Column for 6 April, 2008
“’I have seen these people,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘and they are a stiff-necked people.’”
Last Saturday, live at the Don Smith Performing Arts Center in beautiful Cleburne, Texas, unreported by the media, a remarkable thing happened: the Johnson County Democratic Party had a record turnout for the county convention and everything went pretty smoothly, all things considered. Now, bear in mind that “smoothly” for Democrats usually means “no fist fights and no one called the cops,” but still, after the mainstream media widely predicted “Chaos in Texas,” the convention went off, again for Democrats, like a well-oiled machine. Typically, trying to organize notoriously ornery Texas Democrats is akin to trying to herd cats with a fire hose. Put any two Democrats, like any two Southern Baptists, in the same room together and they will instantly split into at least three factions. On Saturday, delegates from the precinct conventions began arriving by 8:00AM. A dozen folding tables, all manned by volunteers, registered them and confirmed their credentials. Some of the precincts hadn’t turned in all (or in one memorable case, any) of their information; these folks were all referred to the Credentials Committee, where all the hitches were more or less ironed out. True, there were several hours of waiting around while the committees figured out how many delegates had signed in for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, but any well-attended political convention tends to involve a lot of “hurry up and wait.” As it developed, Clinton carried Johnson County by about 70% to Obama’s 30%. Contrary to expectations, most of the new faces (and the overwhelming majority of the delegates had never before attended a county convention) were there for Clinton, though there were of course some motivated by Obama as well. Fears of a Republican takeover at the behest of Rush “Oxycontin” Limbaugh seem to have been groundless. A major newspaper from the urban colossus to our north and east analyzed the statewide vote to see how many voters had merely checked off their presidential preference and ignored the rest of the ballot, on the theory that Republican infiltrators would be unlikely to care about the nominee for Court of Criminal Appeals or Railroad Commission. More than 80% of voters in counties heavily carried by Clinton went on to vote in the US Senate race; only 71% of the voters in the counties heavily carried by Obama did likewise. This suggests that Obama voters, who tend to skew younger than average, were motivated mostly by him and not a general enthusiasm for the Democratic Party as a whole; this also suggests that Rick Noriega has his work cut out for him in persuading these new voters to pay attention to his race against the singularly inept John Cornyn in November. And it suggests that Rush, Ann Coulter and all the rest of the Right Wing Howler Monkey Media Chorus (RWHMMC) have absolutely no influence on the electoral process whatsoever, if they ever did in the first place. For some unknown reason, I was chosen as permanent chairman of the convention. The difficult work was in choosing delegates to the June 5 State Democratic Convention in Austin. In normal years, when Johnson County Democrats could comfortably meet in the backseat of someone’s car, state delegates were whoever bothered to show up. And even then, we usually had to call ten people to fill out our allotment. This year, we had ten people for every delegate slot. After some intense wrangling in the precincts, 36 delegates and 36 alternates were duly selected and a handful of resolutions, dealing with topics from embryonic stem-cell research to the Iraq War, were debated and passed. The whole thing was over by 4:00PM, thanks to the convention defeating a motion to break for lunch. Sure, that seems like a long time but remember, these are Democrats we’re talking about; we’ve spent more hours than that arguing about adopting Robert’s Rules of Order. Now, some might ascribe all this political efficiency to my deft skills at the podium, but in all modesty, I have to say it was due to the fact that, some good-natured ribbing aside, there was no conflict between the Clinton and Obama camps. The more hysterical members of the Mainstream Media have been openly predicting disaster, chaos and ruin for the Democrats in November if the primary season goes on even one day more. I disagree. First, let’s put some things in perspective; hyperbole from both camps aside, this is not, I repeat not, the nastiest political fight in Democratic Party history. Not even close. You want nasty? Mister, I worked on the 1990 Ann Richards/Mark White/Jim Mattox primary. Compared to that, this is an election for president of the chess club. That’s another reason I don’t buy polls saying up to a quarter of Obama or Clinton supporters would vote for John McCain if their candidate doesn’t get the nomination. Hogwash. Second, consider what the situation would be like if Obama or Clinton had wrapped up the nomination months ago, the way it usually works. No one would care about the Texas primary, or the Ohio or Pennsylvania primaries, either. All those millions of new Democrats wouldn’t be brought into the process until the Fall, if ever. Third, by pounding on each other, Clinton and Obama are leveling criticisms that would otherwise not have come out until sprung on an unsuspecting public by Karl Rove. For Obama supporters, when would you prefer the Jeremiah Wright story to have emerged? Now? Or August? For Clinton supporters, when would you rather have had her make that embarrassing comment about dodging snipers in Bosnia? Fourth, while John McCain is certainly popular on a personal level, he has leeched himself onto the most unpopular President since Richard Nixon and the most unpopular policies of that unpopular President. While large majorities of Americans say the country is on the wrong track and they want a President who will go in a different direction, McCain is promising a third term for George W. Bush, only worse. As one Republican put it, McCain offers more war and less jobs. In many respects, he threatens to out-Bush Bush, stating he will keep troops in Iraq for a hundred years and tastelessly joking about “bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb”-ing Iran, when he isn’t making howling gaffes on foreign policy, his supposed strong suite. On the domestic front, McCain is busily running away from his own immigration bill and proposing to do absolutely nothing about the deepening economic slump. So, no, the sky is not falling. The Democrats haven’t blown it. Not yet anyway. And it was a great convention.