Column for 15 June, 2008
“Give me wisdom and knowledge that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of Yours?”
--2 Chronicles 1:10
Every two years, the bizarre, unwieldy, contradictory barking mess that is the Texas Democratic Party comes together for a weekend of barely-controlled chaos that is referred to rather hopefully as a “convention.” This year, buoyed by the unprecedented turnout for the presidential primary, some 14,000 delegates, alternates and guests descended on Austin’s Convention Center, which let me just begin by saying is absolutely the worst venue I have ever endured. It’s gigantic, the size of a zeppelin hangar, but laid out in a weird labyrinth color-coded maze of the sort that normally features cheese at the end. There are several banks of elevators, but none of them go to all the floors. Unaccountably, some genius had switched off the escalators, forcing hundreds of delegates to gingerly clamber up and down like an assault on Mount Everest. In order to get to the Native American Caucus, I literally had to climb up the fire escape; I was afraid I would have to rappel down. Only a couple of small double-door entrances were available to the main hall, so getting people in and out was reminiscent of stampeding for the lifeboats on the Titanic. Because of the huge number of people, entrance to the floor had to be strictly limited to those with credentials; otherwise the fire marshal would’ve shut the place down. Ironically, on Saturday just before the voting got underway in earnest, someone pulled a fire alarm and the entire building had to be evacuated. We all jammed the sidewalks, sweltering in the heat and rubbing elbows with the omnipresent Ron Paul and Lyndon LaRouche followers passing out flyers emblazoned with their preferred candidate’s favorite brand of paranoia. By the time everyone got out, the all-clear was given and we dutifully trooped back in. Several people asked if Tom DeLay had an alibi, a joke that is less funny in retrospect after fire gutted the magnificent old mansion that has housed Governors both great (Sam Houston) and pathetic (Rick Perry) for a century-and-a-half. For reasons still unclear to me, I was unanimously elected as chair of our senate district caucus, the kind of thankless job often bestowed on the gullible or those foolish enough to miss a meeting. Senate District 22 was divided almost exactly evenly between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton delegates, but for the most part, things went relatively smoothly. Well, smoothly for Democrats, anyway. Democrats are a lot like Southern Baptists; you can’t put more than two of them in the same room together without them splitting into at least three factions. So, of course, we did have some “drama,” as the kids say, but compared to most of the other senate districts (some of whom were at it past three in the morning), we were a machine of efficiency. Overall, I detected little of the bitterness and rancor the mainstream media has insisted exists between the Obama and Clinton camps. The Clinton delegates were, understandably, heartbroken, and this was only exacerbated by the technical gremlins that kept disrupting the satellite feed of Senator Clinton’s thoughtful and gracious concession speech. There was one delegate, described by a commenter on my blog as a “modern day Jeremiah,” carrying a sign that read, “Religious, gun-owning rural Democrat still bitter over Obama.” And it would be fair to say that several Clinton delegates grumbled that the Obama camp was too enthusiastic in their victory. Anytime you have a situation that requires one side to be generous winners and the other side to be gracious losers, it’s certain that there will be hurt feelings and bruised egos. This was amplified by the huge number of first-time convention-goers and a lack of organization and foresight by the two Presidential campaigns. Once it was clear there wasn’t going to be a fight, it seemed as though both campaigns, but particularly Obama’s, just wrote the whole event off. Senator Clinton sent Chelsea, who was wildly and enthusiastically received; Obama sent Tim Kaine, a governor virtually no one had ever heard of who delivered a speech about as exciting as cooling oatmeal. Of course, at the time the convention was being organized, no one had any way of knowing that it would occur literally at the same time the Democratic presidential race was ending; still, a little effort could’ve gone a long way to promoting the sense of unity that both Clinton and Obama are calling for. For example, if I was in charge of the Obama delegates, I would’ve arranged for a sustained demonstration saluting Hillary Clinton. I think that would’ve been very well received as a gesture of affection and respect. Water under the bridge now. It is possible, though unlikely, that by the time you read this Barack Obama will have announced his running mate. I will predict that whoever it is, it will not be Hillary Clinton, for a couple of reasons, the most important of which being that Hillary Clinton would have to give up far too much power to be vice president. It’s far more likely that she will become Senate Majority Leader, a welcome change from the often feckless Harry Reid. It also seems likely that a President Obama would name her to the first vacancy on the Supreme Court. As for Texas, I think it’s also likely that Obama will campaign here, not because he’s too terribly likely to actually carry the state, but to boost the chances of Democrats like senate candidate Rick Noriega (who is either breathing down John Cornyn’s neck or way behind depending on which Rasmussen poll you believe) and to make the morally and fiscally bankrupt Republicans sweat and spend money here that they would otherwise use in battleground states like Ohio and Michigan. So, are the Democrats “unified”? Well, sure; I mean, for Democrats. You have to keep in mind that Democrats have never and will never achieve the sort of ideological rigidity that has reduced the Republic Party to the sort of brainless cheering minions one often sees at rallies for Robert Mugabe or Hugo Chavez. If the GOP is a group of disparate interests united by fear (of communists, uppity women, brown people, homosexuals and the Enlightenment), then the Democratic Party is best understood as a (very) loose coalition of wildly divergent interests only vaguely united by a sense of outrage, less a electoral guided missile than a stampede or an avalanche; powerful only when pointed in the right direction, an often impossible task. If Barack Obama can use his undeniable powers of charm and persuasion to hold together his own party, then he will be the next President of the United States.