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Thursday, August 28, 2008

On Obama's Convention and the Convetion Coverage...mostly lackluster, with one surprising exception

And this was Obama's convention, done his way, and what a convention it was. As political theater and choreography it was perfect, confounding the pundits, and culminating into the greatest political speech I've ever heard in my lifetime, and the greatest political speech since Kennedy's inaugural address. Point by point in logic, in tone, in oration, in rhetoric, this was a perfect speech, it was more perfect that perfect, it was historically transcendent.
Obama's sense of history, of his movement's place in history, turns out to be more than a gimmick after all. He definitely understands his and his movement's place, sees the opportunities that this time presents for this agenda, for, dare I say it, change. He successfully tied together the historical and ideological threads of the Democratic party, which have been for the last three decades frayed, and at times begrudgingly reconciled, and here placed them all together in one common goal. He drew upon larger themes such as the anniversary of women receiving the right to vote and of course of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech." But even on a smaller level, perhaps not noticed by most, except for a few older democrats, he tied in smaller, but nonetheless historic moments as well. By mentioning Hubert Humphrey 60 years after his explosive speech on Civil Rights which tore the democratic party apart, and there were even mentions of William Jennings Bryant. For more recent history he allowed Bob Casey Jr. to speak. Casey, like his late father, vocally opposed to abortion rights, but unlike his father, the son was, this time invited to speak rather than being denied that opportunity. John Kerry, who gave one of the more important and unseen speeches of the convention, I'll get to that in a second, spoke of his experience with Swift Boating, and his friendship with McCain and how he cannot believe what has happened to him over the last few years, including embracing those very people who smeared both Kerry and questioned his heroism in Vietnam, and destroyed McCain's chances in 2000.
All of the speakers built upon each other in a way that could not fully be appreciated until Senator Obama's final speech. Michelle Obama's powerful and personal portrayal of her own life story and her relationship with her husband. Ted Kennedy not only appeared but spoke, being more than a figure head but an expressionistic (the inward displayed outwardly) advocate for the issues he has fought for decades. Hillary Clinton outdid herself both in giving the best speech of her political career, but also playing the heroic and historic role in the political theater that was the roll call. And you could see the mix of raw love and relief on the face of Bill Clinton. No matter what you think of him, watching him listen to his wife's speech, you could see his admiration and love for her. And you could see in his speech, that this was, perhaps for the first time since he left office, his vindication. After the four minute standing ovation, you could see the life and joy of the political process rush into his eyes as he was once again Bill Clinton c. 1995, as he perhaps felt, for the first time since he was president, the praise and admiration and respect he felt that he was being unfairly being denied because of his personal mistakes.
Earlier today, to reflect on the anniversary of that momentous occasion 45 years ago, Rep. John Lewis, the last surviving person who spoke on the stairs of the Lincoln memorial that day, who still bares the scars on his head from being beaten nearly to death on the Edmund Pettis Bridge, spoke.
Tonight, Al Gore made a rare political appearance. And it seemed that he, more than anyone at the convention, now holds the role of being the Patriarch of the democratic party. And he was classic Al Gore, the politician who was too smart for America, and in case you don't believe me look at his speech because you probably missed a lot.
Truly, the sense of history, of tying all of the elements of the democratic party together; the families (The Kennedy's, Clinton's, even the grand-daughter of Republican President Eisenhower spoke), the strands of American progressivism: the transcendental movement embodied in modern form in the governors from the Inter-mountain west states of Wyoming and Montana, and their care for the spirit and wisdom found in the earth. The various types of feminists, the union members, the immigrants, the civil servants, all who have at one time been central to the Democratic party at one time or another given time here in a way I've not seen in any Democratic convention.
And all tied together by one magnificent, historical, monumental speech.
It was not just one speech that made me, perhaps the ultimate cynic, a near-tearful believer, or the way in which Obama orchestrated his message, and orchestrated his convention to present that message, in combination with the way he used all of the elements and parts of the democratic party. There was one more thing left. Something that no politician has done successfully since President Kennedy. And Obama did it tonight. At its heart progressivism is idealistic. But Idealism is hard work, and disillusionment can create long term damage. Obama did not, as many Democratic politicians have done, abandon or water down that idealism one bit. In fact, he elevated it to a place it has not been since FDR. He added a down to earth pragmatism which recognized the difficult realities that democrats too often overlook because they're too hard. Obama called for compromise, personal work, accountability, and responsibility, traits that too often Democrats have been guilty of ignoring, while at times advocating them.
Obama did everything pitch perfect. Here Obama proved that what happens in Denver worked here for political messaging, hitting not just a home run, but crushing a mammoth shot through the thin Denver air and out into the nation.

Other thoughts:
The 24 hour networks came off looking like fools in this. Fox had trouble even trying to look reputable, having instead to make a converted building look like the convention floor, and having Karl Rove give out his 2 cents at the same time John Kerry was ripping into him was a bit awkward. As was milking the McCain veep "news" in split screen during the lead-up to Obama's speech. CNN didn't really seem to know what was going on at times and had its share of technical difficulties. And all three majors talked way too much analyzing the Clinton's speeches, trying to create news holding onto the Clinton-Obama rift which may have never existed as they portrayed it with their dying breaths, and complaining about the lack of "red meat" while they were talking over the very speeches which contained the most explosive attacks. They missed a literal stage full of retired generals who had some harsh words for McCain as well as the harshest words I think I heard from anyone at the convention from the most unlikely source, the often bland and church-mouse-like Harry Reid. They missed impassioned speeches by John Kerry, Patrick Murphy, and a moving speech by war hero Tammy Duckworth. All of this would have given the pundits the material they were talking about wanting, had they shut up and listened. Then again, they're pundits, and if they did that they'd be out of a job.Yet, we'd have a working fourth-estate...
But the worst coverage goes to MSNBC. From their ill-fated choice to broadcast outdoors, and from what looked like quite a distance from the convention, I mean seriously were they in Colorado Springs?. Not only did that give Chris Matthew's hair a wild ride, and show a bit of a comb over, but it also lent itself to long periods of time, most notably a David Gregory interview with Al Sharpton that you couldn't hear because some guy was shouting over a megaphone a few feet away. And there was the memorable moment of Ralph Nader calling Dan Abrams "Adam" during an interview, aperantly because he said that's who the PA said was doing the interview. And all of this when they weren't infighting, be it Olbermann and Scarburough, Scarburough and Schuster (who looked really ready to go at it), or Pat Buchanan and anybody.
Me, I watched CSPAN. Just the raw live-feed, and besides poorly dancing 50 something delegates in unfortunate hats are a guilty pleasure of mine. That and TVOne. TVONE, you may ask? What's a TV ONE? Well, its the black channel that doesn't perpetuate negative and self-defeating stereotypes (*cough* BET). Who had one of the wisest men in America, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson as their host, and who showed mostly the raw feed. And while it had a few kinks, it was quite compelling for me as a journalist who left the profession quite early in disillusionment. And I didn't want to miss their "after party" to see some really enjoyable round tables, interviews, and historic TV, even in place of watching the Daily Show, yes it was that refreshing. But historic? It's one thing to have an African-American presidential candidate. But here were African American community leaders, commentators, comedians (who often are also the first two), musicians (Chuck D laid down some truth people!) and radio hosts. It was must see TV because here were African Americans telling their story. Not 'his' story, where you have a bunch of white guys and whatever Soledad O'Brien is ( I kid, I kid) awkwardly trying to talk about race, but not really talking about it, or not having the wealth of experience that these other journalists have. Because its one thing for minorities to make news, but another important step is for minorities to cover news. Journalists are the first scribes of history, someone once said, and this time African Americans both made and wrote their history, and it was a beautiful thing to see.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i just read your comment about the convention and I am so grateful at your accurate assessment of the grandure of Obamas speech, We really have criminal control of our news media whether its opinion pieces or MSNBC live coverage. Its friday and the entire media machine successfully suppressed the after shocks of the Obamas olympic and historic record gold medal speech as another political event thats passee to the stupid but sadly successful 'breaking news' of Mcain's VP who he only met once previously.
I happen to watch the convention coverage from Tim Kaines speech on , discusted that its not on network tv and could have easily missed one of the most historicly significant speech ill probably witness in my lifetime.