Campaign Crawlers

Disaster Drill

Obama headlines a Democratic convention plagued by bungles.

By 9.6.12

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- By nine o'clock Wednesday night, the fire marshal closed down entry to the Democratic National Convention because the Time Warner Cable Arena was past fire-code capacity. Even former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw was reported to have been briefly locked out.

This logistical screw-up was perhaps but a faint foreshadowing of Thursday night's disappointment. President Obama's acceptance speech, originally scheduled for the 70,000-seat Bank of America Stadium, has been shifted to the indoor arena, which seats only 20,000. This will mean that some 50,000 ticket-holders for the president's speech will be out of luck. The DNC blamed the move on the weather forecast. "We have been monitoring weather forecasts closely and several reports predict thunderstorms in the area," Steve Kerrigan, the convention committee's CEO, explained in a statement that expressed concern for "the safety and security of our delegates and convention guests."

The weather excuse produced scoffing -- a local meteorologist said Thursday promised the best weather all week -- and Republican skeptics immediately suggested the change of venue reflected the Democrats' inability to fill the stadium. "They just don't have the people, folks," Rush Limbaugh told his nationwide radio audience. "They just can't get the people there.… It's not that they don't have buses. They don't have people to put on the buses. They don't have people who want to go. It's no more complicated than that. They can't find 64,000 people that want to go to this thing."

Four years ago, some 80,000 filled Denver's Invesco Field for Obama's acceptance speech featuring a Greek-columned portico that critics dubbed the "Barackopolis." The wild enthusiasm Obama generated in 2008 has now clearly waned. Even the most slavish Democrat constituency, organized labor, seems less excited about another four years of Obama. Labor unions have effectively boycotted this year's Democrat convention, miffed because the DNC chose to host its quadrennial event in North Carolina, a state with right-to-work laws and one of the lowest percentages of union enrollment in the nation. If Democrats couldn't fill the Charlotte stadium for Obama's speech, it may have been due to a lack of union organizers to bus in supporters.

This convention has been plagued by problems both large and small. Delegates have complained about being stuck in cheap motels, some reportedly infested with bedbugs. Concession stands at the arena appear understaffed, compelling delegates to stand in long lines for overpriced food. As I stood in line for a $4 cup of coffee Wednesday night, a Rhode Island delegate in line behind me talked about the transportation problems that left some of her fellow delegates stranded downtown last Tuesday, forcing them to pay an outrageous cab fare to reach their hotel 30 minutes away.

More politically significant was the Democrats' official party platform, which was revised this year to omit reference to God, and to delete a previous statement supporting Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. When these revisions sparked negative headlines, party leaders moved quickly to change the platform, but they screwed that up, too. With Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa chairing the convention, a motion was made to re-instate both God and Jerusalem into the platform, but when Villaraigosa called for a voice vote to approve the motion, it was far from clear that the measure had support from the required two-thirds of delegates necessary to pass. After asking the question three times, Villaraigosa finally ruled that the "ayes" had it, producing a storm of booing from the hall. The controversy was sufficiently heated -- and the embarrassment sufficiently great -- that Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz canceled her scheduled TV appearances, evidently to avoid discussing the issue.

The lineup of speeches Wednesday was "a freak show," as one conservative in the press center remarked. For a party that is trying to pin the "liar" label on Republicans, the Democrats certainly didn't seem conscious of the optics they presented, including a prime-time appearance by Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke. Back in the spring, Fluke stirred controversy by claiming that Georgetown's student insurance policy, which doesn't cover contraception, imposed health risks and prohibitive costs -- as much as $3,000 a year, she said -- on female students. Fluke's claims were quickly debunked when it was shown that local pharmacies sell birth-control pills at a cost of about $9 for a month's supply. Fluke took to the stage here Wednesday to assert her celebrity-victim status, saying she had been "shut out and silenced" by Republicans, targeted by "hateful slurs" from "extreme, bigoted voices" and "verbally attacked."

The delegates cheered Fluke wildly, and also cheered Elizabeth Warren, the former Harvard Law professor and Obama economic adviser who is now running against Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Warren is scarcely a symbol of honesty and integrity. Her claims of Cherokee ancestry, used to gain "minority" status and Ivy League faculty positions, have been as discredited as Fluke's $3,000-a-year birth-control claims. At most, she's 1/64th Cherokee, and even that slender sliver of Native American heritage is disputed. Polls in Massachusetts show Warren trailing Brown, and her primetime spot in Wednesday's convention lineup seemed intended to boost her flagging candidacy, the Democrats' best hope of picking off a GOP Senate seat this fall. Warren's speech said nothing about her alleged Cherokee forebears, but instead assailed billionaires and "Wall Street CEOs … who wrecked our economy." Her peroration cited a famous passage from the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus urged charity toward "the least of these," which somehow Warren interpreted as a demand for more government programs as endorsed by a departed saint of liberalism. The Bible verse, she said, "teaches about God in each of us, that we are bound to each other and called to act… all of us together. Senator Kennedy understood that call." This reference to Saint Teddy was certainly an imaginative exegesis of Matthew 25:40, and drew cheers from the Democratic delegates. Mary Jo Kopechne could not be reached for comment.

The man whom Warren introduced was, of course, not exactly a paragon of honesty. If nothing else, Wednesday night was another milestone on Bill Clinton's rehabilitation tour. The erstwhile perjurer and Oval Office sex fiend was given a hero's welcome by the Democrats, and proceeded to give a speech that ran overtime. At 48 minutes, Clinton's convention speech rivaled some of his interminable State of the Union addresses, and ran more than 20 minutes past the scheduled 11 p.m. conclusion. He praised Obama's economic plan, despite the fact that no one has ever seen this alleged plan. "I think the President's plan is better than the Romney plan," Clinton said, "because the Romney plan fails the first test of fiscal responsibility: The numbers don't add up." Obama has no numbers to add, and this is a virtue, according to Democrats. Instead, Clinton praised Obama in terms of glittering generalities: "clean air, clean water, safe food," and "shared prosperity where the middle class is growing and poverty is declining." He might as well have added, "and every child gets a unicorn for Christmas."

Democrats enthusiastically cheered this stuff and they'll cheer even more tonight when Obama takes the stage, no matter what he says. The same media establishment that insisted on fact-checking everything said at last week's Republican convention has scarcely said a peep about the whopping lies told at this week's Democratic convention. And Obama's media cheerleaders have barely mentioned the slipshod planning that caused this week's convention bungles.

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About the Author

Robert Stacy McCain is co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party (Nelson Current). He blogs at The Other McCain.