Daily Archives: August 26, 2008

Michelle Obama did her part and closed a somewhat purposeless first day of the Democratic convention on a positive note. She came over as strong and assured, yet approachable and not at all threatening or angry–those last two were the notes, of course, that the campaign was most anxious to avoid. Her story was touching, and their marriage reflects well on her husband. Yes, one thought, she is a remarkable woman and he did well. Also, she dealt deftly with a couple of awkward issues: of course she loves America; and words can barely do justice to her regard for Hillary Clinton. It was good stuff, well delivered.

My spirits sagged, and even then only a little, at just two points. It’s starting to annoy me that Barack keeps telling us how he turned down Wall Street for a career in “public service”. By this he means politics. Just how great a sacrifice is that? The kind of ambition that gets you into the Senate and maybe the White House is not exactly renouncing the world and all its temptations, is it? And now here we have Michelle doing the same thing. She gave up lawyering, she says, and chose “public service”–the kind that leads in due course to a 300k-plus salary. I’ve no problem with it. I just don’t want to keep being asked to admire the sacrifice.

The other dispiriting thing was the stuff with the girls at the end. They are cute, and the traditions of American politics must be observed, no doubt, but it makes me uncomfortable to see children used as political props. One ought to feel much the same way, I suppose, about spouses. At a couple of points in this campaign, when Michelle has come in for criticism, Barack said, “leave her out of this.” At those times I remember thinking, he’s right: the country is not electing her. Maybe, in fact, it is: in any event, you can’t have it both ways.

A little earlier, the ailing Ted Kennedy greatly moved the audience with a most dignified address–a speech that was all about the country and Obama, and not at all about him. And yet, as I say, the first day seemed somewhat drifting and unfocused. With three days still to go, it is too soon to complain of complacency. But the Democratic campaign is in trouble. So far, you would not know it from the mood in Denver.

Daily Kos, the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, and ProgressNow have organized a week-long programme in the Big Tent, actually a medium-sized building near the convention centre. One panel including Arianna Huffington and Paul Krugman discussed the challenge of getting people to see what is obvious. “We must be willing to listen to people who disagree with us,” suggested Mrs Huffington. A novel and valuable thought.

Next, Anne-Marie Slaughter (describing herself as Mr Krugman’s boss at Princeton) asked the eponymous Kos (Markos Moulitsas), Jane Mayer (author of a new book on civil liberties and terrorism), and Van Jones (environmental campaigner) to give President Obama “five to seven minutes of advice”. They ignored her, even though she set a good example with a crisply stated agenda of her own: close the prison at Guantanamo; apply the Geneva conventions without exception or equivocation; green the economy; rebuild the international institutions so that they give the emerging powers more voice; and combat nuclear proliferation. Are you listening, Mr President?

The others, also with new books to promote, had interesting things to say about them. My reading list keeps growing. And Mr Moulitsas provided the most surprising statistic of the week. He said the median age of his readers was 45, and that he had more readers aged 65 or over than under 25. Blogging looks to be a dying industry.

The Democrats have an ill-advised fondness for celebrities, and the feeling is mutual. Stars of stage, screen and recording studio are everywhere to be seen in Denver. At a brunch co-hosted by the Service Employees International Union and the Creative Coalition—a “nonpartisan (what?) social and public policy advocacy organization”—Spike Lee, Ellen Burstyn, Matthew Modine, Alan Cumming, Barry Levinson, and a somewhat familiar-looking actress who plays a nurse on television looked on earnestly as Danny Glover called for social justice and enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Barack Obama has promised to back the law. Among other things, it would compel union recognition if more than 50 percent of a company’s workforce signed cards affirming their wish to be a member: no secret ballot required. The opportunities for intimidation are obvious. (A recent TV ad opposing the measure shows a Mafioso-type heavy offering a worker a card and a pen, as a bunch of thugs stand by.) Advocates of the law say that union-recognition elections are corrupted by employer intimidation, and the so-called card-check method is therefore necessary. Speaking as a worker, and bearing both kinds of undue pressure in mind, I would rather take my chances with a secret ballot. Other pieces of EFCA are less indefensible, and it is a shame to see them tethered to this plain infringement of civil liberty, but the unions want card-check more than all the rest, and the law’s advocates regard the measure as indivisible.

None of this was discussed over brunch, needless to say. The law was not even described: it was posited as self-evidently desirable, and that was that. The only question was how to get it passed. Send for some actors. They draw a crowd, I grant you, but I wonder whether brunch with the stars really advances the cause.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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