Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Opening Night Thoughts

Once again, I want to shake a frustrated fist at the geniuses who scheduled the Democratic Convention the same week as the first week of school for me. It's really cutting into my time. I can't watch all the afternoon festivities -- like the countless state reps who speak or Sasha Obama calling the convention to order. (Man, does that kid send my biological clock ticking -- although I suspect that she would drive me crazy with her cuteness after a while!) Last night, I came home with a pile of work that necessitated being in the tv-less den working on the computer. Thank God for CNN's live feed where I could watch (or rather listen to) the speakers without the endless commentary from Wolf and the gang. On the other hand, it did mean actually listening to ALL the speakers, like the incredibly dull Jim Leach from Iowa. (Hey, Republicans, we gave you guys Zell Miller four years ago. Couldn't you have shot us someone with a little bit more charisma -- or does such a thing exist in the GOP?) I don't know that I would go so far as James Carville (who looks more and more like the Crypt Keeper every day) and call last night a failure on the part of the Democrats, but I think the night was most definitely saved by two families -- the Kennedys and the Obamas.

First off, I should say that Ted Kennedy has long been one of my political idols. It goes back to one of those childhood stories that truly illuminate who I am today. When I was a kid, I had a set of World Book Encyclopedias in my bedroom. They were a little dated (Nixon was still listed as the current president), but I would sit and read them voraciously, reading primarily about movie stars and politics (see -- what did I tell you? ILLUMINATION!). I was particularly fond of reading the section about John and Bobby Kennedy. I was fascinated by the story, which seemed like something out of a book or movie. I can remember crying the first time I read that they were assassinated and even then, at the age of 8 or 9, wondering what the world would be like if they had lived. In 1980, when Ted Kennedy ran for president, I was enthralled. ANOTHER KENNEDY!?!!?!?? I BEGGED my parents to vote for him, not understanding fully the whole idea of party identification and the fact that I was being raised in a Republican home. (My mom says she knew from that moment they were in trouble with me politically, although it would be a good decade or more later before I found out that my mom had been a closet Democrat all those years -- something that would have been nice to know when I cried myself to sleep in high school because my parents didn't vote for Dukakis. Had I known that HALF OF MY FAMILY did, maybe I would have not been so despondent!)

Anyway, I was very moved by Kennedy's appearance and honestly surprised to see that he still looked like Ted Kennedy. I was expecting him to be frail and bald, and he looked pretty robust -- until he started walking (which is when I started crying). It was a classic Ted speech, made all the more powerful by the realization that this could very well be his last appearance before his party like this. This is the die-hard liberal Democrat in me talking here, but this country really does owe a great debt of gratitude to this man who has worked tirelessly year after year to try to make this country a better place. He's not perfect, he's made mistakes, but he's also made a difference.

I did sit through the rather dull speeches that fell between Kennedy and Michelle Obama. The highlight for me was probably seeing the Chicago city clerk speak. Not that it was a rousing speech, but I was seriously laughing my butt off that the Chicago city clerk was invited to speak and NOT the Democratic governor of Illinois. Let me say that again: the DEMOCRATIC governor of the home state of the DEMOCRATIC presidential nominee was not invited to speak at the DEMOCRATIC convention. For those of you not familiar with the state of party politics here in Illinois, let me just say that this is incredibly telling. We have a state government in crisis with bickering within the Democratic party, a party that controls both the governor's mansion, the Senate, and the House. There's a constant feud between Governor Rod Blagojevich, Speaker Mike Madigan, and Majority Leader Emil Jones. People in this blue state are pretty fed up with Blago -- and here's your proof that the frustration extends beyond the borders of our state.

I have to confess I wasn't sure how I would feel about Michelle Obama speaking. It's not that I don't like her, but there's always this part of me that finds it a little condescending that the wives of candidates are given their own little speech time -- like, "Here you go, honey. Now go make me a sandwich!" I also knew, though, the real purpose of that speech -- to try to address that "elitist" label that the GOP is trying to saddle Barack Obama with. The film that preceeded her speech began that task. The story of his persistence in getting her to go out with him was charming and relatable -- and what woman wouldn't finally cave in when offered ice cream? (I know, that was sexist . . . okay, what MAN wouldn't cave in either? Who doesn't like ice cream?) I also really liked the speech by her brother and thought it did a great job of exposing the "human" side of Michelle, too, who has fought a lot of conservative smear tactics this year, undeservedly so. Heaven forbid a smart, talented man marry a smart, talented woman! Thank God Michelle loves The Brady Bunch. Now maybe people will get over it and vote with their heads and not whatever part of them compels people to vote for the dream beer drinking buddy.

As for her speech . . . wow! I liked Michelle Obama before, but now I freakin' love her. Not only did she complete her assigned task of "humanizing" herself and her husband, but she did it without pandering. She launched the defense she needed to while still urging people to be strong and do the right thing in November. The text was available online almost immediately, and you'd better believe I printed that thing off to hand to one of my speech team kids this season! As if that wasn't enough, the two little girls coming out and visiting with their dad via satellite was adorable. (I heard someone on NPR this afternoon saying that was a powerful show of courage on Michelle Obama's part -- to hand a live mic to a 7 year old. And how telling was it that she did so without batting an eye, without that look of fear at what Sasha might say?) You know what, it's time we had a family like that in the White House. What a powerful message to send to the world, to show this intelligent couple raising a young family. How inspiring to see just what is possible here, just what this country can be. The Obama family gives hope. To borrow a line from an old friend of ours, I STILL believe in a place called Hope, and I saw the family who can lead us there last night.

Tonight is Hillary. I'll react tomorrow.

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