COMING OUT LIKE GANGBUSTERS
The Fourth and Final Session of the 43rd Democratic National Convention
Friday, August 18, 2000
by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
The Fourth and Final Session of the 43rd Democratic National Convention convened (one could not say "was called to order" as no one was actually at the podium to do so... in fact, it would be another 2 1/2 hours before Convention CEO Lydia Camarillo actually came to the podium to bang the gavel! But the script was, obviously, a flexible one!!) at 12:45 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time (1945 UTC) on Thursday 17 August 2000. The Colors were presented by the Los Angeles All-City Junior ROTC Color Guard, the Invocation was given by Bishop Vashti McKenzie of the African Methodist Episcopal of Baltimore, Maryland and the National Anthem was sung by Ida McBeth.
Once the Colors were retired, the few delegates in attendance this early were treated to the same succession of Congressional candidates (some incumbent, some not) and "big fish in small ponds" we had seen at this same hour the day before. A few highlights:
Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank , an openly gay man, got everybody's attention when he told the Convention that "I'm here to talk about Immorality." Of course, he then explained that he was speaking of the immorality of racial profiling or the harassment of teenage homosexuals. "Al Gore is not perfect", Frank stated. "Neither is Joe Lieberman." He then went on to cite other well known Democrats in the Senate and House, including himself, as being imperfect. "All we are are the best you are going to get when it comes to liberal issues this November", he added. Just when I myself was wondering just where this was going, Frank scored Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader- whose candidacy would be attractive to many liberals who would otherwise vote for the Democratic ticket- for ignoring and even belittling the importance of sociocultural issues. Frank thus became the first speaker at this Convention who I heard seriously take on Nader (he also was the only one!)
There was a video tribute to the late former Governor of Pennsylvania, Robert Casey, presented by his two sons- Pennsylvania State Auditor Bob Casey, Jr. and U.S. House candidate Paul Casey. The two Caseys referred to their father as a "proud, pro-Life Democrat" (a statement which got mixed applause from the still half-empty Hall) before launching into an apologia regarding why the late Governor remained a Democrat despite his dissenting (by Democratic Party standards) position on the Abortion issue. Although Al Gore had invited the Caseys to present this tribute, one had to be mindful of the fact that their father, still a sitting Governor at the time, had been prevented from speaking to the 1992 Democratic Convention by the Clinton campaign precisely because of his pro-Life views. One could look at this presentation one of two ways: either as Al Gore further distancing himself from Bill Clinton or "too little, too late"- perhaps it was a mixture of both!
There was a touching video tribute to the Democrats who had passed away since the last Democratic National Convention- very similar to that presented at the Republican Convention two weeks earlier about the GOP's dearly departed. The alphabetical roll call included such notables as the Democratic presidential nominee's own father- former Tennessee Senator Albert A. Gore, Sr., John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr. and 1992 presidential contender former Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas.
Another video was called "Democratically Speaking" and included clips of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt addressing the 1960 Democratic National Convention (as duly noted several times during this gathering, the last one held in Los Angeles and the last one before her death), former Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York speaking on the 1968 campaign trail that would lead to his own untimely demise (it was never said at this Convention but his assassination took place in L.A.) and former New York Governor Mario Cuomo speaking at the 1992 Democratic Convention in New York (which was interesting because, only two speakers prior to this presentation, Mario's son- Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo- spoke to the Convention with a voice and mannerisms that fairly reminded one of his father... in addition, Andrew's wife is a daughter of the late Bobby Kennedy... Politics is rather "incestuous"!)
The final evening portion of this Fourth and Final Session was called to order at 4:45 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time (2345 UTC) on Thursday. The Colors were presented by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Color Guard after which New York delegate (and supermodel) Christie Brinkley led the Boys' and Girls' Clubs of Hollywood in the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem was played by the in-house orchestra. After the Colors were retired, California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante strode up to the dais. He scored the Republican presidential nominee for commenting- when apprised of the fact, during his recent campaign swing through the Golden State, that agricultural workers in his Texas were only making $3.35 an hour- that he didn't know anything about it. Bustamante called the Republicans' plan for saving Social Security a risky "Savings and Loan scheme" (a rather backhanded reference to Governor Bush's brother Neil's alleged role in the late 1980's Savings & Loan scandal).
Next was the president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, former Maryland Congressman Kweisi Mfume, who opined that "we believe that colored people come in all colors". He complained that, when he offered to speak at both National Party Conventions, "the Democratic Party said 'no problem'- the Republican Party said 'no thanks'; even though we invited Governor Bush to our Convention, he could not welcome us to his Convention". He noted that the NAACP was told that there wasn't enough room in the schedule in Philadelphia: of this rebuff, Mfume noted, "I was born at night- I just wasn't born LAST night... I now know what it was like to be am-BUSHed and BUSH-whacked". On the concept of "compassionate conservatism" being advanced by the GOP, he said, "wouldn't it be nice if all conservatives were compassionate!".
Lest anyone miss his point that the modern NAACP was not simply an organization for African-American advancement anymore, Mfume opined that "black bigotry is just as cruel as white bigotry... bigotry comes in all colors". Scoring the Texas Governor and the Republicans once more, he stated that "on Election Day, we all get a chance to be equal" closing with his feelings on speaking before the Democratic Convention: "be it ever so humble, there's no place like home."
The next speaker was Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who- in an interesting twist- had the interpreter who normally did "signing" for the deaf before the Convention read the first part of his speech while the Senator himself "signed"! Harkin then took over the actual vocal duties.
He defined George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" as "compassion without commitment- and it is not new". The Senator cited the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan and argued that, while the first two riders who passed the man lying beside the road might have been compassionate, only the Samaritan also had commitment.
Harkin cited a number of issues in which the Democrats were at odds with the GOP, saying of the Republicans "they'll have compassion but they won't help you". He opined that "it's like trying to heat up a cold house with warm thoughts: it might make you feel good but it doesn't stop someone from freezing." The Hawkeye State Senator closed with his notion that the upcoming Election could be summed up by what "you learned from driving: if you want to go backwards, you put it in 'R'- if you want to go forward, you put it in 'D' ."
The nominating speech for Joseph Lieberman was given by Senator John Breaux of Louisiana who noted that there were only two Democrats of the "sensible Center" in the Senate- himself and the Connecticut Senator. Breaux referred to it as "the Kosher/Cajun Caucus". Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher of California gave the first seconding speech (that weird phrase again!) and the final seconding speech was given by Lieberman's Connecticut colleague, Senator Christopher Dodd who noted that, in 1956 (the very year I myself was born IN Connecticut, by the way), a Jewish Connecticut Senator, Abe Ribicoff, had nominated the first Irish Catholic to be nominated for Vice President (Dodd's local history was a bit off: Ribicoff was Governor of the State at the time... but I'm not keeping score! An interesting footnote: the Senator in Ribicoff's [and Christopher Dodd's] future Senate seat in 1956 happened to be one Prescott Bush, the grandfather of the current Republican presidential nominee... like I've already said, Politics is rather "incestuous"!) and now Dodd, an Irish Catholic Connecticut Senator (himself the son of a Senator who was a colleague of the late Mr. Ribicoff's), was seconding the first Jew to be nominated for Vice President.
Senator Dodd then moved to make the nomination of Joe Lieberman official "by unanimous consent". Convention co-Chair Dianne Feinstein called for a voice vote- the "Ayes" had it (boy!... was I surprised!!) and the Democratic vice presidential nominee (as we could now officially call him) now came on stage to greet his Nutmeg State colleague. Finally, Senator Lieberman himself returned briefly to the podium from which he had addressed the assemblage less than 24 hours before and told the Convention that he was "proud to accept your nomination [same complaint here I had with the GOP: Lieberman was Gore's nomination- the delegates merely rubber-stamped it! Were we all really surprised by the actions of the Convention regarding the Connecticut Senator's nomination?!] to be the next Vice President of the United States."
There was now a musical interlude provided by violinist Mark O'Connor and young fiddlers from the Young Musicians' Foundation. This was followed by the playing of a tape of future Senator- and the Democratic nominee's father- Albert A. Gore, Sr. playing the fiddle at a Democratic rally in 1928. This led, in turn, to the final "American Dialogue" segment- one about Al Gore himself personally- during which Rev. Jane Holmes Dixon of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C. and a friend of the Vice President's "interviewed" other friends of Al Gore: journalist David Halberstam, who was a reporter for the Tennessean long before Al Gore himself was there; childhood friend Steve Armstead; Frank Hunger, the widower of the Vice President's sister Nancy; John Tyson, Gore's Harvard roommate; Bob Delabar, an Army buddy of the Vice President's.
That would have been all well and good, but they brought out Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski (who came into the House at the same time as Al Gore [and Jimmy Carter's inauguration as President]), wheelchair-bound Michela Alioto- a former aide to the Vice President and a one-time candidate for Congress from California and the mountaineer who had guided the Democratic presidential nominee and his son up Mount Rainier. Much of all of this was simply rehashing what had been already shown in earlier videos during the Convention and I myself thought it all a lot of "overkill" which only served to make this much the same "stage show" we had seen in Philadelphia. Mercifully, Mr. O'Connor and his youthful fiddlers soon enough took this segment out.
After a long break, Kristin Gore- one of the Vice President's daughters- appeared at the podium to introduce her mother- Tipper Gore- who came onto the stage and "high-fived" the Convention co-Chairs, California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein before thanking a percussion band onstage. Clearly, should Al Gore be elected President, we were going to have ourselves a very different First Lady than Hillary Rodham Clinton... or Laura Bush. (As a musician, however, I was rather disappointed that Mrs. Gore- an accomplished trap drummer- didn't sit in with the in-house orchestra for a set!... must have been some union rule or something)
Mrs. Gore then introduced a video- with her own voiceover narration- about her life with her husband going back to when they first met while still in high school (my only complaint was that her [and my] Boston University wasn't even mentioned once!). After the video ended, she introduced the Democratic nominee who came to the podium via the Convention floor, shaking hands with delegates and even, at one point, stooping to talk briefly to a small child before striding up the steps to greet and give a big kiss to his wife. "Thank you very much", the Vice President said as he acknowledged the cheers of the delegates.
The Democratic presidential nominee gave a speech into which he launched with great fervor and then just kept rolling. I wrote- two weeks ago- about how Governor Bush would run through applause lines and carry his audience with him; in contrast, Al Gore just ran through applause lines without much of a stop- with occasional exception, delegates would jump up cheering and then had to immediately stop lest they drown out his next passage. George W. Bush used tone of voice and pitch to emphasize the points he wished to make; the Vice President's approach was more conversational, yet still forceful- in its very different method, it was just as effective in leading the audience as the Texas Governor's had been.
But there was one major difference between Al Gore's Acceptance Speech and that of his opponent: whereas Bush's acceptance had been loaded with a fair amount of invective aimed at the Democrats (though not enough to detract from his overall message), the Vice President hardly scored the Republicans directly. He was basically "on message" (as I have argued he must be if he wants to keep the Texas Governor within striking range), stating his own personal views (which, in a few cases, differed from the Clinton Administration) and his governing philosophy. Gore stayed away from strident attacks on his opponents and kept it simple, generally outlining what he planned to do if elected President; it was clearly his way of showing Governor Bush that he DID offer far more than "Fear itself".
"I speak tonight of gratitude, achievement and high hopes for our country", he began. The Democratic presidential nominee acknowledged his wife, collectively thanked those who helped him on the campaign trail in the Primary/Caucus season, acknowledged his family and his erstwhile opponent Bill Bradley (who he should thank: Bradley's challenge- while doomed from the start- made Gore a better campaigner and probably made him the man who delivered this very speech the way he did!). He then acknowledged his running mate, Senator Joe Lieberman, and the Connecticut Senator's wife and family. "I picked Joe for one simple reason", Gore stated in what appeared to be a challenge to those who would say the Senator's religion was his only primary recommendation. "He is the best person for the job!"
"Millions of Americans will live better lives for a long time to come", the Vice President opined, "because of the job that has been done by President Bill Clinton". Gore, however, later noted: "But now we turn the page and write a new chapter" before acknowledging that "this election is not an award for past performance." "How and what we do for all of you", he continued, "the people who pay the taxes, bear the burdens and live the American dream- that is the standard by which we should be judged and, for all the good times, I am not satisfied!" The Democratic nominee promised that, insofar as powerful special interests were concerned, "I'll stand up to them and I'll stand up for you."
The Vice President then proceeded to outline just how he would do so. "I believe we must challenge a culture with too much meanness and not much meaning". He argued that parents must be free to raise their children in their own values, noting that "the power should be in your hands- the future should belong to everyone in this land- everyone- all families." He urged his audience- both in the Convention Hall as well as those watching on television: "Let's lift our eyes and see how wide the American horizon has become". To those who would see him as, more or less, a Clinton clone- at least politically, he posited that "I stand here tonight as my own man and I want you to know me for who I truly am."
Gore next addressed his service in Vietnam, even though he was personally opposed to the war: he acknowledged that, as a military reporter, "I did not do the most or face the gravest danger but I was proud to wear my country's uniform". He then talked about what has been perceived as his pet issue, warning that "on the issue of the environment, I've never given up, I've never backed down and I never will!... we must reverse the silent rising tide of global warming, and we can."
"For almost 25 years", the Democratic nominee stated, "I've been fighting for people and I've been listening to people, holding open meetings in the places where they live and work... If I'm your President, I'm going to keep having open meetings all over the country. I'm going to go out to you- the people- because I want to keep in touch with your hopes- with the quiet everyday heroism of hard-working Americans."
Al Gore then ticked off a list of what he would do as the "Principled Fighter" his Convention had painted him to be, using examples of real people he had encountered during the campaign. "I will fight for a targeted, affordable tax cut to help working families to save and pay for college: they need help", adding: "it is a key to our future." He promised "I will fight for a prescription drug benefit for all seniors under Medicare" and also claimed "I will fight to rebuild and modernize crumbling schools and reduce class size- we need to put safety and character first in every classroom."
Citing the Washington State family whose plight- and its resolution- was detailed in one of the "friends of Al Gore" videos shown before the Convention a few nights before, the Vice President forcefully argued that "no family in America should have to go on national television to save their child's life!". Gore told the assemblage that "I will fight for a real and enforceable Patient's Bill of Rights... let's make that a bipartisan issue." After citing these basic principles, he finally and formally claimed his prize: "In the name of all the working families who are the strength and soul of America, I accept your nomination as President of the United States of America."
Now the Democratic nominee proceeded to get down to specifics, opining that "people deserve to know specifically what a candidate proposes to do. I intend to tell you tonight. You ought to be able to know and then judge for yourself." He started out by promising to reform the political system, pledging that "Campaign Finance Reform will be the first bill Joe Lieberman and I will send to the Congress". The Vice President told his audience that "we came to this Convention as the change we want to see in America."
"We will move toward Universal Health Coverage step by step, starting with children", Gore declared. He then pledged that "I will fight for the greatest single commitment to Education since the GI Bill"- noting that "in the long run, a second-class education costs more than a first-class education." He promised to work for "high quality, universal pre-school available to every child in every family all across this Nation" along with "tax-free college savings and making most college tuition tax deductible. Open the door of learning to all!"
After promising to cut estate taxes and end the marriage penalty responsibly, the Democratic nominee warned "I will not go along with a huge tax cut for the wealthy along with everyone else and wreck our good economy in the process." "I'll fight for tax cuts that go to the right people", he pledged, "the working families who have the toughest time paying taxes and saving for the future." Gore promised that "we will balance the budget every year and dedicate the surplus to saving Social Security"- adding the warning: "Hands off Medicare and Social Security trust fund money!"
Turning to the Republicans, Gore said (in what was his only real direct attack on his opponents, in marked contrast to what had been said of him in Governor Bush's Acceptance Speech), "They're for the powerful- we're for the people." To those who would doubt the veracity of this last statement, he added: "Judge for yourself- look at the agendas- look at the facts!" The Vice President then turned to his own philosophy of governance: "I know one thing about the job of the President: it is the only job in the Constitution that is charged with the responsibility of fighting for all the people... especially those who need a voice, those who need a champion, those who need to be lifted up so they are never left behind" (a clear response to the GOP theme- at their Convention- of "Leaving No Child Behind"). He continued: "If you entrust me with the Presidency, I will fight for you!... I mean that with all my heart."
"We will honor the ideal of equality by standing up for Civil Rights and defending Affirmative Action", the Democratic nominee promised. "And let there be no doubt", he added forcefully- as forcefully as George W. Bush had put forth his own very different view on this issue two weeks before to the very evening, "I will protect and defend a woman's right to choose." Gore further pledged that "we will remove all the old barriers so that those who are called disabled can develop all their abilities."
"I am excited about America's prospects", the Vice President declaimed, "and full of hope for America's future." He pledged that "I will keep America's defenses strong" and opined that "we must welcome and promote truly free trade... it must be fair trade... free trade can and must be- and, if I am President, will be- a way to lift everyone up, not bring everyone down to the lowest common denominator." "So", Gore summed up, "those are the issues and that's where I stand."
"We've got to win this election", he declared, "because every hard-working American family deserves to open the doors to their American Dream". At the same time, however, the Vice President acknowledged, "the Presidency is more than just a popularity contest- it's a day by day fight for people. Sometimes you have to choose to do what is difficult or unpopular; sometimes you have to be willing to spend your popularity in order to pick the hard right over the easy wrong." Gore noted that "there are big choices ahead and our whole future is at stake"; however, he promised that "if you will entrust me with the Presidency... I pledge to you tonight I will work for you every day and I will never let you down."
The Vice President closed with his opinion that the Nation should commit itself to a philosophy in which we "do not rest where we are or retreat" but "do all we can to make America all it can become." With that thought, Al Gore stepped back from the dais and the balloons began to fall along with the confetti as the newly anointed presidential nominee of the Democratic Party acknowledged the cheers of the Hall. Soon enough, his vice presidential campaign partner, Senator Joe Lieberman joined him- followed by their wives and then their families.
As the stage began to fill with happy Democrats, the Convention was treated to "instant replay" on the big screen of some of the salient points the Vice President had made in his speech. After a time of rather subdued celebration (in its own way as strangely subdued as that of the Republican ticket two weeks before), trumpeter Phil Driscoll played a bit on stage before leading the Convention Hall in the singing of God Bless America, which had always been a staple of the GOP... it was somehow fitting, considering that the Republican Convention in Philadelphia had looked more like a typical Democratic Convention while this Convention oddly seemed more like what we had come to expect from the GOP!
Eventually, the Benediction was given by Rev. Billy Kyle of the Monumental Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, after which Permanent Convention co-Chair Senator Dianne Feinstein of California gaveled the 43rd Democratic National Convention into adjournment sine die. Al Gore's Convention was now officially fodder for the History books.
At his Convention, Al Gore had done what he had to do- much as George W. Bush had done what he had to do two weeks earlier at his Convention. Despite some of the tomfoolery (for example, given the Vice President's Acceptance Speech, was that last biographical "American Dialogue" segment really all that necessary?) at both Conventions, there were- in the end- no MAJOR gaffes at either gathering by the respective presidential nominees. Both had picked, as running mates, the types of persons they, in the end, had to pick given the demographics of their respective parties and the particular weaknesses- potential as well as actual- within themselves as presidential candidates. And both had driven home their respective messages clearly and forcefully to anyone who had bothered to watch the proceedings.
I myself have seen nothing at either Convention that indicates to me that my earlier assessments of the upcoming Fall Election Campaign have changed in any meaningful way: this is a race between the PRESIDENTIAL nominees- as it should be (for no one really votes for VICE President); the running mates do not, in any way, significantly detract from the heads of their respective tickets but neither do they enhance them to the point that they could so easily salvage a failing national ticket down the road. Underneath the abstract concepts of enhancing Social Security with retirement accounts controlled by the employee or which Party has the best prescription drug plan or the more effective tax cuts, there are still- in the main- two competing visions of the legacy of the idealistic "Baby Boom" generation now come to power to be sifted between now and 7 November. The candidates have stated their cases, the issues have been joined and Presidential (and, to a lesser extent, Vice Presidential) Debates this Fall will largely act as the sieve to do the sifting.
Al Gore DID score on his drive downfield; he did NOT fumble
the ball- but, at the end of the third quarter, the Bush/Cheney
team appears to still have the lead: at best, the Vice President might have
just cleared "the spread". But it is only the end of the third
quarter, the score is much tighter and we still have some exciting
"football" yet to be played. Don't leave your seats unnecessarily,
folks... you might end up missing some great on-the-field action. Let's change
ends and get on with the ensuing kickoff!