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inspiration and insurrection :: fun times with the dnc

and now for something completely different
i think that there should be some sort of rule that says that once both american political parties have had their pre-election conventions, no one is allowed to talk about politics for a week. no one at all. we should all just be forced to sit back, breathe, reflect on what we've seen [if we absolutely must] and then, seven days after the final balloon has been popped, we can once again start speaking and, undoubtedly, arguing, about what we've just seen. i feel like that's the only sane response to the insanity that is the pre-electoral nomination convention of an american political party, because, without that, we might start to think it was acceptable to go around shouting "u!s!a!" every time we felt even slightly good about something. and we should never, ever feel that way.

but until that law is enacted, i'm going to do the same damn thing that everyone else with an interest in politics does and keep right on talking until i run out of oxygen and my fingers fall off.

four days in philly with the democratic party had a decidedly different feel than the republican shindig in cleveland a week earlier. i don't mean just the messages flowing from the podia, either, but just the way that things were organised, or not organised. republican nominee donald trump had said that he normally found conventions boring and that he wanted to make this one a little more wild, to bring a little of that atlantic city glitz to the proceedings. instead, it looked like the parts of atlantic city left holding the proverbial bag after trump declared bankruptcy and ran off in a cloud of other people's money.

by contrast, the democrats put on a show. unlike their conservative counterparts, the dems ran a tight ship, making sure that each night had a clear theme and built to a crescendo at the peak of their primetime programming. where the republicans had scott baio [a living metaphor for the dissolution of reagan-era optimism], the democrats had sarah silverman. the republicans booked third eye blind only to find the band had booked the gig just to mock them, while the democrats confidently booked katy perry.

whatever one's opinion on the politics espoused or the candidate selected, the dmc was a slick production. whereas the rnc got blindsided by melania trump's plagiarised speech and ted cruz's non-endorsement, the democrats waded through days of heckling and fractious infighting, and yet somehow, despite protesters blocking the entrances, or booing the speakers, or wearing tape over their mouths to show how they were being silenced, the headlines the next day were always about the speeches, the speakers and the elements that the behind the scenes wizards wanted you to see. a lot of people would probably argue that that's a result of press bias towards the higher neoliberal echelons of the democratic party, and there's probably something to that. but if a disaster had occurred, it would have been in the news. if anything, outlets like cnn and msnbc were more restrained in their evaluation of the convention than a lot of republicans. i doubt those opinions will mean anything to trump supporters, but they might mean a lot to independent voters.

but the effect on voters is something that we'll have to put off until another time. for now, as i did last week for the republicans, i've put together a little list of winners and losers from the dnc:

losers ::

bernie or busters :: many of us went into the convention proud of what senator sanders had accomplished and eager to see him continue to exert influence over the coming elections and over the democratic party. already, he's affected the party platform [the usefulness of which will be seen in the future], drawn young people into the fold, made financial reform enough of a topic that candidate clinton said in her speech that she would pursue a constitutional amendment if necessary to overturn citizens united. and sanders' supporters have grounds to be pissed off, in the wake of the democratic party email hack. it may not have cost them the election, but it's more than enough to raise suspicions. so the protests and walkout that took place are understandable.

what wasn't understandable was the vitriol directed at everyone, including sanders himself. being disappointed is one thing, throwing a tantrum in a convention where you can't possibly change anything is quite another. sanders was booed. elizabeth warren was booed. leon panetta was booed. but even that might be understandable [although rude]. what was truly risible was the protesters insistence on booing the non-politician speakers, who were undeserving of any of that criticism. shouting anti-war slogans during the speech of a former soldier, a high school track champion, who lost both his legs saving several of his comrades [american and afghani] by tackling a man with a suicide vest isn't brave, it's sick.

rather than accepting the result, retrenching and focusing on down-ballot candidates across the country [which is how you build a grassroots movement to begin with], the hardcore sandernistas spent the week showing everyone that they cared about nothing but the presidency. they've done a lot of damage to their movement.

elizabeth warren :: aside from the fact that the parliamentarian who's done the most to hold big finance responsible for its messes was taunted with chants of "you sold out" and "goldman sachs" for supporting mrs. clinton, the senator had the misfortune to speak right after michelle obama. she isn't tremendously diminished by the whole affair, but she isn't quite the hot ticket she was just a little while back. here's hoping she'll rebound quickly.

donald trump :: there is no doubt that, after a decidedly mixed convention last week [although one that still gave him a little bump in the polls], the republican candidate was hit big time. and while the democrats undoubtedly had worked long and hard at honing their arguments against him, they could never have anticipated receiving a priceless gift from the man himself:

i alone can fix it

i'm not sure if that line in trump's acceptance speech was the product of a misguided speechwriter or a suggestion by the man himself, but it was the cherry on the cake of the democratic case that trump was a little martinet, dreaming of absolute power rather than public service.

the line was incorporated into numerous speeches at the democratic convention, held up as proof positive of trump's autocratic aspirations.

winners ::

michelle obama :: it's not like we didn't know the first lady was a great speaker [insert line about melania trump plagiarism here], but i don't think any of us knew she was that great. hearing her talk about her anxieties moving her young family into the white house and the life that accompanied it humanized not just the first family, but the office of the presidency itself. these are human beings like everyone else, thrown into a situation that could generously be called alien, people who love and fear for their children and each other. it was a personal reflection and it was also an indirect way of praising hillary clinton, who has been in the political spotlight for decades. likewise, her statement that when "they go low, we go high" was something she embodied with her classy, pointed takedowns of trumpism without ever mentioning him by name. but undoubtedly her most pointed line was aimed at those in her party who were embittered that the progressive wing had once again lost out to the establishment: i wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. at those words, i felt like every heart in the room stopped beating with the force of the revelation. in the time of our grandparents' grandparents, people like barack and michelle obama were property and now they are the president and first lady. it is a long, hard, continuous struggle, but sometimes you look away from the fight, if only for a moment, to appreciate how far you've come.

christianity :: american-style christianity has been the property of the republican party for thirty years and they have used it in the ugliest possible way, stoking hate against homosexuals, transsexuals, women, other religions, the poor, the arts, and to rewrite the history of their own, originally agnostic country. however, the pendulum does seem to be shifting back in the other direction [where it had been in the sixties]. the gentle decency of tim kaine, whose faith propelled him to help the poor in honduras, is like the separation of church and state made flesh: he is a devout catholic with a 100% rating from planned parenthood, something that had liberals so confused, they assumed it was a joke.

after the speech of rev. william barber, i lost count of the number of tweets that started "i'm not even religious, but..." i seriously thought people were going to collapse and start speaking in tongues, such is the power of this man's words. his is a very different breed of southern christianity, one that is all about the new testament and not the rules of leviticus, about jesus being love and how religion must be practiced through generosity, kindness and activism. whatever the usual beliefs of the people in that hall or the people watching on television, for a little over ten minutes on thursday night, there were no atheists in the audience.

islam :: i'm deeply uncomfortable with parading out bereaved family members to make a point at a political convention. even though the family members are often happy to speak, and deserve every moment that they are given, there is always something pornographic about it. the raw, howling grief of patricia smith, whose son died in benghazi, made me feel sick to my stomach last week. even though the dnc did a better job of disguising the exploitativeness at work, it still hovered nearby.

but sometimes, you get a moment so incredible, so real and so jarring that it somehow justifies its means. and never in the history of political parties using the stories of victims of their opponents has there ever been a moment that matched the image of khizr khan, standing with his stoic wife, in front of a larger than life image of their late son, strikingly handsome in his military uniform, brandishing a copy of the u.s. constitution and condemning trump with the words "you sacrificed nothing!"

yes, it may have been planned and choreographed [i'm not sure to what extent], but that doesn't make it fake. khizr khan is as real as it gets and everyone watching him knew it. i felt thrilled to have watched it unfold.

obama/ biden :: yes, i'm combining two, but this list is getting long and i think it's fitting to pair these two, because they have been paired for eight years and because they have made such an uncannily good pair. obama is enigmatic, inspiring, intellectual, while biden is earthy, emotional and relatable. even their speeches struck a perfect balance in taking down president-aspirant trump. biden was all feelings and passion and blaring the sort of patriotism that normally makes my toes curl in embarrassment, but damned if he doesn't pull it off. [and far better than former new york mayor and current crazy old man rudy giuliani.]

biden's words get into your heart, even though you know you're listening to a career politician who's very aware of how these things work. perhaps because it's that his own life has been shaped by losses that would have flattened a lesser person. or perhaps his habit of, as he puts it, meaning everything he says, but sometimes ill-advisedly saying everything he means, allays our fears that what he says is a put-on. running off-script, the vice president leaned on the podium, and asked the audience to really think about what it meant that donald trump enjoys telling people "you're fired", what it meant to take pleasure in delivering devastating news to others, even in the context of a television show. he didn't even need to complete the thought, because everyone listening felt the answer in their guts: you would have to be some kind of monster.

obama doesn't elicit a response from the gut that way. his appeal is in the way he can take words that others use every day and make them into magic. during his speech, i felt like i was developing a weird sort of headache, like the back of my head was just opening up a vent because what i was watching/ hearing was too good. there were too many high points and i felt like i couldn't catch my breath, i couldn't process what i'd heard because there was just more and more and more coming at me.

dovetailing nicely with his wife's speech at the beginning of the convention, obama, in his own humble way, reminded everyone of the progress that has been made and of the threat to even that small amount of progress posed by someone as ungainly and mean-spirited as donald trump. is that fear-mongering? well, yes. but more often than not, obama and others used candidate trump's own words to stoke that fear.

obama also latched on to something that i've been waiting for someone to say for weeks if not longer. everyone is calling him a dictator-in-waiting, but no one has made the obvious point that goes along with that: dictators are antithetical to the idea that americans have of their country. the creation of america as an independent nation can be boiled down to one simple notion: autocratic rulers are bad. americans pride themselves in being fundamentally ungovernable and it should be a travesty for them to consider ceding their treasured independence to a man so clearly bent on restricting freedoms. this is the rhetorical equivalent of calling someone lazy: it generally has the effect of making them desperate to prove you wrong.

hillary clinton :: a bit obvious, sure, but the convention was just four days of win for the woman of the moment. up until now, the democrats have played a dangerous game of responding to donald trump's attacks on clinton's work and her character. but at the convention, a new narrative emerged: that of an extraordinarily hardworking public servant whose greatest accomplishments were unknown, despite her having been in the public eye for three decades. her husband's speech was the apogee of this, when he talked about so many of the things that she had done, while being a full-time political wife and mother. nearly everyone was a little slack-jawed at the litany of accomplishments, and the changes she had inspired on a federal level, back when she was an attorney in little rock. the tragic story of her incredible mother's upbringing, the "undercover" work she took on personally to expose unequal treatment in arkansas schools, even her fight to compensate 9/11 first responders. it should be an issue that, after so many years of seeing her in politics, the public had never heard these stories, but at least they've heard them now. and thus is the narrative of hillary established: no, she is not the natural politician that her husband is, or the inspirational leader that obama is. but she is a worker and she gets things done. she instigates change when it needs to happen.

already, in the two bloody days it's taken me to bang out this post, there have been developments. trump's response to khizr khan may have done him more damage than the speech itself. and now he seems to be trying to back out of debates that were scheduled by an independent body [as they always are] a year ago. the initial polls conducted just after the debate show clinton with a significant bounce among voters in virtually every demographic. there's plenty of time yet, but let's just say that the republicans have more work to do at this point. aside from needing their polling numbers up, they need to strategically flip several states without losing any they currently hold, in order to offset the fact that the democrats hold a huge advantage in the most populous areas of the country.

the prologue has ended. on with the show.


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