Things to Do in Denver When You're A Dem

Like the man who warned King Louis on July 13 that there seemed to be a little trouble brewing out there, I realize I may be coming to this late. It appears from most of what I read that Denver is now the front-runner over New York for the site of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, especially since Mayor Bloomberg all but disinvited the party a few days ago by announcing that he didn't think Gotham could raise the dough.

But as the choice has not yet been made, and as it still seems possible that New York might attempt some eleventh-hour, September 11-related emotional blackmail, there's still time for me to cast my full-throated vote (whatever its value) for Denver.

Al Eisele, over at the Huffington Post, put the straightforward case well: "What better place for the party to stake a claim in the once-red-but-increasingly-blue Rocky Mountain West?" Denver has a Democratic mayor (and evidently quite an effective and popular one), John Hickenlooper; Colorado just this week is swearing in its new Democratic governor, Bill Ritter; and it has a Democratic junior senator in Ken Salazar. To boot, the senior senator, Republican Wayne Allard, is up for reelection in 2008, and his seat is considered gettable. Even the seven-member House delegation now tilts four D's and three R's.

Aside from the numbers, there's the more persuasive zeitgeist argument. Choosing Denver makes a statement about the party's future, about making an earnest play to compete among voters in the country's interior that the party hasn't always made. You may say I'm buying into right-wing stereotypes about the Democrats here. But with regard to their conventions, it has alas been shockingly true that the party has confined itself either to safe and heavily Democratic burgs or coastal enclaves -- or cities that are both.

Check out this list. It's pretty astounding. Since FDR, Democratic conventions have chiefly been held in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles. Oh yes: For variety, they threw in San Francisco, Miami, and Boston! After pondering this list, the next time I hear a winger refer to the "flyover party," I'll scoff just a little less than I used to.

Indeed, since 1932, the party has made one interesting and inventive convention choice: Atlanta in 1988. That the candidate wasn't so hot wasn't Atlanta's fault.
So give it up for Denver. The apparent labor strife sounds pretty negotiable to me -- one local labor leader trying to use the convention as leverage to get more members. It's a great city and it'll be fresh.

But what I really want to make here is the case against New York.

I lived there nearly 20 years. I still love some things about it, and yes, it's special. But it's a lot less special than it used to be. Whenever I go back, the thing that strikes me over and over and over again is how relentlessly materialistic it has become, and how utterly without shame it is about celebrating its materialism. People think of the 1980s as the decade of rampant consumption and greed; if you ask me, the New York of the 1980s doesn't hold a stick to today's New York in this department.

The recent spate of attention about those notorious Wall Street bonuses involved a lot of professed collective shock. But only those who haven't been paying attention to New York could possibly have been surprised. What's true on Wall Street is also true on a scale of more concern to the rest of us. The $23 plate of pasta, once limited to two or three ZIP codes, is now de rigueur all over town, as is the $370 hotel room (for a shoebox) and the $180 theater ticket, for an evening's "entertainment" that's virtually guaranteed to be slushy and mediocre. Howard Dean might well ask himself if he wants to foist those hefty tariffs upon the schoolteachers and municipal employees and pipefitters' union factotums who tend to populate Democratic conventions.

We're living in an age in which the overclass, with the help of politicians it has duly bought and paid for, has systematically assaulted the middle and working classes. If the Democratic Party should stand for anything, it should stand for the people who've faced the assault. I'm sorry to say that New York, Democratic as it is, also symbolizes like no other city in America the triumph of overclass values.

Mr. Chairman, go West. It's the easiest decision of your tenure.

---

Others have acknowledged Maria Leavey's passing, so maybe this seems a tad late; but I think everyone here at TAP was waiting for me to weigh in on our behalf since Maria and I were close friends.

I can't remember exactly how I met Maria. We both participated in a weekly conference call, the ostensible purpose of which was to discuss progressive strategies for the coming week. We quickly established ourselves as members of the Don't Take Yourself So Seriously Caucus among the participants. She soon called me, I think, to affirm that I was a friend of her friend, Joe Conason, as indeed I was, and am. But we learned quickly that we shared, in addition to a friend, an outlook.

I haven't lived in Washington for that long; three years and change. But that's long enough to have observed certain habits of the place and its denizens. In the latter category, there seem to be two types: those who want you to know who they know, and those who don't want you to know who they know. Those in the less numerous second camp are not usually hiding something (except the ones who live under the watch of prosecutors); in the main they are, instead, people who just don't want to be in the papers, don't want to get credit, simply don't care if they're known. This was Maria's category. If some people didn't know what precisely Maria did, which I've noticed was mentioned in some quarters, it's because that's precisely how she worked. She sought no credit or glory, and the vast majority of the time, as I and many others repeatedly told her, she didn't seek enough money.

A lot of people didn't know how smart she was, either. She wrote her master's thesis on the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and she knew her political history and even theory. She told me about more than one occasion in which she was in a conversation with people who assumed themselves to be her intellectual superiors, because they occupied more prominent positions in life, and whom she flattened with a well-timed historical observation.

But she didn't do that enough. Had she been more insistent in her own behalf, she might have had the job she deserved; had she had the job she deserved, she might have had health insurance; had she had health insurance, she might have, knowing that a heart ailment ran in her family, had it checked from time to time; and had she been able to do that, who knows. Her friends Harry Reid and Tom Harkin could do far worse than to keep her story in mind whenever they confront the subject of health care.

I'm grateful to have to known her, and to have been able to introduce her to other friends upon whom she clearly made an impression. When we know the details, I or someone else at TAP will post information about the memorial service.

Michael Tomasky is the Prospect's editor-at-large. He writes a column most Wednesdays for TAP Online.

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