I'm not in Denver and all day long I've been feeling bad about it. I was in Chicago and Boston for Clinton/Kerry conventions and I have never been to better parties. Both the expected (multiple long speeches) and the unexpected happen. Once at the 1998 Chicago Convention, I was on the floor when, right before Al Gore was scheduled to speak, they locked the doors and locked too many people in. It was a Democratic mosh pit -- you both couldn't move and had to move because if you didn't, you might go down. Suddenly I got pushed backwards and started to fall and was saved by a guy in back of me who caught me before I went to the floor. I turned around, still sort of in his arms to see that it was Kevin Costner holding me. See, mostly that happens in my dreams. He asked where I was going and I said Illinois, pointing at the delegates up front. "I'm going to California," he said. Walking from state to state is usually a good dream indicator.
The next convention I attended in Boston, I was questioning a guy named Sunshine (try finding that name at a Republican convention) on whether or not it was safe to walk across the park at night to get to another event when Rep. Barney Frank walked up, handed over a subway token and said "Please take this" in that Elmer Fudd voice of his, and then gave me directions, saying "This way is safer." "Call when you get there," yelled out Sunshine. Also at that convention I looked up from the floor and saw in a skybox Larry David and Hillary Clinton and felt nervous like something bad might happen; I was oddly relieved when John Cusack walked in.
But the sometime surreal, dreamlike qualities of conventions pale in comparison to being around a large group of strangers with similar beliefs and willingness to work in various ways toward those beliefs. It's inspiring and I think everyone should try and finagle some way of getting to a convention at least once in their life.
However, this year's convention coincided with the beginning of the school year, with my teaching and the walk to school for my daughter's last year of elementary school. She's old enough that I'll probably get waved away long before we get to the door, and last night I thought, "Oh forget family values; I want to be with the Democrats; I want to be with my tribe."
The regret started, as many things nostalgic do, with Jimmy Carter. After years of being dissed by his own party, when Carter took the stage at the 2004 convention, even the reporters stood up, and I was reminded of the scene from "To Kill A Mockingbird," when Atticus Finch stands up to leave the court room after losing his defense, and the Rev. Skyes taps Scout on the shoulder, and says, "Stand up, Ms. Jean Louise, your father is passing." That's how I feel about Jimmy Carter -- that people should stand up when he passes.
This year, the ovation wasn't a surprise. The guy who had told to turn down our thermostats, put on our sweaters, drive slower, and stop relying on foreign oil seemed like a prophet instead of a kill-joy. The guy who was mocked for only having "lust in his heart," is, well, a relief.
And then there was Ted Kennedy's strong and booming voice still pushing for health care. His love of water detailed in the trailer was a bit perplexing to me as a metaphor, given that water was involved in a tragedy of fairly epic proportions in his life. I still believe it was Chappaquiddick that kept Kennedy from a successful bid at the Presidency, but he's done more as a Senator than most Presidents. Caroline Kennedy was absolutely right when she said legislation he had sponsored or written or negotiated had impacted most Americans for the good. And her face, when she looks at her Uncle Teddy, is more of a testimony to family values than 100 Republican speeches.
But mostly why I wanted to be there was to stand up for Hillary Clinton when she came out on stage. My personal change over the course of the campaign has been to move from a grudging admiration to an unabashed one. I don't expect everyone to change in the same direction, but I've been taken aback by continued vitriol sent her way, by misquotations and misinformation of people claiming to know her inner-most workings, and by a negation of her work by people who didn't always get off the couch to vote, much less do the kind of service she has done in her lifetime.
Whatever behind-the-scenes calculations might have been made, whatever bargains she has made in marriage (none of our business), my admiration stood apart from that. My admiration in her character came from watching her be knocked down and getting up again. There was out and out sexism thrown her way that was largely unchecked and often times cultivated by media. And she kept going long enough to convince 18 million people to vote for her. Which was her message last night invoked through Harriet Tubman, "If they come after you with torches, keep going."
And they had come after Clinton with metaphorical torches so numerous that sometimes I actually got a flash of the scene from the old Frankenstein movie. But she kept going and by the end I had no doubt that as president she really would have gotten up every day and worked her efficient heart out.
In the last month, I've stood up for Clinton in odd places--at a potluck, on the train, and last night I stood in my living room, but I would have loved to be on that convention floor.
I support Barack Obama in this election, but I have a feeling in the historical scope, Hillary Clinton will run somewhat the same trajectory of Jimmy Carter in terms of people changing their perspectives, and somewhat the same trajectory of Ted Kennedy, becoming one of the historical defining voices of the Senate. She is well on her way to becoming a woman for whom one should stand when she is passing.
Everyone in Denver: Party On.
And Girl, in the long run, you really did get us going. Thank you.