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A Taste Of Denver: Thank God It’s Over (4)

September 3, 2008


Obama: As Good As It Gets For A Dem These Days

Watching the Democratic Party Convention one could easily – and wrongly – conclude that not much happened. There was very little debate, most of the talks, presentations were scripted, Barack Obama’s candidacy had been decided, the police and security presence overdone to the extreme…the whole thing essentially contrived, paid for in large measure by behind the scenes (and actually not-so behind the scenes) corporate donations.

I gave this kind of analysis to one of my students, a volunteer at the Pepsi Center who responded `everything you say is true, but, to be honest, I’m having a blast’ – this from one of my more socially committed and class conscious students! Other young people that happen to regularly pass through my life – there are a fair number – simply didn’t want to hear any criticisms I might have of Obama’s foreign policy – this nonsense about taking troops from Iraq to put them in Afghanistan or his `giving away’ of Jerusalem to the Israeli government – his well documented shift to from the liberal left to the center after the primaries.

Of course that doesn’t particularly stop me from speaking my mind – but it is becoming clear that only six months to a year or so into an Obama administration (although it is not carved in stone, I believe he’ll win) will some of Obama’s true believers – there is a whole army of them – come down to earth and come to grips with his limitations.

Besides, I’ll vote for the guy myself. Any temptation to support McKinney (Green Party candidate) evaporated watching her behind the scenes political opportunism here in Denver during the week of the convention and as for Nader – well, I’m glad he’s there and I do support including him in the presidential debate. He probably knows more about the issues than any of the others. He gave a hard hitting and accurate critique of the Dems (and Obama) at the University of Denver on August 27 before 4300, including Nancy, her father Lowell, our friend Ibrahim and myself. But I won’t vote for him.

The Obama Phenomenon

Whatever his political limitations (more on that later), Barack Obama has done something that hasn’t happened in America since assassination cut off the presidential bid of Robert Kennedy in 1968: he’s captured the political imagination of not just the Democratic delegates to Denver, but of much of the country and has thus become a force in American politics that far outweighs some of the positions he holds. He’s been able to mobilize youth in an unprecedented fashion. So much of the progressive energy of this nation this past year went into supporting Obama – from the unions, peace and environmental groups, minorities – especially after Super Tuesday when it appeared that Obama actually had a shot at defeating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party Nomination.

With so much of the progressive – even left – energy mobilizing behind Obama, organized left opposition outside of the Democratic Party found itself generally marginalized, thus the modest showing of such groups in Denver last week where despite claims to the contrary, social movement participation in the demonstrations (see yesterday’s entry) was small to modest. Indeed, there were no large scale mobilizations to Denver. Most social movements – like the great immigration rights movement out of Los Angeles that mobilized more than a million people to demonstrate two years ago – simply stayed home or sent only symbolic delegations. Pretty modest turnout, all in all.

Nader: Good Politics No Base

And that begs the broader question: although Ralph Nader can articulate the policy limits of the Democratic Party as accurately as anyone, what he has only poorly explained is why so much of the country stands with Barack Obama. If 4300 people came out to see Ralph in Denver, 85,000 went to Invesco Field to `witness history’ and from what I can glean another 40,000 to 50,000 would have attended if they could have gotten in.

And it’s not just the numbers.

The Clintons Blew It

What can explain Obama’s dramatic triumph over Hillary Clinton?

Barak Obama beat one of the most experienced (it’s true!), well-oiled and well financed political teams in American political history – Bill and Hillary Clinton. He knocked the Clintons off center-stage of the Democratic Party. Although the political implications of that shift have yet to be revealed in all their aspects, what can be said is that – particularly if he wins the presidency – Obama achieved one of the greatest political upsets in the nation’s history. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer pair of political scoundrels. Nor could it have happened without a broad based revolt within the Democratic Party against the Clintons, their machine (for that is exactly what they have cultivated, put together and thought they had perfected) and their spiritual base: the Democratic Leadership Council.

The Clintons – both Bill and Hillary – had prepared for a Hillary run at the presidency even before Bill stepped down from the office in 2000 handing the baton to the little idiot who’s been in office since. One has to wonder what deal the Clinton’s made with each other? That Hillary would stay in the marriage with Bill despite the latter’s anatomical intern probing with Cuban cigars in exchange for Bill managing Hillary’s presidential bid? Who knows? But as recently as a year ago, it appeared that Hillary Clinton held most of the cards in the Democratic Party deck and that she would not win but sail to the presidential nomination, only to be defeated by `a nobody’ – some inexperienced kid from Chicago.

Please, this happens in the movies but not in American politics and not to the Clintons who had successfully weathered so many political and personal storms that they thought themselves invincible. Hillary had carefully cultivated and easily won the support of much of the Democratic Party political machine nationwide. She had accumulated an enormous war chest and of course had the close cooperation of one of America’s all time shrewdest (and lewdest?) political operatives of modern times – her husband. With so much political support, a convention in Denver looked to be very much of a pro-Clinton affair with Colorado considered very friendly territory.

Colorado: Mirror of the Nation

This pattern was clear, played out here in Colorado as it was nationwide. There is a funny story about former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, a strong Clinton supporter. Sensing which way the political winds were blowing, the city’s first Black mayor, took down his Clinton sign already in April. Before that time, he and wife Wilma were an integral part of Colorado’s Clinton team, doing what they do best – behind the scenes arm-twisting for Hillary. The Clintons also have very close ties with the political legal operatives, Steve Farber and Norm Brownstein and often stay at one of their homes when in the area. Denver’s US Congresswoman Diana De Gette was on board emerging as national co-chair of Hillary’s healthcare campaign. No doubt most of the above had visions of sugar plums – or more likely positions in a Clinton administration – dancing in their head. And while Federico Pena wouldn’t bite (he’d had a falling out with the Clintons), most of the Chicano leadership within the Democratic Party followed Webb’s lead as well.

(to be continued tomorrow)

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