August 13, 2008
Convention Preview: The Democrats
Posted by: Kevin
The Democratic National Convention will convene in Denver on August 25th to nominate Barack Obama as their presidential standard-bearer in the fall election. However, the concept of standard-bearer has morphed, in reality, to be the opposite. In truth, Obama will be speaking in Denver on August 28th in order to try to make the Democratic Party as much his own standard-bearer as he can for the fall race -- and whatever failing the party cannot overcome, he will simply fill in with his own campaign's enormous resources.
Indeed, the party conventions have evolved on different paths toward a very proximate destination: utter irrelevance, if not a net negative on their respective nominees. I'll deal with the GOP side in Friday's post, but for the Democrats it has been a sleek and steady evolution much like a snake changing its skin. The colors are rearranged, and the camouflage is more up-to-date, but the animal hasn't changed a whit. The national Democratic Party has been, and still is, an amalgam of disparate, self-obsessed interest groups who believe only in power and have no idea (nor care to learn) how to govern this country properly.
Barack Obama steps onto the stage on the 28th, and quite tellingly he will do it far from the convention hall -- at Invesco Field before 60,000 cheering fans. But until then, the show on stage will be classic Democratic Convention stuff. It starts with the party's platform, which as usual is a document which puts lipstick, a skirt, manicured nails and a lovely hairdo on the party's inherent vacuum of core beliefs, and the deep contempt that its hackdom has for anyone outside their political ghetto. True to form, this year the platform scrubbed any use of the words "gay" or "lesbian" (heaven forefend "trans-"anything), and the national voice of the gay Democratic hacks promptly pronounced it "the strongest platform on gay and transgender issues ever approved by a major U.S. political party." This after years of burning into political gospel that use of the "g" and "l" (and sometimes "t") words are the lowest bar you can set for acceptability. Not since Mitt Romney landed in Iowa has there been such a head-spinning political u-turn, but I digress.
The point is that the Democratic Convention seems to always be a giant masquerade show to hide the contempt its core activists feels towards anyone outside their narrow cantons of special interests, and to somehow con independents and moderate Republicans into thinking they believe anything really. It's always a myriad of acrobatics and frantic semaphore-waving from a party base that is hopelessly tone-deaf in connecting with the average American but still knows they have to try if they want to win (which is all they want).
So, the platform will mean nothing. The keynote speech will be great theater and maybe a hint at future leaders. The quota of gay delegates - whether it met the 'targets' or not - will be irrelevant. The only thing that will be telling is if someone goes off script and says what he/she really thinks in prime time and lets his/her contempt really rip. Otherwise, frankly, we will glean nothing about what Barack Obama will do as President -- on gay rights or anything else. (That is, unless he decides to give a speech that says something important rather than is delivered importantly.)
Beyond the Denver masquerade party, it must be noted that it's been Democrats who've been most of the real champions on gay rights wherever we've made progress. These individuals and local parties have been limited mostly to scattered municipalities and some states holding the largest cities-- mostly thanks to openly gay elected Democrats who truly understand and care about these issues, and represent concentrated gay constituencies. Occasionally, we've seen Barney Frank or Ted Kennedy have their moment to shine (sadly not often enough, and rarely with success under Democratic rule). Also, the state Democratic Party of California must get a major tip of the hat for its tremendous courage on gay issues. They really have delivered in ways no other Democrats in the nation can claim to have. One only wishes California's Democrats were so evolved on fiscal matters, but alas.
But the truth is that the national Democratic Party never cared all that much about gay rights, nor does it today. To them, it's a money-maker, a loyalty builder in urban areas, and useful so long as the Republicans are as hateful and loathsome on the issue as is humanly possible. This attitude will not cut mustard in 2008, however. The bar on gay issues has been raised so high in comparison to every preceding year, particularly with gay marriage breaking out in California, that both parties seem befuddled at how to keep pace. The national Democrats know that if they back specifically-gay families, they are getting behind gay marriage, no two-ways about it. That means real policy changes. So they got out the eraser.
And we need only to look at the fact that the Democratic Congress, led by a Speaker from San Francisco no less, has done jack-shit on gay rights since it came to power after a decade of exuberant promises of "fighting 'til hell freezes over, and then fighting on the ice" for gay Americans. It was bullshit then, and it's bullshit now. It's a party led by Chairman Howard Dean, who had no trouble apparently breaking the very employment protection laws which his party claims to be the champion of, in firing openly-gay Donald Hitchcock from his staff. And the real contempt he and many of his senior staff hold for the gay community outside their little hack-ghetto has been uncovered by subpoena. No surprise.
The Republicans are a whole other animal, of course (and I'll get to them on Friday). But this notion that the Democratic Party would care more for our issues if it had littered its platform with every rainbow letter in the alphabet is a joke. They never cared, and they won't start caring now, and what the party hacks think about this issue is really not the point anymore. The onus is on the gay Democratic leaders (self-appointed or otherwise) and Democratic-aligned organizations like the Human Rights Campaign to tell us exactly what they are going to push for in an Obama presidency (no cute versions of Nixon's secret plans and promises, to be revealed after the election), how they are going to hold Obama to their goals, and how they, Obama and a Democratic Congress will accomplish those goals together. That will take humility at admitting the limits they face, and it will mean being held accountable should they fall short.
I'm still waiting to hear, and I doubt such talk will surface meaningfully in Denver. Let's hope sometime before Election Day.
(NOTE: On Friday, The Republicans. Photo from The Simpsons (Fox))
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