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Cleveland Politics

Democratic National Convention: A tale of two parties

by Randy Cunningham

(Plain Press, September 2016)   With the close of the Republican Convention in Cleveland, it was time to turn to the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. I was a guest of the Ohio Democratic Party’s delegation from July 25th to the 28th at the Philadelphia convention. I was active in the Bernie Sanders campaign from the start and I am active in the local successor organization called the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus. So now you know my biases.

COMMENTARY

Upon getting into Philadelphia and checking into the Ohio delegation’s hotel my first impression is how Democrats just look different from Republicans. Democrats don’t look like they go to the gym five times a week, are not as well dressed and, well, they more often than not look like your neighbors, instead of central casting for the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. One other thing you noticed is that there were plenty of African American and Hispanic delegates. Even hajibs were present. If you saw someone from a community of color at the Philadelphia convention, you did not just assume they were the help.

Another difference between Cleveland and Philadelphia was that Philadelphia did not turn itself into a police state for the convention. My caveat on this is that, while in Cleveland, I was in the streets; in Philly I was in the belly of the beast. Some of my street protesting friends did not receive warm hugs from the Philly police department, but, to me, Philly did not look like a cop convention like Cleveland did.

The first night featured the official Welcome event. We were soon immersed in excesses of free food and drink that rivaled the court of ancient Babylon. Which is a very dangerous thing if you have my weakness for Martinis and you can have any type your heart desires in unlimited quantities. Number one lesson from going to a convention: American politics floats on a sea of booze. There were receptions. There were convention watch parties. And, if you still bore malice towards your liver, there was a nightly early morning reception called Cigars and Scotch around the pool.

Most of the convention activities during the day took place in various workshops and caucuses that ranged widely in their quality and interests. Probably the best thing about these caucuses was that they afforded you the opportunity to hear people speak who you normally do not see in person. There were some surprising omissions. There was no environmental caucus and environmentalists are some of the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituents. No mention was made of fracking in the Rural Caucus, when rural Ohio has been turned upside down because of fracking. You had to cherry pick to really learn anything new in these caucuses, because from the first day the script was signed, sealed and delivered. Rah, rah Hillary Clinton – nothing is more important than party unity and yes, thank you Bernie Sanders for your contribution of idealism and energy. And did we forget to mention that Hillary is one of the greatest public servants in American history? Rah, rah.

That may have been the script but the divisions in the party between the partisans of Clinton and Sanders were always just beneath the surface. There were two exceptions to this discord. The TPP trade deal was universally detested at the convention. Its only rival in unpopularity was Donald Trump.

Bernie supporters are a cantankerous lot. Even Bernie had trouble riding the bronco of what he started. In a Monday afternoon workshop, he urged the adoring audience to support Hillary Clinton in the be all and end all goal of defeating Donald Trump. The adoration turned into boos. It was a tough crowd as stand-up comedians would put it.

I mentioned that Republicans and Democrats just look different. Well there were differences as well with Hillary and Bernie supporters. Hillary supporters tended to come from the official apparatus of the party. They were the establishment of the party. Bernie supporters included many experienced politicos, campaign operatives and office holders as well, but marbled within that population were old fashioned, hell raising street activists who were not attuned to the usual etiquette of the convention. That rough and ready quality kept the organizers of the convention on pins and needles, because you could never tell when Bernie delegates would go off script with their own chants, and occasional walk outs and spontaneous demonstrations.

Bernie supporters were divided by those who would hold their noses and support Hillary, and those who were called, “Bernie or Busters”. They would be damned before they would bury the hatchet from the primary campaign and many at the convention were giving Green Party nominee, Jill Stein, careful consideration.

Just because you were not a “Bernie or Buster” did not mean by any stretch of the imagination that you were all smiles now about supporting Hillary. The main stream press has always been enamored of the Clintons but this affection has hidden the sizable contingent of Democrats who do not like them, and think that they have betrayed many of the traditional values and constituencies of the party. After decades in the shadows, those Democrats finally found a voice in Bernie Sanders.

Monday night was Bernie’s night though, and those who booed him in the afternoon returned his love at night. There was hardly a dry eye among the Bernie delegates in the Wells Fargo arena. When later in the convention the roll call vote was taken and Hillary finally made it over the magic number of winning the nomination, the Bernie delegates more or less lost interest in the convention. We still made it to the watch parties. Hell, just because we were eating bitterness we could still wash it down with free drinks.

One good thing to come out of the convention was the creation of political networks for Bernie veterans. Usually a campaign has a start, a life and a finish then everyone goes home. But, as an iconic slogan of Black Lives Matter puts it, this is a movement, not a moment. Bernie veterans from Ohio met and networked for the future. It is not over. It has not even begun.

The unity between Bernie and Hillary supporters is not a peace treaty. It is a truce created to no small degree by Donald Trump. Campaign unity does not erase the fact that there are two Democratic Parties and they really do not like each other. The truce will end at midnight on the night of November 8th and the Democratic Party will move on to a long postponed civil war. The tale of two parties is not over. It is just beginning.

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