8/28/08

The Big Tent in Denver: What the Democratic Convention Could Learn

Logo from The National Journal

Jon Stewart says it's up to the print journalists. In "Comic rips media's false sense of urgency," Joe Garofoli, in today's SF Chronicle (hat tip to Steve Pizzo) who quotes The Daily Show host, who gathered a couple of dozen national political print reporters for a breakfast at the University of Denver:
It's about earning your authority back. That gravitas. It's showing an expertise. It's the whole reason you guys are in the business. You're not on anyone's team. You're on our team. And that's what's stopped.
It seems the more serious conversation on the future of the Democratic party in Denver this week--at least the progressive wing--might be taking place, not at the Convention or its associated events, but over at the Big Tent and at Progressive Democratic Central.

At The Big Tent--a "new media center created by local organizations, national blogs, Digg, Google and YouTube "-- folks lacking Pepsi Center credentials can ante up a hundred bucks in exchange for 4 days of food and drink, wi-fi access, the televised Convention and programs featuring a variety of speakers, some of whom I've highlighted in the next to last section of this post.

At Progressive Democratic Central, sponsored by Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) and The Nation magazine, anyone in Denver can take in The Nation Conversations Series for free. It's moderated by John Nichols each morning Monday through Thursday. After lunch ($12.50, sold at cost), the PDA panels (at a suggested donation each afternoon of $10.00 for two panels) include topics such as Healthcare NOT Warfare; Media Reform; Clean, Fair, Transparent Elections; Economic Justice/Ending Poverty; Global Warming and Constitutional Law and Congress.

And for the more corporate types, there's the Rocky Mountain Roundtable.

Coverage of the Democratic Convention to Date

The actual Democratic convention, once the platform was announced, seemed, at least according to the MSM, to be more about scheduled speeches by Michelle Obama, Ted Kennedy, and Hillary Clinton, with speeches by Bill Clinton and Joe Biden tonight and Barack Obama on Thursday.

And despite Jon Stewart's advice, the Washington Post has added six hours of live video daily to augment its live print coverage. Poynter interviewed the Post's Jim Brady on the rationale. My guess is the paper is attempting to compete in an erroding market.

And then there's the official convention blog, whose vacuous first day's post touted "behind the scenes action" including a description of the "great performance from the Colorado Children’s Chorale" and "enthusiastic delegates and supporters" in "some great outfits." And the silliest of Monday's coverage included "news" headlines such as, "Get over it: Heartthrob Clooney not coming to Denver" and "Obama look-alike causes stir at Pepsi Center."

Craig Crawford over at Congressional Quarterly credits an orchestrated convention without much substance with spawning extended coverage of the continuing psychodrama of the Clinton camp. ABC's piece by Jake Tapper August 26 reflected that trend, as did at Sam Youngman's coverage of Bill Clinton at The Hill and Michael Barone's at U.S. News & World Report (Barone also parsed speeches by Michele Obama and Ted Kennedy.) Over the weekend a lot of column inches had been devoted to speculation on what Biden did or did not add to the horse race.

So, if you're going to watch the convention and you have access to cable, I'd recommend C-SPAN, which includes the "minor speeches" such as that by Republican Jim Leach, (Word version) who, as Michael Tomasky noted, "was wedged in between Teddy and Michelle -- that is, when everyone was going to the bathroom."

In case you missed the speech, Leach, after running through his theory of the major milestones in American progressivism, outlined, although without solutions, what he sees as the major problems facing our country:
America has seldom faced more critical choices: whether we should maintain an occupational force for decades in a country and region that resents western intervention or elect a leader who, in a carefully structured way, will bring our troops home from Iraq as the heroes they are. Whether it is wise to continue to project power largely alone with flickering support around the world or elect a leader who will follow the model of General Eisenhower and this president's father and lead in concert with allies.

Whether it is prudent to borrow from future generations to pay for today's reckless fiscal policies or elect a leader who will shore up our budgets and return to a strong dollar. Whether it is preferable to continue the policies that have weakened our position in the world, deepened our debt and widened social divisions or elect a leader who will emulate John F. Kennedy and relight a lamp of fairness at home and reassert an energizing mix of realism and idealism abroad.
The Red Carpet: Denver and the Donors

In its efforts to roll out the red carpet, Denver City Council had passed an ordinance August 4 against carrying urine or feces. Mayor John Hickenlooper's office had sent a news release August 13 on "community outreach" efforts regarding its "temporary arrestee processing center" which its intended targets--political protesters--dubbed "Gitmo on the Platte."

The NYT Times noted that corporations, trade unions, lobbying firms and some wealthy individuals have anted up an estimated $112 million to underwrite the Democrats and the Republicans' convention in St. Paul the next week. That according to an analysis released August 20 by George Washington University's Campaign Finance Institute and The Center for Responsive Politics. And since there are no rules or limits, some donations have been in the million-dollar range. Compare that to the $16.8 million each party receives for its convention from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF) derived from the $3 check off on federal income tax forms.

And then there are the 400 parties and receptions the Sunlight Foundation is tracking through its project Party Time. Unlike donations to the convention committees, "reform" rules apply. According to Financial Week, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (S. 1) passed in 2007 had groups like the Financial Services Roundtable wondering whether to offer the 50 Democratic members of Congress French toast on toothpicks as they schmoozed with 100 Wall Street CEOs at a $30,000 brunch. says members of Congress can attend without making a speeches, only at a reception, not a meal, hence French toast as finger food. Apparently slices of toast were okayed by the House Ethics Committee. For an analysis, see Financial Industry Lobbyists Keep Bankers’ Hours" who found the event to be one of

dozens of mundane corporate events during the day that resemble what goes on in Washington nearly every other day of the year. While the setting is different -- more Western-style d├ęcor, for one, and microbrews you won’t find on Capitol Hill -- the sponsors, the guest list and the format are the same....

Billed as a “financial literacy” event, this was not an opportunity for average consumers to learn how to manage their money, despite Citigroup’s handouts asserting that “knowledge is your greatest asset” (a phrase the banking giant has registered to keep it as their own asset).

Instead, the gathering at a saloon-style restaurant was an opportunity for the financial services industry to show members of Congress that it’s being responsible by looking out for consumers and educating them about personal finance.
Interestingly, according to report, attendance wasn't what planners had predicted. Interesting, too, is Paul Keil, writing for Pro-Publica on how lobbyists feel put upon by the new law, while watchdogs say it needs more teeth.

The Big Tent Lineup

So amid speeches and partying over at the convention, what's being discussed at The Big Tent? Curiously, education seems to be given short shrift, other than a mention at the opening forum. Some of the other topics include:
  • what real, sustainable change would look like in the areas of Environmental Justice, Health Care, Climate Change/Clean Energy/Global Warming, International Affairs, Technology and Democracy, Race/Diversity, Womens' Issues
  • “The Shifting Faith Vote: What It Means For This Election”
  • The ColorofChange.org, the DNC Voting Rights Institute, the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project, the National Campaign for Fair Elections and Louisiana ACORN on the failure to provide an effective recovery program in the Gulf Coast after Katrina and a remedy for voter supression
  • The Earth Institute's plan to cut carbon emissions
  • FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein and Common Cause President
    Bob Edgar on media and democracy
Some of the bloggers participating in The Big Tent are giving a different read on the doings at the official convention. For instance, consider Ian Welsh, in his post at Firedoglake, "Hillary Quietly Calls Out Obama On Universal Health Care." And Big Tent authors are also covering the issues raised ast the progressive events. For instance, David O. Williams writes for the Independent Media Project in his post, Palast uses DNC to tout ‘Steal Back Your Vote’ project." Victor Navasky at The Nation, another Big Tent participant, writes about one of the PD Central events in "Making History,"

Here in Denver, the main action outside of the arena is not in the streets but indoors. Most of it has to do with progressive possibility. Yesterday, for example, I attended a half-day series of panels... about a "new" New Deal. (The old one, designed to overcome the Great Depression, gave birth to Social Security, public works and such; the new one, designed to overcome "the great devaluation," requires social investment in human capital-- healthcare and a college education for all, and other elements of "a new dream" ). The talk was about:

• Conyers' single-payer bill, HR 676

• A minimum wage indexed to inflation

• The right to organize (but also the need for unions to invest more of their assets into organizing)

• Retirement (don't move the age up, said US Action President Bill McNair, "snap the cap" on Social Security)


Beyond the Manufacture of Consent, Puleeze

Would that we were hearing more about issues in the time leading up to the November elections. Walter Lippmann participated in the Committee on Public Information and believed that
that ordinary people needed to be managed by enlightened experts. Later, though, he coined the term "manufacture of consent" and in the first chapter of Liberty and the News, he wrote,
When those who control...[the news columns] arrogate to themselves the right to determine by their own consciences what shall be reported and for what purpose, democracy is unworkable. Public opinion is blockaded. For when a people can no longer confidently repair ‘to the best fountains for their information,’ then anyone’s guess and anyone’s rumor, each man’s hope and each man’s whim becomes the basis of government.
What we need, per Stewart, is a media which works at uncovering the stories needed for informed dissent.

We may not see much of such coverage of the conventions this week or next. As Ann Patchett has her character Bernard Doyle observe in her newest novel, Run, which I started reading this week,
politicians when they weren't running for anything, when they were out of the game altogether. That was when they were willing to take the kinds of impossible moral stands that would get a man [or woman I would add] thrown out of Iowa in the first week.
Or, as my 89-year old mother volunteered on the telephone last night,

There are so many important problems right now and I'd like to hear what each side proposes as the solution.
With an acknowledgment to Patchett's point, Ma, even civil discussion from both parties on how to progress towards partial solutions would be nice.