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Thoughts On The Convention

I write from Telluride, Colorado where I arrived just before Barack  
Obama began to deliver his convention address.  Of course, I watched  
it and, more importantly, heard it.  That is, I heard one of
the most artfully crafted speeches I recall.  He did not use the  
phrase I've been pressing on my friends in the campaign.  But it was  
really about the rebuilding of the "social contract" among Americans.   
That social contract has been in tatters for a long time, as early as  
Bill Clinton's second term.  And, while the evidence for this could be  
felt palpably by increasing numbers of Americans, even increasing  
numbers under George Bush, it was also sensed psychologically and  
spiritually in the sullen lives of many in the citizenry and  
especially by way of contrast to the indulgence of smug super-rich.

The fact is that I did not really appreciate the convention, aside  
from a few particular speeches: that of Al Gore which I heard the day  
after it was given; that of (I have sheepishly to admit again) John  
Kerry; and, of course, Ted Kennedy's farewell, may God grant him  
health and life.

I came into politics -- we called it the "new politics" then -- against a  
very young Kennedy in 1962 when I (for my sins) was active in the  
Democratic primary campaign of putative "peace candidate" and Harvard  
historian H. Stuart Hughes, grandson of the late Chief Justice of the  
United States and a veteran with those in the Office of Strategic  
Services (O.S.S., prelude to the C.I.A.) who were ready to accommodate  
each and every ambition of the Soviet Union.  The third candidate in  
the race was Eddie McCormack, nephew of the then Speaker of the House. In any case, the Hughes campaign expired with about 1 1/2% of  
the vote almost all of whom were actually pro-Castro, another station  
on the cross of fellow-traveling.   It's a long time ago.  But the  
rancor against Teddy took many seasons before it passed.

It was actually exacerbated when Robert Kennedy barged into Eugene  
McCarthy's presidential campaign in 1968 and brought with him the  
relentless momentum of the clan and its blindly ambitious hangers-
on.  1968 ended in the spring, first with the assassination of Martin  
Luther King and then with the killing by a Palestinian terrorist of  
Bobby himself.  (Yes, do not forget that.)  Gene when into St. John's  
seminary to punish himself, I think.  But the ragged edge of the  
relationship between the Kennedy Democrats and the McCarthy Democrats  
did not get smoother,

Indeed, I never publicly admitted my admiration for Teddy until after I saw him at Gene's funeral in the National  
Cathedral.  No, I do not admire his foreign policy.  And, yes, that  
means we have on this broad matter shifted sides.  But I do admire,  
very much admire, his insistence that American liberalism needs be  
rigorous and vigorous, impassioned and inspired.  He probably is the  
most morally attuned member of the Senate, and I want to pay tribute  
to him here again and to apologize for all the shabby thoughts I had  
about him in the past.

I believe that Barack Obama carries Teddy's torch.

So why didn't I much like the convention?

First of all, I still recall when Democratic conventions (I had and  
have no interest in Republican ones) were a context for intellectual  
argument, moral confrontation and political decision-making above and  
beyond the choosing of the candidates by acclamation.  In that sense,  
I was for a brief moment sympathetic to Hillary's demand for a roll  
call.  But then it became perfectly obvious that she was bargaining for  
deference and nothing more, except trying to make the Obama people  
crawl, which they did.  Go back and read about the 1948 convention and  
the ones of 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972. This is not nostalgia.

My second objection was to the sheer quality of the speeches and the  
speakers.  The fact is that both talks and talkers, most of them, were  
simply dreary, uninspired, repetitive, treacly.  The "real folk" were  
not the worst, that category belonging to the office-holders whose  
dull utterances made my wonder how they ever won an election in the  
first place.  But the real folk made the party look like a collection  
of losers, burdened by pathos as much as by policy.  Should the  
convention not be an opportunity for us Democrats to show that we are  
a party of achievers?  Lawyers, theologians (not hack preachers),  
doctors, university professors, inspiring scientists, a philosopher or  
historian, intrepid business people and social visionaries.  Maybe  
even an economist or two who, although maybe disagreeing with one  
another, might have taught the nation a thing or two, say Larry  
Summers and Robert Reich, not at one with one another, but both  
fervent Democrats.

My third complaint is about the music which was about as distinctive  
as the sounds you hear in your gym.  Relentless and dumbing.  The  
party is fighting for the patriotic vote.  Why not a chorus, maybe  
even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, singing the old traditional and  
still inspiring "America the Beautiful," "The Battle Hymn of the  
Republic" (yes, there wars worth fighting), "America the Beautiful,"  
"God Bless America," "Lift Every Voice and Sing," "If I Had a Hammer,"  
"This Land is You Land," "This is My Country," "Ballad for Americans,"  
maybe Neil Diamond's "America."  I bet each of you might add one or  
two.  Or, in concert style, Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common  
Man," something from Dvorak's "New World Symphony," maybe Leonard  
Bernstein's "Kaddish," dedicated "to the beloved memory of John F.  

End of my reflections.