Boston - At Kerryfest 04 there is little conflict in Dem-land. No major tussles over who will get to speak from the podium in prime time. No battles over the party platform. The protests on Sunday - ghettoized in Boston Common - were small and insignificant.
The so-called Social Forum, a gathering of lefties, has produced no sparks noticeable to the thousands of delegates and media folk who rush from one reception to the next in this summer camp of politics-and-journalism. At an event honouring the late Senator Paul Wellstone, prominent progressives - Al Franken, Arianna Huffington, Jim Hightower - all said job no. 1 is booting Bush. Once - if - that is done, there will be plenty of time for pushing and pulling with Kerry. Despite any misgivings they have, progressives saw no reason to put pressure on Kerry.
Not that they could. This was unlike the days of the 1984 and 88 conventions, when Jesse Jackson brought progressives to the meet as delegates and as a force making demands. These days there are few pissed-off (at the party) Democrats. Another sign of the times: on Sunday night, Representative Jim McGovern, a strong liberal, and his wife, Lisa, hosted a party for George McGovern, the party's 1972 anti-war nominee - a gathering of McGovernite Democrats and there was no bitching about the party and the nominee.
There even appears to be little taste within the party for a debate over what should be done in Iraq. Some progressive Dems back the notion of expressing a sepcific date for a pullout of troops, but Kerry does not. Still, this has not become a pitched fight. Perhaps that's because it's an academic question. Should Kerry win in November, he would not take office until January 20. Who knows now what will be the appropriate policy then? In terms of big-picture principles, Kerry is for trying to internationalize the mess in order to withdraw U.S. troops.
And even Dennis Kucinich and Win Without War, the anti-war coalition, don't advocate yanking U.S. troops without replacing them with forces from elsewhere. But the best "plan" Kerry might be able to offer at this point for dealing with the enormous problem Bush created is the argument that he will muddle through better than the guy who screwed things up in the first place. In any event, the Democrats are shining, happy people.
Despite all the warm and fuzzy feel-goodism, the structural disconnects of the Democratic party remain evident. Kerry attacked special interests during the primary campaign. Yet special interests are funding much of the convention, contributing tens of millions of dollars to subsidize events. On Sunday night, July 25, there was a particularly trenchant example.
At a Congressional Black Caucus reception in the State House to honour the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) - which in 1964 challenged the all-white delegation to the Democratic convention - a large photograph of Fannie Lou Hamer, a leader of the MFDP, hung next to a banner for Lockheed Martin, the aerospace firm.
Was that because Hamer, the long-time civil rights champion, was a proponent of anti-missile defence systems or a fan of telecommunications reform? No, in a business-as-usual fashion, two corporate giants, Lockheed Martin and Verizon, were underwriting an event in order to make nice with members of Congress. And the legislators did not mind taking the money.
The podium was turned over to Art Johnson, a Lockheed Martin executive. "We're pleased with the relationship our company has with the Congressional Black Caucus." Was he pleased with the caucus's call for cutting the military budget by a third? Johnson did not say. But no doubt Lockheed Martin is pleased with its ability to lobby the caucus's members on a host of legislative matters.
I doubt more than a few of the hundreds of people present even thought for a moment about the incongruence of this event. The worst of the Democratic party (corporate backers looking for - and gaining - access and influence) and the best of the Democratic party (civil rights heroes) were literally side by side, in collaboration. Talk about coalition-building. But in this week of unprecedented unity, it might be impolite for anyone to question that. It would be off message.