The Green Papers Commentary

the 43rd Democratic National Convention gets ready to open for business

Monday, August 14, 2000

"The Green Papers" Staff

And so we have come, finally, to the last big show of a Presidential Election Summer: the National Convention of the Party currently holding the Presidency which, by a kind of "gentleman's agreement" in place since the 1950's, gets to go last (before that time, the Democrats ALWAYS held their National Convention after the Republicans... I once was actually sentenced to after-school detention by a high school History teacher for knowing this [she was old enough to well remember the days when this "gentleman's agreement" was not yet in place]: in the Spring of 1972, she claimed that the Democrats would be holding their Convention that year AFTER the GOP- I told her she was wrong and, more importantly, why [Republican Richard Nixon was the White House incumbent at the time]. That Summer- unfortunately after the academic year was over, mind you!- I was, of course, proven correct: needless to say [though, of course, I'll say it anyway], I have never forgotten THAT little factoid!!). Once the final gavel sounds amidst celebration by happy Democrats inside the Staples Center in Los Angeles come this Thursday evening, there will be a brief hiatus- a sigh of relief that "Phase 2" has come to an end ("Phase 1" being the Presidential Primary/Caucus Season) and then, by around Labor Day- the first Monday in September for those of you reading this who are unfamiliar with American holidays (4 September this year), the third and final phase- the Fall General Election Campaign- will be well underway.

The Democrats have met in this city once before- exactly four decades ago, in fact- when they nominated the ultimately successful ticket of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson. The current Democratic Party has made much of the fact of their ultimate Electoral success following that last L.A. Convention but- let's face it, folks- the circumstances surrounding a National Convention were much different "way back in the day": the general public could not be certain just who the Party's presidential nominee would be as the 1960 Democrat Convention opened, as the States which had held Presidential Primaries back then were a minority. Lyndon B. Johnson himself, though he had been working the delegates chosen through the then- more common Caucus/Convention process for months, could wait until the week before that of the Convention itself (the same time frame that BOTH Major Parties used to announce their VICE-Presidential candidates this year!) to formally announce his presidential candidacy because he still had a reasonable chance of winning the top prize without a single primary victory! Those days are, by 2000, long gone!!

Whatever one says about the recent, fractious- at times dysfunctional- Reform Party Convention(s) in nearby Long Beach (and I've already said my own piece in my most recent Commentary before THIS one!), it was- at least in its opening Student Council-like session- an actual, bona fide Convention! Motions were made and seconded on the floor about real issues of importance to that body (in this case, the credentials of primarily menshevikii [as I called them] delegates), there were amendments and even amendments to amendments and- despite ofttimes confused rulings from that Convention's parliamentarian, we saw the real Reform Party- for better or for worse- playing itself out inside the Convention Hall in full public view, not hidden away in some committee meeting for which the issues had already been decided behind closed doors in the interest of "harmony".

At the Reform Party Convention's first session, for example, rulings of the Chair were overridden by vote of the delegates (when was the last time we've EVER seen that at a Major Party National Convention!). In essence, the main (as opposed to the rump) Reform Party Convention- while it DID have its pastiche of the presentations put on by the two Major Parties each evening- was something of a throwback, a brief glimpse into what a National Convention was all about back when National Conventions actually meant something besides being a Telethon for the nominees-presumptive! Not so this Democratic Convention (as was also the case with the GOP Convention which convened in Philadelphia two weeks ago): this Convention- though the schedule suggests it will be less a "stage show" than that of the Republicans and, in appearance, more "corporate" (an interesting role reversal vis-a-vis the Republicans)- will basically be the same scripted gathering as that of its major rival.

In another interesting role reversal, the official schedule for this Convention is actually more "traditional" than that for the GOP fete. Here, there will be NO "Rolling Roll Call of the States" (for which I, for one, am eternally grateful- putting aside the obvious utility of the usual "all-up" Roll Call as a political strategem to potentially promote state/local candidates): Vice-President Al Gore will be formally and officially nominated for President by the Democrats- as is tradition- on Wednesday night, the third evening of this upcoming Convention. There are also no "theme nights"- at least not in the sense the GOP used them, as an overarching concept linking all the speakers' words during a given session into a whole: though there are what are called "American Dialogue" segments (the equivalent to the GOP's "Profiles in Compassion" at THEIR Convention) planned for each evening; one of these is scheduled to promote Al Gore as a "Principled Fighter"- the answer to the Republican portrayal of their presidential nominee, Texas Governor George W. Bush, as a potential "President with a Purpose".

The Democratic Convention will also apparently feature many more politicians than the Republican gathering did. Relatively few politicos were seen up at the dais during the GOP Convention, the official story for this being that it was much more time-effective for Republican candidates to be gladhanding back home than wasting their time at the Convention: though it seemed to me that much of this had to do with placating some Hard Right Republican office-holders and candidates for office who were purposely being downplayed at- if not altogether shunted away from- a Convention intended to, at least in part, re-invent Governor Bush's Republican Party (though, to be fair, except for host State's Senator Arlen Specter, not much was seen of such moderate GOP luminaries as Senators Jeffords, Snowe or Collins [like Specter, members of the small club known as the "anti-Impeachment 5"]).

Not so with the Democrats: quite a few highly visible Governors, Senators and Members of Congress will be up at the podium during all four nights of the Convention- partially this is due to the fact that the Democrats have a kind of "compulsory attendance" with many of their office holders on the floor of the Convention as voting so-called "PLEO [=Party Leader and/or Elected Official]" delegates; however, this is also a function of the notion that the Democrats really can't re-invent themselves: they are the incumbent Party as far as the Oval Office is concerned and their strategy seems to be more "you know where we stand- take it or leave it: just keep in mind that the 'other guys' are trying to co-opt OUR message and sweep under the rug part of what they have previously stood for".

There are, however, some parallels to the Republican Order of Business seen in a quick perusal of the Convention official schedule: most notably, the fact that the Vice Presidential nominee-presumptive, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, will give his speech on Wednesday evening- as did GOP Vice Presidential nominee Dick Cheney at the GOP gathering. Interestingly, it is billed- in the official Convention schedule- simply as an "Address" rather than an "Acceptance Speech" mainly because- again, as is traditional- Lieberman will not be formally nominated until Thursday evening, just before Al Gore gives his own Acceptance Speech (therefore, there is- technically speaking- nothing for the Connecticut Senator to accept at the time he is scheduled to appear before the Convention!)

All eyes will be on the Convention tonight, however, as BOTH Clintons- Hillary (of course, a candidate for United States Senator from New York) and Bill (obviously, the outgoing President)- will address the Convention. Cagily, the First Lady's speech is scheduled to follow a parade of female Democratic Senators and at least one other female Democratic Senate candidate but her remarks will segue into a film Tribute to her husband followed by his own speech. There will be a "mea culpa" watch during the President's address, I am sure- though I would be most surprised if Mr. Clinton's remarks were NOT more mea than culpa!

The key thing, though, to watch during this 43rd Democratic National Convention will be just how much response there will be in the various speeches to that which the GOP said about the Democrats at their own Convention. We will get our first real clues- once this becomes truly Mr. Gore's Convention beginning tomorrow (Tuesday) after the Clintons depart- as to just how much the Democrats hope to stay "on message" in the wake of potential Bush/Cheney campaign "baiting". Just I thought, going into HIS convention, Governor Bush had to avoid alienating GOP moderates (which he did while, apparently, placating that Party's right wing), the Vice-President would be ill-served by the equivalent of former Texas Governor Ann Richards' "silver foot in mouth" speech of an earlier Democratic Convention. I will paraphrase my own words from two weeks ago today, as posted on this web site: what IS seen at this Convention will have an enormous effect on Al Gore's chances for victory come 7 November!

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