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In the days following last week’s Democratic National Convention, there’s been a lot of buzz about the “significant” bounce President Obama received nationally. A litany of polls point to the fact that both the president and Democrats alike have higher favorability ratings and are seen as more trustworthy and relatable on key issues to voters—as compared to Mitt Romney and Republicans. Pollsters and pundits like to attribute this bounce to the “nearly flawless” Convention the Democrats put on. For all the talk of the “enthusiasm gap” among Democrats leading up to the Convention, it seemed the Republicans–with their bland speakers, non-detail specific plans, and most searing, visually, the lackluster crowd—comprised the party with the “enthusiasm gap”. The contrasts between the rousing call to action speeches, actual facts (which former present and all-around charmer Bill Clinton called “arithmetic”), and the diverse and engaged crowd, as compared to the Republican National Convention, couldn’t be starker.
Except that the Democratic National Convention wasn’t nearly flawless. Venue changes and speech scheduling issues aside, the “God and Jerusalem” issue of last Wednesday night is one that I would call a major flaw. Of course Democrats want to brush over it. One need only watch an obviously annoyed Nancy Pelosi repeatedly explain “it’s over” when asked about the event to know Democrats don’t want to talk about it. I bring this up not to taint the Democrats or the Convention. I want nothing more than for Barack Obama to beat Mitt Romney on November 6th. This event should not be swept under the rug, though. I want to feel proud of my party and I don’t want to think that it stands for fundamental unfairness and oligarchy, which is the conclusion I’ve drawn from the votes I saw and the (sham) presentation at the Convention regarding proposed changes to the platform. Besides the fact that I fundamentally disagree with the idea of including mentions of God in an American political party platform and I think the idea of declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel is an abhorrent display of pandering at best and possible racism at worst, the fact that DNC organizers completely ignored the will of the people is irrefutably shameful and unacceptable. We should all be up in arms about the fact that this can happen in the United States—and on TV, no less!
Some background first:
The original Democratic Party platform contained no mention of the word “God”, and it did not include the idea that Jerusalem is the official capital of Israel. There were some murmurs about the alleged God snubbing part. I was very excited about this part at the time. I felt like, perhaps, real progress had been made. Perhaps the self-professed “party of inclusion” had finally made an effort to include atheists like me. After all, Obama was the first president to mention “non-believers” in his Inaugural Address. That freezing January day on the National Mall, I was there, and I felt hope. For the first time, I really felt included. This was not to be, however. It was reported that President Obama himself was outraged at the exclusion of God in the party platform and personally—and firmly—requested that it be included. Including the term “God” in the party platform is not just an affront to me—or to atheists. It is often argued that “God” is a generic term; unlike Jesus, it doesn’t denote any specific religion. Rather, it is argued, God is a stand in for a kind of civic religion, an American spirituality. In short, however, it is a belief in some sort of “higher power”, some sort of vague “spirituality”. Even if we were to accept this idea, there are plenty of religious people who don’t believe in the concept of one god, or even the omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God referred to in speech after speech by speakers at the DNC, and certainly the one referred to in the revised platform. Sure, this concept of a monotheistic God more or less covers the big three: Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The concept of this specific God does, however, leave atheists, agnostics, secularists, polytheists, and others, out in the cold.
The original Democratic Party platform also did not contain the explicit statement of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. (more on that in a minute)
At the opening of the Convention on Day 2 (or Wednesday, September 5th), some top Democrats seemed to have changed their minds about the content of their party’s platform. Perhaps they bowed to pressure (especially by Fox News, who, I’m sure, sought to discredit Democrats in any way they could), or they suddenly became alerted to their now-unacceptable omissions. Whatever the case, a voice vote was held. Former governor of Ohio and head of the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee, Ted Strickland, was introduced on stage by the Democratic National Committee Chairman (and current governor of Los Angeles) Antonio Villaraigosa. After Strickland talked about how he was an ordained minister and God’s very important to him and to the “American narrative” and how Jerusalem is, of course, the capital of Israel (though he didn’t mention anything about Israelis, Palestinians, or any reason that such a statement should be so important), Villaraigosa put the platform changes up to a vote from those in the audience. After the first vote, the “nays” seemed equal to the “yeas”. Villaraigosa tried again. The same thing happened, this time with the “nays” being shouted even louder. After hesitation and momentary panic—and after a woman on the side of the stage who we can only assume was another Party official said, “I think we’re just gonna have to let them do what they wanna do”—Villaraigosa tried one last time—with (surprise, surprise!) the same result. He then decided that, in his opinion, “two-thirds of the crowd voted in the affirmative”, and the changes were adopted. After this, very audible booing occurred from the audience. This, of course, was ignored, and what was done was done. Music was played in an attempt to drown out the prolonged booing from the audience, and the next speaker was rushed out in an effort to make a seamless transition into the rest of the Convention.
What is the difference between Democrats and Republicans in the United States? Many things, each party would have you believe, chief among them, each party’s differing views on how to move the country forward. This basically amounts to ideological differences in the role, scope, and aims of the federal government, led by either the overwhelming guiding principle of self reliance (Republicans) or the communitarian “we’re stronger together and all help one another” spirit of cooperation (Democrats). But, of course, we are all Americans, and each party will say that we are all united by basic American principles. These principles include that nebulous, but all important concept of “freedom” and that we are united by the shared belief and understanding of inalienable truths–one of those being the near sycophantic undying support for Israel. And, oh, by the way, if you even dare question Israel’s motives or say one critical word about Romney BFF “Bibi” Netanyahu, then you are anti-semitic (never mind the fact that the Semites include Palestinians as well as the Jews of the region), and are dishonoring the victims of the Holocaust. You will be cast out into the political hinterlands like one Jimmy Carter, never mind the fact that he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Oh, but so did another US president, Barack Obama. So many similarities! No wonder our poor president felt such pressure to cave. The Republicans might try to weaken him. …Except that Republicans have already questioned Obama’s commitment to Israel (in detestable terms), and will continue to do so. The Romney campaign has blatantly told the public it’s not above lying (the famous phrase by Romney’s campaign that it “will not be beholden to fact checkers”), and campaign operatives know that vitriolic rhetoric plays well with racist, ignorant members of the Republican base.
This is part of what I wrote immediately after the incident at the Convention last Wednesday:
Obama wanted control of the message. Perhaps this will all blow over in the next few days, overcome by a tsunami of enthusiasm following the president’s acceptance speech tonight. I’m sure the Obama campaign staff and the DNC inner circle are betting on the fact that this unfortunate incident will be forgotten as Democrats indulge in the inspiring, empowering speeches of Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Julian Castro, Ted Strickland…except that Ted Strickland was the person who came out on stage, claiming his history as an ordained Methodist minister and pressing for changes to the Democratic platform. He is the face that stared at the panicked Antonio Villaraigosa as Villaraigosa asked the DNC delegation three times if it would accept the changes to the platform. When he confirmed changes, boos rang out. The admiration and affinity I had acquired for Ted Strickland, after hearing his fantastic speech the night before, had evaporated in less than 24 hours. It was replaced by feelings of anger and betrayal. I wonder if this is what Tea Partiers feel like when they claim tyranny of the government. I waited to write this until I had time to let events settle in, and I can’t see it as anything but tyranny. I know I sound hyperbolic, but how else would these actions be explained?
Religion should be separate from politics, and the United States should not be as involved in Israeli policy. What happened to “freedom” (of thought, dissent, and self determination)?
Everyone is entitled to his or her views. THAT is precisely the point I’m trying to make. The part about God and the part about Jerusalem being the capital of Israel were not originally in the Democratic platform. While I believe these things should have no place in the platform, it’s not up to me–or Strickland or Villaraigosa or Obama–hence, the vote.
These people, who seemed to amass more than one-third of the audience so much so that Villaraigosa asked three times, freaked out, and rammed it through, amidst very audible boos, had a right to be heard, and to be taken seriously. People are right to feel outraged and betrayed.
It is a party convention. The platform must be affirmed and adopted by those delegates in attendance. In this case, a two-thirds majority was necessary, and that number didn’t seem to approve of these proposals being added.
The adoption of the changes to the platform was pre-scripted and passed despite a great amount of obvious objection. Those who take issue with the platform changes, and the way in which they were adopted have no recourse for complaint. These people, the delegates, are representatives of American citizens, and are our frontline of so-called democracy. They are the representatives of our “representative republic”. If their voices are silenced or ignored, what other conclusion is there to draw than the fact that the people don’t matter to the party, that the many at the bottom matter little to those at the top? The voice of the people was overridden. It never mattered in the first place.
This is all the more ironic since the Democratic Party points to the undemocratic practices of its counterpart the Republican Party in silencing people by making it increasingly difficult for them to vote. For all of the talk of people-powered change and the progressivism of the Democratic Party during the convention, when the extension of such ideals was exercised, it meant nothing.
I’m more than disappointed. I’m angry, and I feel disillusioned and betrayed. I feel stung by a party that wants my vote, by a party that will appeal to me as a woman, as a young person, as a 99 percenter, as any number of labels, but that takes away from me the definition of the most fundamental identity of all—that of an American.