, the Republicans] are the party of the powerful". He forcefully argued that minorities "need Opportunity, not Compassion" and stated "Don't tell me principled fighters like Joe Lieberman don't make a difference!" Menendez then introduced Senator Lieberman's wife, who came out to the podium.
Hadassah Lieberman seemed overwhelmed by her being before the Convention: "Wow!" she said several times as she appeared to be trying to collect herself. Nevertheless, she did manage to tick off the five things that she claimed defined the man she called "my Joey": "Family, Faith, Neighborhood, Congregation and Community". She closed her remarks by introducing "my husband, my best friend and the love of my life- Joe Lieberman". At this, the Senator from Connecticut who, only a little over a week before, had rather suddenly been thrust into a very new political role strode out on stage and- after being greeted by his wife- stepped up to the podium to deliver... well... one couldn't very well call it an "Acceptance Speech" (though it was) as Lieberman had not yet been officially nominated by the delegates and therefore, as I pointed out in my first Commentary related to this Convention, there was nothing for him to yet formally accept!
(A personal note: I found it especially odd to watch this because I had actually seen- nearly three decades before- Joe Lieberman while he was campaigning for the Connecticut State Senate [I couldn't tell you whether he was running for the first time or for his first re-election bid, but it was either the Fall of 1970 or 1972: I also couldn't tell you whether it was just before a Primary or General Election either]... he was my paternal grandparents' State Senator, as the Westville section of New Haven where they lived in the early 1970's was part of his district [I was in high school in New Jersey at the time and was on an autumnal weekend visit to my Connecticut relatives])
Senator Lieberman's speaking delivery was in marked contrast to that of Dick Cheney in Philadelphia exactly two weeks to the night earlier: whereas Cheney had mostly sounded more like a Chamber of Commerce speaker at a small-town business luncheon, Lieberman often sounded more like the groom graciously accepting the congratulations of the guests at a wedding reception. The Connecticut Senator's criticisms of his opponents also seemed less biting: in part, this was because Lieberman has a more open face with a wide smile that makes Cheney's smile after making a telling point seem more of a wry grin or a smirk- but it was also largely due to a more deliberate, somewhat quiescent tone; even when angry, Lieberman's demeanor was more... well... rabbinical: when he cited factual points, it was very like the citation of the Talmudic scholar in friendly but firm disputation with other like scholars. In the end, his anger was tinged with more disappointment than disapproval.
"Thank you", he said- acknowledging the cheers of the delegates. "We're going to win." But his making this statement was not delivered with any fervor, sounding more hopeful than matter-of-fact. Implicitly acknowledging his own historic place on a Major Party national ticket, he opined: "Is America a great country or what? Yes, it is. 'God bless America, land that we love' ." He later commented, "Only in America!"
Lieberman declaimed that "we Americans must try to see the Nation not just through our eyes but through the eyes of others". He told of his maternal grandmother, who had been harassed for being a Jew while living in Eastern Europe, being so thrilled when- in America- her Christian neighbors would, on Saturday, simply greet her with 'Good Sabbath, Mrs. Manger'. He spoke of his participation in the 1963 March on Washington led by the late Dr. Martin Luther King and told the assemblage "that was my honor- that was my opportunity."
Turning to the very subject of that long-ago March, Civil Rights, he noted that "in my life, I have also tried to see this world through the eyes of those who have suffered discrimination and that's why I believe that the time has come to tear down the remaining walls of discrimination in this Nation, walls of discrimination based on Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation... together, we will. And that is why I continue to say, when it comes to Affirmative Action- mend it but please don't end it!"
The Senator opined that "when we see the world through the eyes of other people, you understand that the smallest changes can make the biggest differences in all of our lives- that is something- I'm really sorry to say- I don't think our Republican friends really understand." He then claimed that "the real people on the streets tell me their lives are a lot better off than they were eight years ago... they want the prosperity to continue".
The Vice-Presidential nominee-presumptive continued: "Our opponents are decent and they are likeable men... but Americans must understand there are real differences between us in this election. Two weeks ago, our Republican friends tried to walk and talk just like us... Not since Tom Hanks won an Oscar", the Senator told the delegates, "has there been that much acting in Philadelphia." To this comment, the entire Convention Hall erupted in cheers and chants of "Go, Joe, Go!" were heard throughout the Staples Center. "You bet", commented Lieberman. "I'm going to keep going!"
"Look", he stated. "I'm glad that the GOP has changed their rhetoric but- you know what?- I wish they'd also change their policies. As my dear friend John McCain might say"- and here the Connecticut Senator took time to acknowledge so recently announced health problems of his colleague, the one time contender for this year's Republican presidential nomination: "a great man- John McCain- you are in our prayers inside this hall tonight" (to which the assemblage cheered: an acknowledgement that Politics stops at personal issues of life and death)"you're a great fighter and you're going to win this fight you're facing now". Going back to the text of his speech, Lieberman continued: "As John McCain might say: 'Let me do a little straight talking right now' "
The Vice Presidential nominee-presumptive now scored the Republicans, noting that "It's good that our opponent is talking about" the Environment, Health Care, Education and what to do with the Surplus. But, after citing alleged shortcomings on these very issues in George W. Bush's own State of Texas, Lieberman would note "we see [these issues] through a different set of eyes." Taking on the Bush/Cheney ticket's proposals regarding Education, he opined that "sometimes it seems to me that their idea of school modernization is buying a new calendar for every school building". The Connecticut Senator attacked the Republican's proposal for massive tax cuts as a plan under which "the middle class gets a little and the wealthy get an awful lot"; he argued that this concept "operates on the old theory that the best way to feed the birds is to give the horse more oats"- to which the assembled delegates (once they got the imagery) roared with laughter. "We Democrats will expand the prosperity- they will squander it", Lieberman proclaimed.
In an appeal to "those of you at home who have not made up your minds yet about how you will vote in this election", he argued that "if you want to build on our prosperity, if you want progress- not partisanship- in Washington, if you want to reform the system and not retreat from the problems, then I respectfully say to you: your choice is clear. Al Gore and I are the guys who are ready to do the job!". More "Go, Joe, Go!" chants were now heard amidst the cheers of the assemblage.
"I can tell you that Al Gore is a man of Family and of Faith, a father- and now a grandfather", Lieberman said. "He believes in service to America- he VOLUNTEERED for Vietnam!" As to the Bush/Cheney charge that the military was "hollow" under the Clinton Administration, the Connecticut Senator stated "That made me angry" (though, even here, his anger was oddly tempered)."Americans- you know better than that!" He further argued that he supported Al and Tipper Gore in their notion that "no parent should have to compete with popular culture to raise their children". He argued that "for his entire career, Al Gore's values have guided the way: he meets the challenges that lie ahead."
"It was 40 years ago when we came to this city and- together- crossed the 'New Frontier' ", the Vice Presidential nominee-presumptive opined. "Today we return to this same great city with prosperity at home and freedom throughout the world that John F. Kennedy could only have dreamed about. We may wonder tonight where the 'Next Frontier' really is." Lieberman opined: "I believe the Next Frontier is not just in front of us but inside of us."
The Connecticut Senator closed his speech by wondering if there might not be a person at that very moment loading a bakery truck for the night run like his own late father once did whose child might, 40 years hence, be accepting a nomination for high office on a stage much like the one Lieberman himself was then speaking from. "Let us work together", he pleaded, "to make sure that they will be able to look back to this time and this stage and this place and say of our generation 'they kept the faith' ". He asked that this future generation be able to "look around at this great and good Nation that we are all so blessed by God to share and say 'Only in America!' " After he had finished his remarks, Lieberman's wife Hadassah ran out onto the stage and kissed him. Senator and Mrs. Lieberman then waved to the assembled delegates from the podium before departing to the recorded sounds of U2's In the Name of Love. Shortly thereafter, we had something lacking in the Republican Convention, the more traditional nominating and seconding speeches usually seen at National Party Conventions.
Actor Tommy Lee Jones, at one time Al Gore's college roommate at Harvard, formally nominated the Vice President for President of the United States, noting that Al Gore "is a good, caring, loving man" who- despite coming of age in the midst of the swirling social disarray that was the United States of the 1960's into the 1970's- "never lost his faith in America". The first seconding speech (a phrase I have always found somehow odd at Convention time) was given by Lois DeBerry, the Speaker pro Tempore of the Tennessee General Assembly and a president emeritus of the National Caucus of Black Legislators. The final seconding speech came from the Vice President's own daughter and the mother of his first grandchild, Karenna Gore Schiff, who described her father as "a man of faith in the most gutsy, practical sense- he wants Good to prevail."
No sooner had Mrs. Schiff finished her seconding her father's nomination when the Hall erupted in great cheering as- striding onto the stage- was the Vice President himself. To the delight of the assemblage, he hugged his daughter right at the spot where- approximately 24 hours from that moment- he would be accepting the Democratic presidential nomination.
After the Democratic presidential nominee-presumptive (for, of course, he had yet to be formally and officially nominated by his party at this point) had left the stage arm-in-arm with his daughter, it was time for the traditional Roll Call of the States for the Presidential Nomination, which- unlike the Republicans- was going to be "all-up". Secretary Kathleen Vick came out to the podium to conduct these proceedings. Some highlights:
The first state called- Alabama- yielded to Tennessee so that Al Gore's home state would have the honor of casting the first votes on the way to nominating its native son. All 81 of the Volunteer State's delegates were for Al Gore. Likewise, the second state to be called on- Alaska- yielded to Joe Lieberman's home state of Connecticut so that the privilege of casting the second set of votes could go to the Nutmeg State (a personal note: my mother gave birth to me in this state and, although I grew up in New Jersey, I was a frequent visitor to Connecticut throughout my childhood- spending long stretches of many a school vacation here where all my grandparents lived at the time: the state was often a second home state- a refuge, if you will- for the often troubled child I once was... at the risk of sounding much like those actually at the microphones during this Roll Call of which I am writing, I am a proud native "Nutmegger"- the traditional name for a Connecticut native and or resident- and have little truck, therefore, with the more contemporary "Constitution State" concept).
Arkansas listed a litany of great politicians from that state, ending with "our own Bill Clinton" and, when casting its vote, noted that the delegation "includes the President of the United States" (who, of course, was not present on the floor at that time)- but these references to the current American Chief Executive were strangely subdued. Colorado noted that it was "the former home of Neil Bush, George W.'s brother, who fled our State after plundering the hard-earned savings of working families in the Savings and Loan scandal."
After Florida had passed (for reasons I could not, at the time, fathom), Georgia identified itself as "the home of Jimmy Carter, the greatest Humanitarian and Peacemaker of our time."
The vote of Idaho was announced by the widow of the late Idaho Senator Frank Church, himself once a presidential contender (in the failed "ABC" [Anybody But Carter] movement late in the Primary/Caucus season of 1976)- but, more interestingly, the man who had been the Keynote Speaker/Temporary Chairman of the last Convention the Democrats had held in Los Angeles back in 1960.
The vote of Kansas was given in Spanish, which caused some brief consternation at the podium. I am sure this was quite a surprise to all those who think of the Sunflower State as all "white bread and mayonnaise" a-la its former Senator Bob Dole!
Congressman John Baldacci of Maine, casting the Pine Tree State's vote, noted that Maine had been found to be the best State in which to raise a child, while George W. Bush's Texas was the worst. Massachusetts noted that "ye olde Commonwealthe" "welcomed to college two dynamic young leaders, our next President and First Lady- Al and Tipper Gore" (Al, of course, went to Harvard and Tipper graduated from my own alma mater, Boston University... I wonder what they do during the "Beanpot" [the annual February ice hockey tournament between the four Boston-area hockey colleges: Boston College, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern]?!)
Minnesota's pre-vote casting "speech" was given by Ms. Sayles Belton, the Mayor of Minneapolis, who- strangely enough- noted that her State was where "Independent Jesse Ventura... serves skillfully and with great gusto" (a far cry from the "one crazy Governor" reference to Ventura at the Republican Convention) and was a place of "large malls, big hearts and extreme weather". In yet another "Convention 'blast from the past' ", the actual Minnesota vote was cast by former Vice-President (and 1984 Democratic presidential nominee) Walter "Fritz" Mondale.
Montana, in a plaintive note, told the Convention that its delegation "honors and thanks all the men and women who are putting their lives on the line fighting forest fires in Montana tonight"
Nevada yielded to Florida, which had- as noted above- passed. It was clear that the Sunshine State was the one chosen to put Al Gore "over the top"- but why? Senator Bob Graham's pre-vote casting "speech" made that clear enough: first of all, the first Governor of Florida Territory had been Andrew Jackson, later the first President of the modern Democratic Party AND a son of Al Gore's home state of Tennessee; secondly, it was clear that Florida was also going to be- outside the hotly contested Middle Atlantic to Midwest "Big Electoral Vote State" belt- the one State in the Deep South that would be seen as a battleground by the Gore/Lieberman campaign. There was a brief celebration of a presidential nomination which was, at last, now official followed by the delegates singing "Happy Birthday" to the Convention Secretary Ms. Vick.
New Jersey quietly noted that it was the home of the Vice-President's one-time rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bill Bradley. But even quieter was New York's "blink and you'll miss it" reference to electing First Lady Hillary Clinton as the State's next Senator. Clearly, both Clintons were being kept at arms length as Al Gore was, rather obviously, in the midst of trying to establish himself as the master of this Convention.
Oregon noted that it had the highest minimum wage in the Nation while the Texas of the GOP presidential nominee had the lowest. Texas itself promised its delegation's fellow Democrats that "we'll work to show what 'dub-ya' really stands for- WRONG!"
Wyoming's vote was cast by retired Marine Sergeant Mike Vinich who had survived PT-109 during World War II with his commanding officer, Navy Lieutenant junior grade John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Back in 1960, in Los Angeles, Vinich had cast the vote of the Equality State which put JFK "over the top" re: that year's Democratic presidential nomination.
When Alaska, having yielded during the first go-round, was called again, the vote-caster noted that the State was "twice the size of Texas and- with a Democratic Governor- ten times as smart". Retiring Senator Richard Bryan of Nevada, when that State was called again after having yielded on the first go-round, noted that the Gore/Lieberman ticket "unlike their Republican counterparts, who are indifferent to the public health and safety of the citizens, our Nevadans, just today reaffirmed a long-standing commitment... by pledging to veto any legislation" in support of "an ill-conceived attempt to place high-level nuclear waste in the State of Nevada".
The actual Roll Call of the States for the Presidential Nomination at the 43rd Democratic National Convention was as follows:
After the Roll Call was completed, there was a musical performance by guitarist and singer Mary Chapin Carpenter accompanied by the Angel City Chorale. The benediction was given by Rabbi Irving Greenberg of the U.S. Holocaust Museum who talked about the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam "perfecting the world" and with that, the Third Session of the Convention came to an end.
All in all, it was a much smoother day this day for Al Gore's
road to establishing himself and his running mate, Joe Lieberman, in opposition
to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney- in part because the Democratic
presidential nominee was actually here in Los Angeles and, furthermore,
energized the Convention with his unexpected appearance onstage. The day before,
it was almost as if the Convention had been drifting a bit- with the Clintons
departed and the Vice President not yet around; today, in contrast, had been the
start of righting the vessel a bit. But the final tone of this Convention
would all hinge on the next day- when Al Gore would have to give the speech of
his political life in his acceptance; what he would say- and, to a great extent,
how well he would convey it- would, in the end, be the basis of a final
comparison between the Vice President and the Governor of Texas, both as men- as
well as presidential candidates, as we- after the sound of the final gavel
of this Convention ceased to ring- would be heading into the Fall