Democratic Convention 2008

The Democrats' culture, what's left of it

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I had hoped the panel discussion "Culture Wars" would track classical liberal/conservative Kulturkampf issues, establish once and for all that everywhere there's freaks and hairies, dykes and fairies, and possibly tell me where is sanity.

As it turned out, panelists Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), MSNBC personality Tucker Carlson, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitas, former White House spokeswoman DeeDee Mers, Newsweek's Richard Wolffe, and host Dan Abrams spent the whole time talking about racism, feminism and the Hillary/Barack contretemps. But it was an interesting exchange anyway, as much for the interesting divides it revealed in people's thinking as for the way it demonstrated how party interests take precedence over even issues these people actually care a lot about.

Tucker Carlson was there to be the turd in the liberal Democrat punchbowl, and did his usual bangup job of boisterous contrarity. Soon after he suggested that Obama could win in a landslide if he pledged to end affirmative action, Kos or Klobuchar (I forget) told the crowd to be wary of listening to Republicans who offer advice, because "they do not have our best interests at heart." That's part of the "party interests" piece I mentioned above and will return to in a moment: How cramped a definition of "best interests" can you have if in practice it means ignoring information, possibly information that could be helpful even if it's not intended to be?

A more substantial response was that affirmative action has by and large benefited women more than minorities, which made clear the big fault line of the afternoon. Interestingly, Ford (African-American) and Richardson (Latino) were the most inclined to view discrimination as a problem that has come and gone. Here's Wild Bill:

I don't believe that this exists in America today as much as many people think. That's my view. […]

Now, as far as my community—I'm not going to be an expert on all of the racial potential divides in this election—I think that the American people have moved beyond, substantially, the issue of race and who is elected. […]

I think this multi-current of ethnicity, of diversity, of internationalism within, is going to evoke I think among many immigrants, not just necessarily African Americans and Latinos, a feeling of pride, a feeling that the diversity of America is genuine. And I believe it's going to ovverride any kind of latent potential racism when men and women go to the polls.

And here's Playboy Mansion Harold:

I ran for a seat in Tennnesse for Senate, about two years ago now, and there were a lot of issues that were raised during that race. I take full responsibility for us losing, we could have run a better race. […]

Don't get me wrong, there may be some extra hurdles that Barack may have to overcome as there were for Sen. Clinton. But I might dare add, when Senator Kerry put that um, that watersuit on and went windsurfing. Where I'm from we've never seen anything like that down in Tennessee…. We don't do that in the Mississippi River; you don't do that where I'm from. So that had nothing to do with race, that had to do with culture and being able to connect.

For the record, these comments reminded me why I like Ford and alienated the L.A. Times' ed board pushing my quixotic quest for an endorsement of the way-too-off-the-cuff-for-primetime Richardson. Most of the rest of the panelists were all too eager to get pulled back into the question of discrimination. (Also for the record, I intend to say "watersuit" instead of wetsuit from now on.)

Everybody wanted to revisit the angry-older-women-for-Hillary phenomenon. I asked the gang whether that anger hadn't been exacerbated by the need to have every convention be a done deal before it gets started. Quite early in the primary the phrase "mathematical impossibility" got into circulation among people urging Hillary to give up—a rank absurdity given the endless discrepancies over delegate numbers, the superdelegate system, the Florida and Michigan controversies, and the fact that a cursory glance at American history belies the idea that the numbers and full-ticket nominees have to be settled before the convention. Was enforced party unity really worth infuriating Hillary dead-enders with what looked suspiciously like a bunch of men telling an unruly to settle down and take her medicine? (For what it's worth, at the time I further alienated the LAT ed board by arguing strenuously against a quit-Hillary editorial that insultingly commended her for having fought with "grit"—the kind of thing Duke Wayne would say about Angie Dickinson in a Howard Hawks picture.)

Klobuchar was having none of that, nor were most of the other Democrats. The mathematical impossibility was a real thing, she said, and the idea of a contested convention was viewed as being somewhat less welcome than a second Holocaust. I remain unconvinced, and not just because a contested convention would have been more entertaining. The cacophony of interests is one of the most interesting parts of the party's makeup. If the Democrats can't be the disorganized party anymore, what exactly do they stand for?

The good news is that my question prompted Tucker Carlson to say he can consider Hillary a "bitch" without being a sexist, a comment that really brought on the hate.