PASSING THE TORCH
The First Session of the 43rd Democratic National Convention
Tuesday, August 15, 2000
RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
The 43rd Democratic National Convention was called to order inside the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California at approximately 1:30 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time (2030 UTC) on Monday 14 August 2000 by Joe Andrew, the National Chair of the Democratic National Committee, whose welcoming remarks spoke briefly about the "new ideas" the Democrats were promoting in this campaign- a rather strange statement for a leader of a Party running on the record of the incumbents, at least as indicated by the official schedule of the program this first day of the gathering, which was intended to celebrate the accomplishments- in Democratic eyes- of Bill Clinton's Presidency! The invocation was given by Archbishop Roger Cardinal Mahony of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. After this, the Colors were presented by an Armed Forces Color Guard and young Juan Carlos Hernandez sang the National Anthem, after which the Colors were retired.
The first speaker of the Convention was Mike Miller, the president of the Maryland State Senate and the chairman of the Democratic State Legislative Campaign Committee. He was followed by King County, Washington Executive Ron Sims, the chairman of the Council of Democratic County Officials and Joan Menard, the chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party and the president of the Association of State Democratic Chairs. She called her Party "a party of record, not rhetoric... of policy, not polemics"; I am sure the literally tens of delegates in the Hall at that point all enjoyed these remarks.
Next at the dais was Kevin Nicholson of Wisconsin, the president of College Democrats, who- after talking about the media calling the generation after the "Baby Boomer"s "Gen-X" and the following generation "Generation ' Why?' " (the pun is obvious)- noted that, whatever the popular designations for different generations, "don't let future generations look back and call us 'Generation "dub-ya" ' " (a reference to the middle initial- pronounced with a Texas accent- of the Republican presidential nominee).
After these first few political remarks, it was actually time for some bona fide- albeit rather perfunctory- procedural business. DNC Chairman Joe Andrew called Mayor Ron Gonzales of San Jose, California and Senator Blanche Lambert Lincoln of Arkansas to the podium to deliver the report of the Credentials Committee they both co-chair. As there was (natch!) no minority report (i.e. there were no challenges to the seating of the delegates and alternates as they appeared on the Roll of the Convention: in contrast to the previous Thursday at the nearby Reform Party Convention), Mayor Gonzales launched into a speech extolling the virtues of California's famed "Silicon Valley" in general and San Jose in particular. Senator Lincoln, meanwhile- after telling the assemblage that her grandmother had been correct when she told the Senator, as a little girl, that she would always be "an Episcopalian, a Southern lady and a Democrat"- said of Social Security "we [meaning, of course, the Democrats] created it and we will fight to defend it!" Joe Andrew- as had Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson at the GOP Convention's first session exactly two weeks to the day earlier- called for the Yeas and Nays on adopting this Convention's Credentials Report: as in Philadelphia, there were no "No"es, the "Aye"s- evidently- had it and the report was adopted.
After Mr. Andrew announced his appointment of certain officers of the Convention which, apparently, the Credentials Report now permitted him to fill, he called the co-Chairs of the Rules Committee- Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Governor Gary Locke of Washington- to the dais to present their report. Ms. Landrieu noted that- earlier in the year- the record for the longest economic expansion in American History had been set: "nine years of non-stop growth" [of course, the Clinton Administration has been in office for less than eight years: so, I guess it really WASN'T "The Economy, Stupid" in 1992!]- then, sounding like a Kindergarten teacher- or, perhaps, the host of Romper Room (which at Democratic Party Conventions of a generation or more ago, would have been an apt description!)- she led the hundred or so delegates then in attendance in a litany, recounting that- under Clinton and Gore- "Patriotism is up, Crime is down; Adoptions are up, Teen Pregnancies are down; Employment is up, the Deficit is down; the Surplus is up, Business Failures are down" (somehow, to my mind, the items in the last two sounded as if they had gotten switched- but I doubt many in the Hall were really paying attention this early in the first session!). The Louisiana Senator finished her remarks- which, of course, had nothing at all to do with Convention Rules- with a local saying from her home State that "the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining": except, of course, that- at least according to her earlier litany- the roof didn't, in her opinion, even need to be fixed!
She was followed by Governor Locke, the first Asian-American to be elected Governor of a State. He announced the appointment of both Senators from the host State of California, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, as Permanent Convention co-Chairs, along with other permanent officers- including Kentucky Governor Paul Patton, who- according to Governor Locke- "is well on his way to being the first Kentucky Governor to ever win a second term!": only one problem, though- Governor Patton had already been elected to his historic second term, back in November 1999! Then again, did anyone watching really notice? (Just for the record, I cite these "miscues" not to embarrass the speakers at these Conventions- as with the Republican Convention, I point them out to show that these events are so controlled- and, for that matter, contrived- that such mistakes are made with seemingly no regard to the mistake having been made! The organizers of National Party Conventions complain that the media- and, by extension, the American public- no longer cares about gatherings they SHOULD care about, yet these same organizers allow a show to go on which only goes to show that those running this Convention don't seem to care themselves! They expect US to care, but their lackadaisical approach- even with the scripting- belies their own bellyaching: a symptom of the same disease which well pervades inside the Beltway!!... then again, what politicians are- for the most part- predominant in this very Convention Hall!!!)
Joe Andrew moved the adoption of the Rules Committee Report, the "Ayes" had it and the report was adopted. Next up at the dais was Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer, the Convention Parliamentarian, who reminded the delegates that "proxy voting" was not permitted- that, if a delegate was absent, an alternate should take his or her place. I smirked a bit, as- whenever I watched the last Congress under Democrat control on C-SPAN- I would note that Hoyer was one of the biggest advocates of such proxy voting in committee, a practice done away with when the Republicans took control of the federal legislature. Hoyer was followed by two- term Kentucky Governor Paul Patton, who noted that "when it comes to Education, it is the Governors who are on the line": of course, to make sure a certain unnamed Republican Governor from a certain unnamed Lone Star State would not be given what- to the Democrats- would be undue credit, Patton noted that "it is the Democratic Governors who are providing the leadership" and made sure that, as far as Education was concerned, "George W. Bush has already flunked out in Texas!"
Patton was followed by Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who- like many before this Convention- cited the fact that the Democrats had, back in 1960, met in that very city of Los Angeles to nominate John F. Kennedy "my uncle" (oh!... really?). He was followed by Andrew Tobias, the Democratic National Committee Treasurer, who opined that "the entire [political] landscape has shifted to the Right: we Democrats have moved to the Center and the other Party has nearly fallen off the edge". Scoring the deep tax cuts passed by the Republican Congress- and vetoed by President Clinton, Tobias argued that "a booming economy is exactly when not to add massive stimulus... it is bad Economics and it's not fair". Tobias further argued that it was the Democrats who were the party of "inclusion, fairness, opportunity and community". "What good is net worth", he asked, "without self-worth": citing his own life as an openly gay man, Tobias went on to claim that the Democratic Party "celebrates Diversity- not for show, but for real!"
There was now the first video of the day, on the big screen behind the podium with a giant red, white and blue "America 2000" atop it, about a Washington family's plight in dealing with their infant son's breathing and swallowing difficulties- as well as a balky insurance company which Al Gore, while campaigning in that state back in February, embarrassed by shaking his fist at the TV cameras while saying "Don't you dare cut this child's coverage": the video was, in its essence, a call for a "true" National Patients' Bill of Rights and an argument that Al Gore was the presidential candidate who would deliver it.
After a recorded musical interlude, we were to be treated to a preliminary Roll Call of the States conducted by Democratic National Committee Secretary Kathy Vick. This is actually a time-honored procedure at Democratic Conventions during which the microphones for each delegation are checked and the number of votes for each jurisdiction represented at the Convention confirmed (Democratic Party rules are such that- thanks to PLEO delegates- the number of votes for many a Convention delegation shifts slightly, yet frequently, as the Primary/Caucus season wears on: "The Green Papers" itself had some difficult work trying to keep one step ahead of such adjustments as we tried to post the most accurate information on our own web site). However, it appears the delegates were rather unprepared for this and we were left with a rather disorganized process; to add insult to injury, there was confusion on the podium- states were called out of order and some states were left out, much to the obvious indignation of Ms. Vick who- while smiling and waving as she left the podium after it was all over- was clearly miffed at some of the bungling. One could only hope that all the kinks had been worked out by Wednesday evening's official Roll Call which would nominate Al Gore for President!
There now followed a parade of Democratic National Committee Vice-Chairs: Linda Chavez-Thompson of Texas, former Little Rock Mayor Lottie Shackelford, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina- all of whom were followed by a recorded musical interlude which ate up a significant amount of clock (I can only assume because this was all time which had been set aside for the preliminary Roll Call which had earlier gone slightly awry). Shackelford claimed that the Democrats were a Party that "respects the Individual and exalts the Family" (which was a sign to me that it was not rhetoric which separated the two Major Parties, but rather the implementation of that rhetoric), while Molina scored the Republicans by noting that "Leaving No Child Behind is a commitment, not a slogan... that's what being a Democrat is all about!"
After the long musical break, the Convention was addressed by former State Senator Art Torres, the California Democratic Party chairman. He was followed by Mayor Marc Morial of New Orleans, Louisiana who called the Party "the Conscience of America"; he further opined that "Al Gore will close the digital divide" and "will leave none of our sons and daughters behind". He, in turn, was followed by Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, Ohio. The next speaker was Minnesota State Auditor Judith Dutcher who, until January, had been a Republican. She claimed that, upon her election to her first term six years earlier, she thought she could be a "strong, independent voice for moderate, mainstream values" but that, as a "moderate, pro-Choice woman, I was pushed aside". As an Auditor, she said, she saw the Democrats as "progressive and fiscally responsible".
After Ms. Dutcher had finished her remarks, the three Democratic National Finance Chairs- Carol Pinsky, Joe Cari, Jr. and Joel Hyatt (the son-in-law of former Ohio Senator Howard Metzenbaum) spoke. They were followed by two Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate- former Congressman Bill Nelson of Florida and Ed Bernstein of Nevada. Then followed Daniel Malloy- the chairman of the National Democratic Municipal Officials and Mayor of Stamford, Connecticut- who reminded the gathering that his city was "Joe Lieberman's home town". He was followed by Tim Leiweke, the president of the Staples Center, who said that "in a Town of Dreams, I'm proud to welcome a Party of Hope".
Leiweke's remarks were followed by a video showing the Staples Center being set up for the Convention with different participants in the process telling what job they were doing: the final image was that of the Democratic nominee-presumptive himself saying, "I'm Al- I'm looking for a new job". Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, the Chairman of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors, scored the Republicans for their "twelve years of indifference" to the plight of the Nation's cities (so, with the GOP candidates setting themselves up to run against Bill Clinton, the Democrats were going to- eight years later- still run against Presidents Reagan and Bush?). Senator Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, next addressed the Convention- followed by Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, who called Al Gore "the most influential Vice President in History" (to which I couldn't help thinking, given the history of that much-maligned Office, compared to what?) and scored the GOP by saying that the Democrats "are a Party of people- they are a Party where people are props... we are a Party of public service, they are a Party of lip service!"
DNC Chairman Joe Andrew now formally installed the Permanent Convention co-Chairs, Senators Boxer and Feinstein. Boxer held up the gavel, the symbol of her new authority before this gathering, then- in a mimicking answer to Governor Bush's Acceptance Speech, she noted that- by 1992- "they had their chance, they failed" and that, since then, we DID have our chance- we LED!" Her co-Chair and fellow Golden State Senator, Dianne Feinstein, next came before the Convention and opined that the Democratic Party would make sure that "the rising tide lifts all boats, not just the yachts". After this, there was a recorded musical interlude featuring Stevie Wonder (so he HADN'T been co-opted by the GOP, after all!), followed by the taking of the Official Convention Photograph, after which the Convention went into a brief (less than a quarter hour) recess.
The Convention resumed at shortly after 5 o'clock P.M. Pacific Daylight Time (0000 UTC, 15 August) with the same video montage of speeches by JFK, LBJ, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and- finally- Al Gore which had opened the Convention 3 1/2 hours earlier, after which Dylan McDermott, star of the TV show The Practice, leading 3 children in recitations from the Declaration of Independence while one of only 25 printed copies of the document- as it appeared in newspapers shortly after its adoption- appeared on stage. This was followed by Rock diva Melissa Etheridge singing a medley of the Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful and This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land.
The first speaker of this second half of the day's session was Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey of California who spoke of her struggles after her husband had left her and her children some 30 years earlier and how she went from welfare to work long before Welfare Reform had become a national issue. Ms. Woolsey's remarks were reinforced by a video about Nancy Santana of Philadelphia, a single mom who gone from being on welfare to building her own business- thanks, she claimed, to the policies of the Clinton Administration. The Congresswoman was followed by Convention CEO Lydia Camarillo who- scoring the Republicans for what Democrats obviously feel was a sham of "inclusion" at the GOP Convention- stated that "we are what the other party pretended to be- we are all of America!"
Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Convention Organizing Committee, next came up to the podium and scored the Republicans for all their "happy talk", arguing that their Convention was a pretense. "Let's face it", McAuliffe said of the GOP gathering in Philadelphia- picking up where Ms. Camarillo's remarks had left off, "they pretended they were Democrats". He called that gathering of opponents "an Oscar-winning performance... a show, a sham and a shell game" and he referred to Governor Bush's Acceptance Speech as "Texas longhorn: two points with a lot of bull in between". McAuliffe also went on to score "the cynics and pundits who say that Conventions no longer matter", forcefully opining that "they're wrong!" I'm sorry, Mr. McAuliffe- but, speaking as an admittedly amateur pundit who may or may not be viewed as cynical, National Party Conventions- in particular, those of the two Major Parties- are largely, once again I reiterate, "preaching to the choir" for reasons I have already outlined in my Commentaries on the Republican Convention and need not repeat here. At worst, a National Convention has become one long infomercial- at best, the moral equivalent of a Pep Rally!
And then, almost as if to make my own point and then drive it home for me, we were suddenly treated to some musical aggregation called the Democratic National Committee Marching Band (imagine that!... a political steering committee with its own marching band!!... makes one proud to be an American, doesn't it?!)- made up of students from around the country who marched into the Hall playing (I suppose predictably) California, Here I Come before entertaining the delegates with a marching band version of Randy Newman's I Love L A. This musical performance was followed by a promotional video about Los Angeles, quickly intercut images to a fast-moving soundtrack which made this assemblage seem more like a Chamber of Commerce meeting than a National Party Convention. The city might as well have been wooing the International Olympic Committee once again, for all that this segment did for the political process.
DNC National Chair Joe Andrew returned to the dais and introduced Mayor Richard Riordan of Los Angeles- a Republican (he had, of course, addressed his own Party's Convention via live remote from his own city's Museum of Tolerance less than two weeks before)- who then formally welcomed the delegates. To show he was not a total stranger to opposite-party events, he brought out his wife Nancy, a life-long Democrat. Like John Street of Philadelphia at the GOP gathering, Mayor Riordan prudently stayed away from politics and extolled the virtues of his city, surrounded by young members of "L A's Best", an after-school program for so-called "latchkey kids" who- at the end of his welcoming address- held up block letters spelling out "WELCOME TO L A".
Riordan was followed by California Governor Gray Davis- a Democrat- who opined that his State knows "a little about show business... we don't need to put on an act to appear to be the Party of Compassion and Diversity- we are the real thing!". Governor Davis then introduced the next item on the program: an "American Dialogue" segment (as noted in my last Commentary, this Convention's equivalent to the GOP's "Profiles in Compassion")- this one was on "Accomplishments". A video introduced Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman who, sounding the theme that I myself have argued- in earlier Commentaries- would have to be the overarching message of the Gore/Lieberman campaign if it were to have a chance to win this coming November, forcefully stated that- in contrast to the Republicans-"You know who we are". Ms. Herman went on: "The other candidates... portrayed us as a lost opportunity. Opportunity Loss? Let's try Memory Loss!" She then introduced Governor Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Governor Gary Locke of Washington.
Each Governor introduced a video citing a few cases in which Democratic policies under the Clinton/Gore Administration helped people deal with what had would have allegedly been, under Republican Presidents, more difficult circumstances - the video portion of Shaheen's portion concentrated on economic success stories, while Locke's segment dealt with some of the other improvements fostered by Clinton- and, by implication and extension, Gore. After each video segment, the persons featured in each video were brought out on stage to reinforce the message while being "interviewed"- contemporary TV talk show style- by each of the two Governors.
"Instead of going back, let's go forward!", the Washington Governor implored toward the end of his half of this "American Dialogue". Yet I myself couldn't forget all the references that had already been made- and, I was sure, would continue to be made at this gathering- to the last time the Democrats had assembled in Los Angeles and nominated John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Despite what was next on the program after this segment was over- a tribute to former President Jimmy Carter- I couldn't help thinking that, in many ways- given the troublesome Johnson and Carter stewardships in the White House- JFK had, in fact, been that last "brief shining moment" in the collective Democratic Party memory. While looking forward, the Democrats had no choice but to also look back- in some cases, WAY back!
Alexis Herman came back on stage to wrap up this segment. "We've had eight years of progress and prosperity, but we have so much more to do", she argued. "We need Al Gore because he knows we are just getting started." Convention co-Chair Senator Dianne Feinstein of California then came up to the podium to introduce a short video in tribute to Jimmy Carter, the only living Democrat former President- who, before the footage was shown on the big screen, acknowledged the accolades of the assemblage from the galleries- where he was seated with his wife, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter- while the delegates rhythmically chanted "Jim-MY! Jim-MY!"
Next at the dais was Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, who addressed "my fellow Democrats- my SISTER Democrats" to great cheering among the female delegates. After calling Al Gore "the best Vice-President America ever had" (again: compared to what?), she scored the Republicans for wanting "you to forget what things were like eight years ago"- a time when, she opined, "too few were realizing their dreams"- adding: "what a difference a Democratic Administration makes". At one point, the Senator needed a sip of water to clear a catch in her throat: "excuse me", she said, "but when I talk about the Democrats, I get so choked up. Don't you?"
Noting that she was- when first elected 14 years before- the only Democratic female Senator at the time, Ms. Mikulski then introduced a segment in which a number of Democrat female Senators and one Democrat female Senate candidate- Congresswoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan- would speak from the floor of the Convention itself about an issue of importance to the Democrats with a video showing a family from that Senator or candidate's State wrestling with that particular issue. Behind each woman were delegates holding signs reading: "AMERICA: Better Than Ever" which was, of course, going to have to be the thrust of the argument of the Gore/Lieberman campaign- that, as a result of the sentiments expressed in that sign, no change of Party in the White House was necessary or, for that matter, even desirable.
Senator Barbara Boxer of California kicked things off by noting she was "proud to be standing here among the people", explaining her presence- and, by extension, that of the women to follow- among the delegations. "That what's we Democrats are about": Ms. Boxer's topic was the environment in general and toxic waste cleanup in particular. She was followed by Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln, a woman who spoke as if she were an ex-cheerleader, talking about saving Social Security and Medicare, arguing that they should be protected "with a lockbox that can't be raided: no way- no how!!" (an intriguing echo of George W. Bush's own words on the subject at his own Convention). Next came Senator Patty Murray of Washington who argued in favor of "world-class education"- followed by Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana who argued in favor of the Democratic plan which had people "moving off the Welfare rolls and onto the payrolls"- adding that "we have the will and Democrats know the way". Congresswoman Stabenow then followed on the topics of the success of the Family and Medical Leave Act and then the need to make prescription drugs more affordable to seniors. Finally, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California (strangely enough, speaking from Senator Lincoln's Arkansas delegation!) finished up with the issue of gun control, reminding the assemblage that the National Rifle Association chairman had once claimed, "elect George W. Bush and we will work out of the Oval Office".
Senator Mikulski was now back at the podium and, with the women who had just spoken from the floor- along with the subjects of the videos shown during this segment- arrayed behind her, shouted: "These are America's families and this is the new look of the Democratic Senate". Mikulski then asked, "Don't you think we need more women in the Democratic Senate?" to which the Hall, naturally, cheered enthusiastically before the Maryland Senator introduced a "very special woman"- yet another female candidate for the U.S. Senate who, by coincidence, happened to be married to the current President of the United States. With that, Hillary Rodham Clinton emerged onto the stage and walked up to the dais to the strains of- you guessed it- New York, New York.
The First Lady began her speech by praising her husband's "visionary leadership and hard work". Mrs. Clinton then cited her personal experiences while campaigning with her husband the first time- in 1992- as a reason for why his Administration had worked so hard.
She called her husband's Administration "the most peaceful, prosperous and promising time in America's History" and argued that it would continue (and, by implication, ONLY continue) with the election of the Gore/Lieberman ticket. She called the Vice-President a "trusted partner of Bill's in the White House"; she also recalled how she and her husband first met Joe Lieberman when they were students at Yale Law School.
Mrs. Clinton then talked about her work with and for children, noting that- when she worked with the Children's Defense Fund- "we had a trademark: Leave No Child Behind", thus scoring the GOP for co-opting that concept at their Convention- adding: "the stakes in November are highest for the littlest among us". Citing the title of her book It Takes A Village, she opined that it also "certainly takes Al Gore and Joe Lieberman"
"Why can't all of us", Mrs. Clinton pleaded, "including the Media, give parents more control over what their children watch on TV, in the movies, on the Internet and in video games". I wondered just how well this phraseology was going down among the local Hollywood establishment that footed a fair share of the Democrats' bills. The First Lady then went on to argue that her generation had a "Rendezvous with Responsibility"- an interesting concept considering Governor Bush's own "Era of Responsibility" that he had pushed for in his Acceptance Speech in Philadelphia: once again, it was clear evidence that it was not the rhetoric of the two Parties that was far apart, but the methodology of applying that rhetoric to policy decisions. She argued that- to the Democrats- such responsibility included avoiding GOP-supported tax cuts to be funded by the surplus.
Hillary Rodham Clinton closed her speech and walked off-stage while waving to the assemblage. Interestingly, she did not introduce- as I had expected she would, based on my reading of the official Convention schedule- the next video, that about her husband, nor did she introduce her husband himself. There was to be no scene comparable to that of Lynne Cheney greeting her husband Dick at the podium after introducing him so that he could give his Acceptance Speech as the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee. Instead, there was a brief recorded interlude of These Are Days by 10,000 Maniacs- a Modern Rock hit at the time Bill Clinton and Al Gore first took office back in January 1993- which was suddenly, and strangely, interrupted by the video about President Clinton's campaigns for the Presidency intermingled with cuts of him speaking both on the campaign trails of '92 and '96 as well as in his capacity as President. One of the obvious intents of the video was to show that Clinton had brought newfound respect to the Presidency among foreign leaders- an attempt to deflect Bush/Cheney criticism that he had only served to bring disrepute upon the Office.
After the video biography ended, the big screen showed the President of the United States walking out of the Green Room through the understructure of the Staples Center as the accolades of those in the Hall watching these images grew louder and louder. Bill Clinton was seen bounding up the stairs and out onto the stage like some Rock star ready to begin a sold-out concert. He strode up to the dais, waved and then thanked those in the Convention Hall for their cheers and applause before launching into his address. I have already opined- in my last Commentary- that Clinton's speech would be more mea than culpa and I was not to be disappointed, for there was not a shred of culpa in it at all!
"Forty years ago", the President began, "this great city of Los Angeles launched John Kennedy and the New Frontier: now Los Angeles is launching the first President of the new Century, Al Gore!" He then began talking about the accomplishments of his own Administration, although he noted that "as always, of course, the lion's share of the credit goes to the American people who go to work, raise the kids and dream the dreams". Mr. Clinton argued that "our people face a fundamental choice" in the upcoming Election, warning that "we can't take our future for granted" before proceeding, in the main portion of his speech, to tell his audience why.
Like the First Lady, Bill Clinton told anecdotes about the people he saw suffering as he campaigned for President the first time round. He added that, during that campaign, he made "one of the very best decisions of my entire life: asking Al Gore to be my partner"
The President noted that when his Administration sent its "new economic strategy" to Congress soon after taking office, "not a single Republican supported it". He reminded the delegates (and, by televised extension, the American voters) that his economic plan passed the House by a single vote and only passed the Senate when the Vice-President, as is constitutionally permissible, cast the tie-breaking vote. He then went on to ask the assemblage to recall that Republican leaders back then claimed that "our plan would increase the deficit, kill jobs and give us a one-way ticket to a recession. Time has not been very kind to their predictions", he added to the cheers of the delegates. He also reminded his audience that the Republicans had also said "they would absolutely not be held responsible for our economic policy. I hope the American people take them at their word", he opined with a wry- yet still beaming- smile.
Mr. Clinton next cited the "longest economic expansion in History" and then claimed his Administration had turned the "largest deficit in History into the largest surplus in History". He argued that the United States was on the verge (of course, his own implication being: only if Al Gore defeats George W. Bush) of making the country "debt-free for the first time since Andy Jackson was President in 1835". He later quoted Harry Truman's line that "if you want to live like a Republican, you'd better vote for the Democrats".
"America is more hopeful, more secure and more free", the President claimed. He cited a number of reasons why he felt this way, including the Family and Medical Leave Act- a bill the Administration of the father of the Republican presidential nominee had vetoed but which was the first bill Mr. Clinton signed after taking office. He cited the law's positive results and then scored the GOP: "That's what it means- that's what it REALLY means- to be pro-Family". He once more cited his belief that his own Administration "really looks like America. You know, if I could just get my Administration up here, it would be just as good a picture as anything you saw a few weeks ago in Philadelphia."
"The American military is the best trained, best equipped, most effective fighting force in the world", the President stated. In a clear answer to the Bush/Cheney claim that the Armed Forces were low in morale on his watch, Mr. Clinton added: "Our men and women in uniform have shown that time and again", noting that "their strength, their courage and their commitment to freedom have never been greater. Any adversary who believes those who say otherwise is making a grave mistake!"
"That's the record", Mr. Clinton said of his litany of the accomplishments of his own Administration, adding the line from the 1960's TV show Dragnet: "Just the facts, ma'am".
Paraphrasing the campaign mantra which has been so familiar since then-candidate Ronald Reagan first used it two decades before, the President asked: "Are we better off today than we were eight years ago?", answering "Yes, we are." He added: "We're not just better off, we are a better country". He also wryly noted that "That's the purpose of prosperity"- an obvious dig at the "Prosperity with a Purpose" theme used by the GOP during one of their Convention nights two weeks earlier.
"We're becoming both more diverse and more united", the President opined. "We've built our bridge to the 21st Century- we crossed that bridge together and we're... not... going... back!" He went on: "To those who say... we just kind of coasted along" [yet another reference to Governor Bush's acceptance speech] "let me be clear. America's success was not a matter of chance, it was a matter of choice."
"Today, America faces another choice", Mr. Clinton stated. "It is every bit as momentous as the one we faced eight years ago- for what a nation does with its good fortune is just as stern a test of its character, values and judgment as how it deals with adversity." He later noted that "this is a big election with great consequences for every American because the... honest differences between our candidate and their visions are so profound: we could have a good old-fashioned election here." His expression as he spoke that last phrase sounded as if Bill Clinton, the consummate politician, would be looking forward to just such an election with some glee. "That has to be clear to people", he later said, "and that's why every House and every Senate seat is important."
He then took a few moments to praise the First Lady who he called a"full-time advocate for her lifetime cause"- the welfare of children. "She'll always be there for the families of New York and America", he added in a brief reference to his wife's Senate candidacy. He then spoke of Vice-President Gore as someone who "always told me what was right", calling Gore "one, strong leader". He added: "The greatest champion of ordinary Americans has always been Al Gore". Mr. Clinton went on to argue that, in the White House, the United States needed a President "who understands the future", adding that Al Gore was "a profoundly good man". One could but hope that the President realized that, in many ways, he himself had not been. Clinton argued that Senator Lieberman would be "a great partner" for his own Vice-President. He cited Lieberman's role as a Freedom Rider in the early 1960's- an obvious attempt to blunt criticism by the liberal wing of the Party of Gore's choice of running mate-but then went on to note Lieberman's role as the leader of the New Democrats- a clear message as to which wing was actually running the Party.
As for his own Presidency, Bill Clinton called his service therein "an honor, a privilege and a joy". But, of the Presidency to follow his own, Mr. Clinton noted: "The best is yet to come if we make the right choices this election year". He added: "The choices will make all the difference". He then turned to a little personal, anecdotal history lesson of his own: citing the previous record for longest economic expansion in U.S. History (1961 to 1969: interestingly, under Democratic Administrations), he noted that he was of high school and college age back then- a time when he, "like most Americans", thought "our economy was absolutely on 'automatic' ", that "nothing could de-rail it... so we took it for granted". He then checked off what happened to, in fact, de-rail it (though unspoken, much of which had also taken place under a Democratic Administration- that of Lyndon Johnson: though, of course, Clinton cited the 1968 Election of Richard Nixon as the [down-]turning point), explaining that he was reciting this litany "not to take you down- but to keep you looking up". The President then forcefully noted that he had waited 30 years to see America have an economic expansion as long- and then longer- than the previous one, adding: "I have lived long enough to know that opportunities must be seized or they will be lost".
"The future of our Country is in your hands", the President continued- urging the voters to "think hard, feel deeply and choose wisely". He then closed his speech by asking that, whenever he was thought of once his Presidency had come to an end in a little over five months, Americans would "keep putting people first, keep building those bridges"- references to the primary messages of his own two presidential campaigns- "and Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow". Of course, the Convention was immediately treated to a piped-in recording of the 1970's Fleetwood Mac song which had been used in the original Clinton/Gore campaign as the President was joined by the First Lady and their daughter on stage. Delegates in the Hall began a rhythmic chant of "Thank You, Bill" as the First Family smiled and waved from the dais.
And then... rather unceremoniously... the Clintons were gone. Convention co-Chair Barbara Boxer returned to the podium only to be interrupted by the star of Broadway's The Music Man who came onto the stage and began a brief performance of a tune from that show while joined by other members of that show's cast. I thought this a rather odd interlude coming so soon on the heels of the last speech before his Party's National Convention by Bill Clinton as President of the United States; I suppose I should have been more than grateful that at least it wasn't Ben Stein, but I found myself wondering: what was it's purpose? Security- by diverting attention from the direction and/or timing of the Clinton family's exit? No, I quickly realized: for I thought of a line from another 1970's Rock song, the Rolling Stones' Wild Horses- "no sweeping exits or offstage lines". This little diversion was obviously intended to suddenly jolt onlookers away from paying attention the President himself even before this first session of this Convention had ended: his words would- perhaps- still ring in the ears of loyal Democrats, but his persona- which has so divided the Nation in terms of how it has been received by the average American- would be very quickly out of this Convention Hall and, more importantly, out of the minds of those watching.
By the time the mini-Broadway show was over and Rev. Eugene
Rivers had come forward to deliver the Benediction, it was- in fact- already Al
Gore's Convention and the Vice-President still had three days- sans
Clintons- to complete that drive downfield for his Party he had started
with his choice of Senator Lieberman as his running mate... or, perhaps, yet
fumble the ball.