No one actually came out waving a piece of paper in the air declaring that the Obama and Clinton camps had reached an accord that eliminated all traces of rancor and bitterness between the two sides.
But the deal struck, giving Hillary the chance to have her name placed in nomination and her supporters cast their ballot for her historic candidacy, should go a long way toward assuaging the hurt feelings felt by many Clinton delegates who might otherwise not be disposed to put on a happy face for the cameras during the convention.
“Hillraisers,” they call themselves. And for the last few weeks, many of them were making noises that worried the Obama convention planners. Talk of angry marches in Denver protesting what the Clintonites saw as irregularities in the primaries and calls to recognize gender bias in the media were threatening to derail the carefully scripted outline that the Obama camp was trying to get the media to follow: that the party is unified behind Barack Obama and is enthusiastic about his candidacy.
Indeed, nothing is set in concrete. Still to be worked out is the extremely delicate matters of how Clinton’s name is to be advanced, whether there are going to be seconding speeches, and just how the roll call of the states is to be handled. Obama is not worried about Hillary double-crossing him with an attempt to stampede the delegates and steal the nomination from him. But time is extraordinary precious given the reluctance of the broadcast networks to go over their allotted coverage into the local newshour. Angering TV news executives is not in the nominee’s playbook.
Actually, the roll call has always been my favorite part of the conventions and I’m glad to see Obama is going to continue the tradition. However, I don’t expect the Obama people to be as lax as they used to be back in the day when TV networks didn’t mind going over their allotted time because there was nothing else to watch. Discipline and scripting will be the order of the evening. This is a shame because TV used to love the roll call — so uniquely, maddeningly American, with its spontaneous expressions of state pride coming from colorful people dressed in colorful outfits and usually wearing a hat they wouldn’t be caught dead in outside the convention hall.
As each state was called, a party stalwart –usually the state chairman or popular elected official– got their moment in the sun and, more often than not, rattled off a list of achievements or fact flakes for which the residents took pride. There was a lot of one-upmanship as each succeeding state felt it necessary to top the previous one in “the biggest” this or “the best” that until the nominee crossed the threshold of victory and the demonstrations would begin.
I hate to say it but compared to that, today’s conventions are soulless affairs. No spontaneity and no funny hats.
Nevertheless, it is not clear as yet what the sequence of events will be that allows all of this to happen for the Hillraisers. Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic, who broke the story about the Clinton-Obama accord, speculates based on his sources that “[ì]t is possible that Sen. Clinton, having had her name submitted, would use the occasion to release her delegates to Obama; depending on how the roll call is staged, Clinton’s released delegates could put Obama over the top.”
Again the olive branch falls short, her name in nomination is called “symbolic”, still short of truly recognizing her campaign or her supporters. And what will her backers have to say? They are going to make some “noise” in Denver.
What kind of trouble can they make for Obama?
At this point, no one really knows. There are rallies planned in Denver advocating a change in how Democratic primaries are organized, but no one is sure how many Hillraisers will be there. There is talk of anti-Obama signage in the hall (something the networks will no doubt gleefully focus on if it happens), but nobody knows if it will be an organized effort or simply a display by stray, unsatisfied Clinton delegates.
In short, Hillary supporters are still a wild card for Obama, and despite his best efforts at reaching out to embrace them there are many bitter enders who may seek to ruin the moment for the nominee. And the problem, as past convention planners have discovered to their chagrin, is that they can’t control what every delegate might blurt into a live mic; nor can they dictate to the networks what their cameras can show.
Of course, controversy is what the networks are all praying for. Nothing will bring the more casually interested voter to the coverage than the prospect of blood on the convention floor. When you think about it, this kind of ghoulish hope for disaster on the part of the networks is dangerous. Might they not seek out such controversy and fan the flames of discontent?
It’s certainly not like the old days. Everyone probably has their favorite out of control, up for grabs, in your face, fractured fairy tale of a convention. Mine is the 1912 Republican get-together in Chicago.
Theodore Roosevelt’s supporters at the Republican convention of 1912 also felt betrayed by the system, which at the time involved a lot of smoky back rooms and party loyalists who enforced the will of then-President William Howard Taft. Even though TR won eight of 11 primaries, 36 other states held no nominating elections, relying on state conventions controlled by the party to choose convention delegates. Since Taft controlled the party, he controlled the state conventions. This set up a slew of credentials challenges prior to the convention by TR’s camp to delegates controlled by Taft.
Roosevelt believed he should have had nearly 80 of those delegates according to party rules. But Taft had other ideas. Fully in control of the Republican National Committee who had final say on delegate matters, Taft steamrolled TR and allowed him only a handful of delegates, thus insuring his victory before the convention in Chicago even opened.
Never one to stand on tradition, TR violated the longstanding practice of presidential candidates staying away from the party convention and arrived in Chicago full of fight. He addressed his supporters the night before the convention opened and urged them to do battle with their foes. In one of the better political speeches in American history, TR’s peroration brought his supporters to a fever pitch of excitement:
“Fearless of the future; unheeding of our individual fates; with unflinching hearts and undimmed eyes; we stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!”
It is a great shame that TV missed Theodore Roosevelt or, more accurately, the other way around.
Of course, he still lost. But the convention itself was one for the ages, as delegates scuffled and Taft floor whips vainly tried to control what soon got out of control. Noted Kansas editor William Allen White (whose famous editorial “What’s the matter with Kansas?” was used as the title of a recent book by Thomas Frank) wrote as he surveyed the proceedings that he was looking down “into the human cauldron that was boiling all around me.” The tension was palpable between TR’s progressives and Taft’s regular Republicans. And when most of Roosevelt’s delegates abstained at TR’s request to protest the raw deal, Taft waltzed off with the nomination.
Glorious. ‘Tis a shame we live in such a time where Vanilla is the preferred flavor of politicians and Rocky Road is banned from our convention menu.
Obama will not have to worry about a major rebellion, to be sure. But I can guarantee you that the networks will actively seek out the most disgruntled, the shrillest, the most bitter of the bitter end Hillraisers to at least give the appearance that all is not a bed of roses in the Democratic party in Denver. Even though Obama whips will funnel smiley face Clintonites to the floor reporters (who are usually content to allow the convention managers to do their work for them and get interesting subjects to interview), there will no doubt be the stray Clintonite with a grudge who will find his or her way to an open mic and jar the happy proceedings with a few well chosen shots at the nominee, the party, and the press.
For the most part, however, expect the Hillraisers to behave, and for Hillary to get a roaring ovation on that Tuesday evening. It will be 88 years to the day that women won the right to vote when Clinton mounts the platform to address the delegates. And for her legions of supporters it will be a cathartic moment, a release of emotion they have kept bottled up since the primaries ended in June. Hillary’s troops will scream their approval, shaking the roof of the Pepsi Center and no doubt giving their cheering an extra oomph from deep inside where their resentments have lived these past few months. How many of them will be satisfied with this kind of primal therapy and the warm glow of vindication in having her name placed in nomination is anyone’s guess. But I suspect that, when all is said and done, a very large percentage of those who say now that they will not support Obama will come around eventually and pull the lever on November 4 for the Democrat.
When they do, many of them may very well smile to themselves and pretend it’s 2012 and they’re marking the ballot for someone else.