Saturday, August 30, 2008

There have been two Democratic National Conventions here in Denve. The first one was the official convention, which had a sole purpose: to sell Barack Obama, not as a different kind of Democrat, but as a red-white-and-blue everyman. Mr. Middle America.

The speakers Monday night downplayed the accomplishments and uniqueness of Barack and Michelle Obama by highlighting what makes them like an average family. Michelle Obama’s brother, Craig Robinson, introduced his sister as a woman who wouldn’t be on the campaign trail if her mother couldn’t watch the two daughters.

For her part, Michelle Obama told the convention that “what struck me when I first met Barack was that even though he had this funny name, and even though he had grown up all the way across the continent in Hawaii, his family was so much like mine.” That is ludicrous - not so much because he was raised by a white mother and white grandparents, but because he grew up acutely aware that his father had abandoned him.

Read Joshua Green’s piece in September’s the Atlantic on the strategies debated by advisers to Hillary Rodham Clinton, and you understand this convention. As Clinton pollster/guru Mark Penn argued, Mr. Obama is “unelectable” because of his “lack of American roots.”

“Every speech should contain the line you were born in the middle of America to the middle class in the middle of the last century,” Mr. Penn told Mrs. Clinton in a strategy memo. Team Obama has ripped a page from that strategy, and you hear it echo wherever you go. At this convention, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Illinois Democrat, announced, “Illinois is America.”

In a similar vein, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters, “Joe Biden is the all-American boy.” Pay attention: Democrats want you to know they are Middle America, not that they know what is best for Middle America.

This is a convention of progress: It shows an America in which black and white Americans don’t live in different worlds, and share the same values.

This convention also represents progress for the Democratic Party, which for years now has been the organ of identity politics. The old Democratic Party emphasized differences and grievances. It was the party that has been quick to see racism and quick to cry foul.

That old party is the party of the under convention in Denver - the convention of Hillary Clinton supporters, who felt betrayed by Mr. Obama’s nomination. They complain that Obama staffers haven’t courted them - they never call. Some of them were big wheels in the Clinton machine. Others were committed believers. None of them likes being treated as if they are yesterday’s news.

The hard-core Hillary faithful at this under convention think Mr. Obama can’t win. Despite their liberal leanings, some are so angry that deep down they just want him to lose.

It must gall them to see that in winning, Obamaphiles transcend identity. The Hillary brigade knows that if Mr. Obama loses, his supporters will return to the fold of identity politics. They will say Mr. Obama lost because he is black - yes, even some of the Obama supporters who now scoff at Hillary supporters who believe she lost because of her gender.

I talked to a number of women attending the convention who straddled both worlds. They supported Mr. Obama, but identified with the laments of Hillary’s femmes fatales. They believe the news coverage was sexist, but they want Mr. Obama to win in November.

No doubt they were heartened when Mrs. Clinton appealed to her supporters, saying, “I want you to ask yourselves: Were you in the campaign just for me?”

Debra Rosen of New Mexico told me Mrs. Clinton will have to work for an Obama victory - or risk the wrath of her New York constituents.

Some believe that the media have overplayed the Obama-Clinton rift. Only time will tell if she is right.

Debra J. Saunders is a nationally syndicated columnist.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide