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The bottom line for Democrats going into Al Gore’s make-or-break speech tonight is whether the arrogant eraserhead wonks at the Democratic Leadership Council can hold together their techno-whacked banner without sending the rest of the delegates to Nader or home never to vote.
As always, the Democratic National Convention trots out blacks, Latinos, workers, the Kennedys, etc., for that big-tent effect. This year in Los Angeles, it’s more humiliating than usual, with Jesse Jackson doing a prime-time entertainment gig reprising his 1988 campaign stump speech, and the great John Lewis shoring up Joe Lieberman. Joey might have been in Mississippi in the civil rights struggle, but despite what his boosters say, these days the veep hopeful can barely get it together to support affirmative action (“Mend it but please don’t end it,” Lieberman says, which is Clintonese for fuck you.)
Up to now, the so-called base of the party, jettisoned by Clinton-Gore’s New Democrats in 1992 and formally kissed off during welfare reform, has gone along with the Leadership Council in hopes of getting something out of it. But they’ve achieved nothing, with the gap between rich and poor growing larger, the health insurance system disintegrating, pensions disappearing into 401(k)s, and public education going to the dogs.
Sooner or later, those suckers will catch on. And when that happens, the Democratic Party will blow apart. The commentators this week dismissed Cornel West’s desertion to Nader as just the flight of another Harvard intellectual. But the cold fury in Maxine Waters’s eyes over affirmative action ought to be warning enough to these guys that the party’s just be about over.
FOOTNOTE: Oddly enough the toughest, most direct speech to the delegates came from House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, who has successfully hammered the left wing of the party in the House into a viable political weapon, despite the endless meddling of Clinton and Gore. Gephardt’s left is so united, the House Dems have beaten back the president’s alliance with Newt Gingrich on trade. Thank God the Democratic Leadership Council has no sway in Congress.
As it has been all decade, the House, not the White House, will be the arena for real battle. Gephardt had wanted to be president oh so badly, but as Speaker he still could become the chief architect for change.