Friday, July 30, 2004

Convention Diary – Thursday, July 29

The Faithful Correspondent files her last report on her adventure as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention from the comfort of home.

I’ve mentioned, as have all the publications, how coddled the Ohio Delegation has been all week. How lucky Dad and I have been to have fallen into politics in Ohio this year of all years. We have been told that “Ohio is the ethnic and economic barometer of the nation” – a Bill Richardson quote. The climax of our exhalted treatment came yesterday at the final morning breakfast-caucus where it became even more obvious that we as a group were being placed in the role, not as those whom one wants to favor, but as those from whom one wants a favor. We got the whole nine yards in terms of celebrity attention. The breakfast was sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Industry Management Association/Ohio AFL-CIO and a speaker was making his pitch as Dad and I got to the table, plates loaded with sticky buns, bacon, fruit, scrambled eggs, (passed on the pancakes and syrup). Several other noted Ohio Party officials spoke: the new chairman, Denny White, and Rep. Sherrod Brown from Lorain, while we downed our breakfast, plates clattered, waitresses passed coffee, diners chatted companionably in not-hushed tones. But the pep rally was only beginning.

Up rose Richard C. Holbrooke. I stopped eating immediately to listen and take notes of his words. I’ve admired him since Bosnia and beyond, and I love his soft-but-authoritative delivery. First he says, “I love Dayton”. He loves Dayton because of the time he and his band of negotiators spent those many weeks there, forming the truce that stopped the murderous fighting between the Serbs and the Bosnians. Wright-Patterson AFB was the ostensible reason why the town was chosen, but it was Dayton that formed the healing atmosphere. And he says that although the Serbians involved in the negotiations were, as he put it, thugs and murderers, Dayton treated all with kindness and respect. He says the town became a living metaphor for peace and the striving for it that took place there. People of all ethnic origins from all over the state – and, indeed, from all over the country – came to demonstrate and pray for peace. “A Dayton” has entered the language in the diplomatic corps – as in, “why can’t we do a Dayton?” It showed the world how all kinds of people live together in America.

He notes that Diana Kerry, one of John’s two sisters, is present and that she’s an experienced translator; the other sister, Peggy, works at the UN for Holbrooke. We had met Peggy at the Planned Parenthood reception Sunday night. She cares deeply about this administration’s performances at the Cairo and other internation conferences on women’s health and the executive gag rules.

Holbrooke says further that the two men, Bush and Kerry, have entirely different approaches to Iraq. John Kerry is a true internationalist. Bush is not. Kerry is the son of a diplomat, raised abroad, and knows foreign cultures. He volunteered three times: first for the navy, then to go to Viet Nam, then to Swift Boat duty. He chose the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (not a good career move according to his advisors). He KNOWS foreign countries. He has the respect of the world. An example: Ireland loves America – there are 45 million Irish Americans, after all. They cheered Ronald Reagan when he visited, they cheered Bill Clinton, but they BOOED George W. Bush. Bush had to travel around in a bubble for security reasons but also to shelter him from the hostile crowds. Holbrooke says that four more years of this and Americans living abroad will have security worries and companies will lose business. The unknowns in the coming weeks are, as we all know, are: 1) if they capture Bin Laden, 2) if there’s another attack on our country, and 3) Iraq. We are not safer now than we were before Iraq. Our cities’ and ports’ vulnerability has grown hugely and still no money is being spent to beef up their security. At the cost of four days in Iraq we could protect, for example, Long Beach where our largest naval facility is located. The administration hasn’t moved to do it. Finally, Holbrooke said, a response to accusations of Kerry flip-flopping should list these (he seems to like to number his thoughts):

1) Sadam’s removal was a legitimate goal, as was the removal of Slobodan Milosovic.

2) Kerry twice supported resolutions to remove Sadam. Holbrooke did as well.

3) Kerry said that the effort to remove him had to be international.

4) Going to war without the Security Council’s support, on the basis of faulty intelligence, was not what Kerry supported. It was a rush to war.

5) Kerry has actually been the one with the steady position as opposed to Bush who has now assumed Kerry’s position. And finally, Mr. Holbrooke says what we all know, “Everyone knows that the winner of Ohio will be the next president of the United States.”

Next to speak was Diana Kerry, the youngest of the two sisters. She tells us she was actually born in Dayton. She has degrees in history, education and theater. She was a translator at the Munich Olympics and taught for 15 years in an Indonesian school. She is now an enrichment teacher in Boston inner city schools. She tells us that until three years ago Indonesia was 85% in approval of the USA.. Now, thanks to Bush, only 15% are in favor of us.

She wants to tell us about her brother inasmuch as we are told people “don’t know who John Kerry is”. She says he has a host of loyal friends, loyal staffers who say to her “where your brother leads, I will follow”. John has been a man of integrity; has demanded accountability in government – he was part of the Iran-Contra investigation, for example. “He will always tell the truth to the American people”. Diana is now working to get the 5million overseas residents to register and vote. It is her ambition to get, not just a margin of victory, but a HUGE margin of Democratic Party victory. We can do it!

Dennis Kucinich races through his “Ohio makes a difference!” speech, barely pausing for breath. More cheerleading comes from Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, from Cleveland, who gives (shouts?) a speech that brings us to our feet, pounding the tables. She says, forget about those so-called swing voters, our mission is to turn out our base! Labor is the base of the Democratic party. She makes us all raise our right hands and pledge to pound the pavement to get the job done. We laugh at ourselves, but no one keeps his hand at his side and we all swear to obey.

Stephanie is followed by former Senator John Glenn, the most revered member of the delegation. John tells us that the two political parties haven taken a total role reversal. The Democrats used to be accused of incurring big debts, of too big a government and of too much foreign involvement. We have unnecessarily put our children to repaying our debts. He says that Margaret Thatcher, when she wanted to tackle the debt in Britain, eliminated whole specific programs and departments. THEN she cut taxes. We have runaway budgets and deficits . . . this is not conservatism. Senator Glenn tells us that what truly impressed him on Wednesday night was the sight of the former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs all lined up on the stage. Normally they are not political and to have them “come out” in public and commit as they did is extraordinary. He is angry that national guardsmen are going back for their second tour of duty. He says that Schwartzkopf had 540,000 troups in the Gulf War. You must have overwhelming force so that you will have enough manpower to control the country after the fighting stops. Republicans who vote according to their conscience – not those who vote the party line only – will have to think about whether they feel they got what they voted for. I stop after the breakfast to speak to Annie Glenn at the back of the room. I remind her of a small meeting held in Perrysburg when John was campaigning for Carter/Mondale. The event was so intimate that I’ve always felt as though I knew Annie Glenn. She remembered the local Holiday Inn and its woman manager. We had a good long talk and laughed about trying to exit the Fleet Center the night before.

The piece de resistance, for whom we’d been kept in our chairs, was John Edwards. Looking cheery and rested (!) he bounded onto the stage, said a few rousing words of encouragement – “Ohio is Ground Zero in this election”, “We NEED you!”, “We, John and I, will work hard and our wives will as well, but YOU HAVE TO HELP US…” Then, like Jolly Old Saint Nick, he disappeared through a back exit.

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The evening began at 4:00 for me. I understood that if the crowds were thick Wednesday night, they would be solid wall-to-wall bodies on this last night. No chance for Dad to get a guest pass, no chance for me to find a seat unless I got there before 4:45. Which I did. Again I was on the aisle some 7 rows back from the stage. I was armed with a packet of Oreos and a bottle of Dasani as well as one of the three canvas bags that came as favors from the mayor of Boston or a candidate over the past four days. I put a newspaper in it, my crossword puzzle and left enough room for whatever sign or goodie would come my way over the evening. Behind me was the same gent from Washington state I’d sat in front of the night before. I was in one of the last two or three Ohio seats and and we shared the row with Washington. Beside me was a woman who was a delegate from the Native American community in La Conner WA, the Swinomish Tribe. She had beautiful, taut cafe au lait skin and was wearing a beaded fetish necklace. A reporter from King County’s webblog was interviewing her and getting an update on the Native American Caucus that had taken place earlier in the week. Governors from AZ, NM, OK, MT, SD, and AK attended as did Mark Udall, Sen. Patty Murray and Patrick Kennedy. The governors of New Mexico and South Dakota told the caucus that they wouldn’t have been elected if it weren’t for the Native American vote. “Maria Cantwell will come when she needs to be reelected”, said Lona Wilbur, the delegate.

I haven’t space to repeat what everyone has seen on TV (if you watch Jim Lehrer or C-SPAN, that is), but I do want to end my assignment for the week by mentioning some of the speakers who might not have been seen, who impressed me and who left me with quotable quotes. Kwiesi Mfume: “Before we say anything about protecting Democracy in Baghdad, let’s be sure we have Democracy at home.” A not-so-guarded reference to Florida and the less publicized discrimination of Native Americans trying to vote in South Dakota. Barney Frank: “Yes, there’s a Gay Agenda and it consists of wanting to be able to fight for our country, to be able to find work without fear of firing when our private lives are examined, of being able to marry the person we love. We think Ralph Nader trivializes our (GLBT) lives when he says there is no difference between the two parties . . . there’s a huge difference if only on the basis of the Republican Party’s treatment of us”. And, finally: “On behalf of the Stonewall Democrats I’m proud to put our support behind the candidacy of John Kerry and John Edwards.” Mark Warner: “Believe me Virginia is in play. I was told when I ran it couldn’t be done, but Democrats can win Virginia if all of you work. Virginia has wandered in the Republican desert for 40 years and this Bush can’t lead them to the promised land.” Joe Biden: “Imagine if our president had reached out, after 9/11 when Paris Match and other French papers wrote “we are all Americans now”, and asked that they join us in a joint effort to destroy the terrorists. Imagine if we’d all been asked to conserve energy in a program to free us from dependence on foreign oil and to start a program of national conscription. He squandered that momentary opportunity. It’s only leadership if someone follows – and no one is following.” Wes Clark: “Anyone who tells you that one party has a lock on the defense of our nation is committing a fraud. Repetition of a lie does not make it true.”

As all the speakers – dozens – were leading us up to the final moments of the evening, CBS, NBC and CNN had their reporters squatting/kneeling sweatily in the aisle next to me. Yes, Terri Wallace sweats. It must be the most frustrating work. The cameras weigh 40 pounds (I asked) and the crew is in constant contact with the invisible voice in the booth above (except when they’re not and, like children lost in Toys ‘R’ Us, panic ensues – are you there? can you hear me?). It’s wait wait wait – call the booth – wait wait wait. And finally, arise after an hour of squatting in order to not block our view, move on. I never actually saw them speak into the ice cream cone of a black mike they clutched at the ready. Oh well.

And finally for me: Ah, yes, the daughters were beautiful, poised, funny and marvelous. I pulled out a kleenex and dabbed my eyes. And Max Cleland was perfectly wonderful, particularly when he said that Kerry’s active protesting the war spoke for him when he was depressed and broken, told him that John Kerry was “my brother before I knew him”. (I wept, I blew my nose.) And then my John Kerry strode onto the stage and hit a home run. He blew away the eager audience and Teresa as well, who seemed to faint in joy against the shoulder of John Edwards as Kerry paid loving tribute to her. If people needed to see the “real” side of John Kerry, or John Kerry’s ability to show joy and warmth, they couldn’t have asked for more. I also thought he showed a tough side and a practical side. I will be perfectly happy to have him as the president of my United States.

I made my exit before the balloons came down.

Thanks, Mom. You made me very proud, and I am humbled to be your Loyal Scrivener.