The Sisters of Saint Joseph are waiting for a bus, glistening ever so slightly as they stand in the near-100-degree heat of a late June afternoon, huddled under a couple of pine trees that border an asphalt parking lot in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. The blocky, charmless building the lot services is home to the district office of Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, a Tea Party Republican, and the bus the sisters are waiting for isn’t any old municipal four-wheeler. The Nuns on the Bus are coming to town.
CHARLOTTE—For the last month, Team Romney has been playing a dangerous game with the Democratic Party. With its false attacks on the administration’s welfare waivers and its constant invocation of his policies, Team Romney has tried to present their candidate as the true heir to Bill Clinton.
A funny thing happened to Bill Clinton on the way to the White House in 1992. He had planned to run as a New Democrat, the champion of the post-industrial economy, a Southern Gary Hart, against the more traditional liberal Mario Cuomo, the Democratic frontrunner as the primary season loomed. Then, in December 1991, Cuomo stunned the political word and scrambled Clinton’s calculations by announcing he wouldn’t run. Clinton’s leading primary opponent became former Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas, who was running not just as the more upscale, new economy candidate but on a platform—Simpson-Bowles avant la lettre—of scaling back Medicare and Social Security in the cause of fiscal prudence.
Make no mistake: One of the major themes at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) was invented by one of its keynote speakers. A little more than a year ago, Elizabeth Warren* told a supporter in a living room in Andover, Massachusetts, that “there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.” What she meant was that American business thrived because it took root in a stable democracy that looked after the common good and invested in roads and education. She expanded that: Anyone who’s benefited has an intergenerational responsibility to pay the fruits of that investment forward.
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA—Outside of the convention center, and around downtown Charlotte, are a handful of anti-abortion activists. It’s hard to miss them. They carry large signs plastered with graphic photos of dismembered fetuses and preach their message with loudspeakers:
“I’m not a member of any organized political party,” Will Rogers famously declared, “I’m a Democrat.” Rogers would not recognize the 2012 Democrats. I’ve been attending conventions since 1964, when as a student I smuggled floor passes to the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party insurgents in Atlantic City. And I’ve never seen anything as well choreographed and unified as night one of the 2012 convention.
Did you watch it last night? It was an amazing night of TV, of Twitter (that instant snark convo), and of politics. My twitter feed was full of journos saying to each other: Wow, there’s a lot of energy here! Don’t you feel more buzz than in Tampa? I thought this was supposed to be the dispirited convention, but these folks are excited. You could see that in every breakaway shot of the convention floor: Folks were cheering, nodding, yelling back in witness. Over and over again, the Dems boasted proudly about standing up for health care, equal pay, LGBT rights (including the freedom to marry), and yes, reproductive rights, without apology.
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA—At the same time that Democrats are celebrating the achievements of the last three-and-a-half years and preparing to renominate the president, Republicans are refocusing on the message of their convention—"Obama isn’t working." In particular, the GOP has resurrected the question of 1980 and 1992, which happen to be the two most recent times an incumbent president has lost reelection: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA—Delegates were enthusiastic for every prime-time speaker at the Democratic National Convention last night. San Antonio mayor Julian Castro received big applause for his riff on opportunity—“My mother fought for civil rights, so that instead of a mop, I could hold this microphone”—and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland won cheers for his harsh attacks on Mitt Romney’s “economic patriotism.”
But for all of its excitement, the crowd saved its adulation for Michelle Obama’s closing message to tonight’s session of the convention. She was a superstar—delegations passed out “Michelle Obama” signs, attendees stood and clapped at every opportunity, and on several occasions, she was drowned out by the roar of the crowd.
The message of the first night of the Democratic Convention was “We built it together.” Speaker after speaker took aim at the Republican Party’s Randian, libertarian vision, at the ideology that Britain’s Margaret Thatcher succinctly expressed when she said, “There is no such thing as society.”
There is, too, replied the Democrats. There is temporal society—the intergenerational links, the investment in education that pays off not in your own success but, as San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro pointed out, in your children’s. There is the society of laws, where Democrats (in general) and Barack Obama (in particular) have fought for equality in matters of sexual orientation. There is the economic society—now more unequal than it’s been in 80 years—where Obama, in his wife’s words, ensured that paying your medical bill won’t mean you “go broke.”
Before San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro walked onstage at the Democratic National Convention, the crowd was already pumped. They'd laughed and cheered as Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland lambasted Mitt Romney—the former with righteous indignation, the latter with humor at full volume. After Castro exited, Michelle Obama, now unquestionably the most popular woman on planet Earth, took the stage with a speech that left both crowd and pundits—left and right—spellbound. Consequently, despite weeks of attention on the young Latino mayor, Castro's perfectly serviceable keynote speech isn't likely to be the one that everybody remembers. But that hardly means he failed. In fact, "perfectly serviceable" may have been the desired result.
Members of the news media arrive at RNC in Tampa, prepare to talk about nothing. (Flickr/NewsHour)
I have a lot of sympathy for campaign reporters. Their time on the trail can be exhausting, a weird combination of high stress and utter boredom. Every day they have to follow their candidate around to another event that was just like the last one, where he'll say exactly the same things, and they have to figure out how to write a story that isn't precisely the same as what they wrote yesterday. And now that their news organizations want them to produce content for a wide array of platforms, it gets even harder.
That being said, reporters can sometimes get seriously whiny. To wit, this story in Politico about how the members of the traveling press corps all think campaign 2012 is a total bummer:
It looks like another Iowa Supreme Court justice may lose his job this year. Conservatives are once again railing against one of the judges who legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa. Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent social conservative on the local scene who led an anti-retention campaign against three of the state's supreme court justices in 2010, announced last month that he was spearheading an effort to make sure David Wiggins doesn't succeed at the polls this November.
My first Democratic National Convention came when I was ten. My parents took me along to the new Los Angeles Sports Arena for the second night of the 1960 gathering that nominated Jack Kennedy. The tickets came courtesy of my father’s employers, who ran a mega-tract-home construction company. They may well have been to the right of the Democratic Party; my parents were still stubbornly to its left —members of the all-but-extinct Socialist Party—but no matter. A national political convention didn’t come around every week, and besides, my parents increasingly considered themselves close to the liberal reformers who dominated California’s Democratic Party.
As chance would have it, the second night of that Democratic Convention provided the last gasp of liberalism’s romance with Adlai Stevenson, the party’s nominee in the past two elections, which he lost both times to Dwight Eisenhower. More through his eloquence and his pose of somehow being above politics than through any of his policies (he had disgracefully ducked supporting the fledgling civil-rights movement), Stevenson had become the darling of anti-big-city, machine liberal professionals during the 1950s. He still had strong support in those circles, among California reform Democrats in particular. Kennedy, who was closing in on the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination, had dispatched the genuine liberal in the field, Hubert Humphrey, in a series of primaries, and many liberals were still resistant to his charms. Big-city bosses like Chicago’s Richard Daley still held the balance of power at the convention, since only a relative handful of states held primaries that bound delegates to vote for the candidate their state’s voters preferred.
In early October 2011, Shannon Sherman, a pregnant nurse who was two weeks from her due date, met Elizabeth Warren, though she didn’t know it at the time. All Sherman knew was that a friendly woman said hello to her in the ladies’ room at the Massachusetts Nurses Association’s annual conference, asked how far along she was, and shared a chuckle about the difficulties and indignities of the ninth month of pregnancy. Sherman had heard of Warren; the previous summer, the nurses’ union had been among the first to endorse the Democrat in the 2012 Senate race, while she was still in Washington overseeing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Like many progressive groups, the union was eager to encourage Warren to jump into the race for the Senate seat Ted Kennedy had held for 47 years until his death in 2009. Scott Brown, a Republican, had won a special election in January 2010, and Democrats were still aghast over it.