Gripped as we all have been by the important, world-altering matter of the AWL’s recent internal dispute over Iran-Israel, it may have escaped your attention that this week also holds the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. Given that the likelihood of a Broder-Matgamna youth and experience ticket has receded in recent weeks, it looks like we’ll just have to deal with Obama-Biden instead.
As I’m in a small minority on the left in the UK for advocating any kind of support for Obama, I probably batted more of an eyelid than most when he made his VP pick and chose Joe Biden. It’s a bit of a ho-hum choice as far as I’m concerned; Biden is known most over here for having nicked one of Neil Kinnock’s speeches during his failed 1988 Presidential run, thus effectively ending his ambitions for the White House. I’m not terribly sure what drove him (initially) to run this time; he was a no hoper from the beginning and (a couple of gaffes aside, which McCain has already leaped on) looked like an out-rider for Obama through most of the primaries until he dropped out. He’s a steady hand on the tiller in the main, and pretty much a formulaic choice by the Obama campaign given his foreign policy experience and Obama’s lack thereof.
I’d be surprised if anything much departs from the playbook this week; the Democrats have gotten a lot better at running tight conventions since Bill Clinton first took a grip on the fractious party in 1992. Even Hillary is unlikely to do much to disrupt it: she herself has employed a 40-strong team of whips to ensure that “her” delegates do no upset the Obama applecart.
This of course leads us to one of Obama’s problems – he’s so smooth that you never get to see him really looking like he’s connecting with the sort of people (non college educated Democrats) who he needs to mobilise in order to get a firm majority in November. They memorably swung behind Clinton – also previously seen as too smooth – when an attack on his wife in an early 1992 debate led to the candidate losing his temper on television and laying furiously into Jerry Brown, a primary opponent. Off-message this most certainly was, but it made the candidate “real” to those often socially conservative Democrats in a way that Obama has not (yet) managed. It will be interesting this week to see if Obama is sufficiently willing to take a risk and depart from the script laid out for him. I doubt it, but he needs to.
The other thing that I hope the Democrats finally do, is stop shutting up about the issue of race. It is infuriating to watch them flounder in front of Republican attack ads which insidiously seek to inject race into the debate, or even Rush Limbaugh openly stating that Obama is only the candidate because the Democrats didn’t have the guts to “criticise the little black-man child”. The reality is that McCain’s coalition is in part composed of open racist votes and racist backers, and everybody knows it. If Obama’s campaign really came out swinging on the issue, with a populist economic message and an anti-war, pro-engagement with the world foreign policy, and was unabashed about its message of a real new direction for the country and the world, then at least they’d be giving it a go. As it stands they risk playing the same “tacking” game that centre-left parties worldwide have been doing for over a decade, the same tired tactic that has seen the Labour Party here turn into a right-wing non entity with no core electorate at all.
Either way though, the convention will be spectacular. And besides, I don’t get a vote, so it’s only a bit of fun. Grab some popcorn and enjoy!