I ran into a local progressive (whose identity I'll protect, for reasons that will become clear) at the video rental place last night. I kidded 'Citizen X' "aren't you watching the Democratic convention?" He said that since it was day one, it wasn't so important to watch and if the Democrats run the White House the way they were running the Congress, he was done with party politics. I hear you, brother. When you count the victories that the Democrats have had since 2006, it does seem relatively paltry, but then again, George Bush still is the president and there are not a majority of Democrats in the senate.
Still, after I got home, I tuned into the convention in time to hear Senate legend Ted Kennedy, first-spouse-in waiting, Michelle Obama, Minnesota Senator Amy Kolbuchar, former Iowa Rep. (R) Jim Leach, and Missouri Senator, Claire McCaskill speak. Admittedly I am a sucker for conventions, for the same reason that I love reading vision statements, they bring the best out in people.
I can't imagine anyone who wasn't moved by Ken Burns' filmed tribute and Caroline Kennedy's introduction for her "Uncle Teddy," but the presence of the senior senator and the holder of the Kennedy legacy was quite moving. Having seen him champion his party and the causes such as health care as a right, not a privilege for many years, it was nevertheless inspiring to hear him address his fellow Dems with his words:
"For me, this is a season of hope," he said. "New hope - and this is the cause of my life - new hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American - north, south, east, and west, young and old - will have decent, quality, affordable healthcare as a fundamental right and not a privilege.
"The torch will be passed again to a generation of Americans," Kennedy said, his voice straining slightly, echoing the era of his late brother's presidency, cut short by assassination in 1963. "The work begins anew. The hope rises again, and the dream lives on."
Then to hear Michelle Obama speak so very eloquently about her husband with the "funny name" and her own story and her values and beliefs:
"All of us driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won't do — that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be.
That is the thread that connects our hearts. That is the thread that runs through my journey and Barack's journey and so many other improbable journeys that have brought us here tonight, where the current of history meets this new tide of hope."
For me, the star of the evening was Jim Leach, whose seat our own Dave Loebsack now holds. There is nothing more compelling than a convert speaking on behalf of an "across-the-aisler" to stir the coals. Leach, who has always been an internationalist, recognized that Obama is the best candidate to get the U.S. back on solid ground in the world community and that his own party has fallen away from its heritage:
"In troubled times, it was understood that country comes before party, that in perilous moments mutual concern for the national interest must be the only factor in political judgments. This does not mean that debate within and between the political parties should not be vibrant. Yet what frustrates so many citizens is the lack of bipartisanship in Washington and the way today's Republican Party has broken with its conservative heritage.
The party that once emphasized individual rights has gravitated in recent years toward regulating values. The party of military responsibility has taken us to war with a country that did not attack us. The party that formerly led the world in arms control has moved to undercut treaties crucial to the defense of the earth. The party that prides itself on conservation has abdicated its responsibilities in the face of global warming. And the party historically anchored in fiscal restraint has nearly doubled the national debt, squandering our precious resources in an undisciplined and unprecedented effort to finance a war with tax cuts."
Political conventions allow politicians to simultaneously let their hair down and get their dander up. It is a place where dichotomies reign supreme. Where else can you go to a event sponsored by lobbyists and roundly beat them about the head on the convention floor?
This may be part of the frustration that my friend was alluding to at the video store. Without recognizing the the very nature of party politics, to game the system as it were, how can we hope to have a more perfect union...particularly at the relative snail's pace it takes to get there?