Among the Intellectualoids

Cheerleader Caucus

The promise of victory unites the Democratic coalition.

By 8.27.08

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DENVER -- Barack Obama may or may not be merely a political celebrity, as the John McCain campaign charges, but he's got no shortage of celebrity supporters, including actresses Rosario Dawson, Eva Longoria and Fran Drescher, all of whom addressed yesterday's meeting of the DNC Women's Caucus.

Not even the presence of three TV stars, however, was enough to fill the caucus meeting in the Four Seasons Ballroom at the Colorado Convention Center. The ballroom was never more than three-quarters full, even though rumors had circulated among delegates that both Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton would address the caucus.

Neither woman showed. If they had made a belated appearance, they would have addressed a half-full room. The caucus ran 20 minutes over its allotted two hours, and by the time the final speakers took the state, most of the delegates -- and nearly all of the reporters -- had left.

Perhaps the early departures reflected boredom, or perhaps they reflected the crowded schedule of caucuses scheduled this week in Denver. The Women's Caucus was scheduled to end at noon, at which time other caucuses convened their meetings elsewhere.

The overlapping caucus schedules may have caused conflicts for some delegates. Should a young, Catholic, disabled Democrat attend the Disability Caucus in room 601, the Faith Caucus in the Korbel Ballroom, or the Youth Caucus in the Wells Fargo Theater? All three met at noon yesterday.

THE DEMOCRATS SEEM to have custom-made caucuses for everyone, including Asian American/Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, union members, seniors, rural residents, veterans and blacks. (American Indians, more recently known as Native Americans, have been designated "First Americans" in the latest Democratic caucus nomenclature.)

There's also an LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transsexual) caucus, and even a Recovery Caucus for those coping with substance-abuse and mental health problems, whose meeting Monday was addressed by Rep. Patrick Kennedy.

Overlap between the various constituencies is obvious at the Women's Caucus, which is addressed by Bel Leong-Hong, chairwoman of the DNC's Asian-American/Pacific Islander Caucus, and Black Caucus chairwoman Virgie Rollins.

The overlapping caucus membership also involves a significant overlap of agendas. Dawson, who has appeared in such films as Sin City and Rent, is co-founder of Vota Latino, a group that pushes the political "mobilization" of Hispanics.

"One-in-three women in this country will be affected by rape, abuse or be killed," Dawson tells the Women's Caucus, and introduces the executive director of Voto Latino, Maria Theresa Peterson, who declares, "By 2040, Hispanics will be a majority in the United States."

These are both dubious statistics. The "one-in-three" figure for women suffering from violence appears to be a derivative of the widely quoted claim that one-in-four women are victims of rape, a statistic denounced as a "myth" by the Independent Women's Forum. And the Census Bureau projects Hispanics to be 22 percent of U.S. population by 2040, which is hardly a majority.

If they're short on statistical validity, the Women's Caucus is long on political enthusiasm. For all the talk about disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters in Denver, the speakers at yesterday's caucus were unstinting in their praise for Obama. Even the most banal pronouncements were greeted by the delegates with cheers and chants of "Obama! Obama!"

"We celebrate the fact that not only can women vote, but women can vote for other women in elected office," says Donna Brazile, eliciting cheers and the shaking of tambourines distributed free to the caucus attendees.

Drescher, best known as TV's "The Nanny," said that Clinton had "put 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling," but urged support for Obama as "a defender of women's rights." A survivor of uterine cancer, she praised Obama for his sponsorship of the Gynecologic Cancer Education and Awareness Act, and used her illness as an argument for abortion rights.

"My right to choose was taken away when I was given a radical hysterectomy to cure my cancer," Drescher said. "I hate that I lost my right to choose, and you will, too."

The logic of that statement doesn't quite hold together -- what Republican would deny a woman the ability to bear children, as Drescher's hysterectomy did? -- but it was nonetheless applauded heartily by the Women's Caucus.

HEARTY APPLAUSE seems to be the entire point of these caucus meetings, which are one part group self-affirmation -- celebrating the experience of being a woman, gay, Hispanic, etc. -- and one part partisan rally. The caucus members are told how wonderful it is to belong to their identity group, and then told how important Obama's election is to their group.

Being organized as a coalition of identity groups results in a certain amount of political irrationality by the Democrats. Yet these caucus pep rallies serve a necessary function for a party that lives or dies by its ability to promise benefits to its constituents.

Democratic promises are only as valuable, however, as the party's ability to win elections. This is why, despite whatever disgruntlement Hillary's supporters may harbor, they still cheered when the speakers at the Women's Caucus praised Obama and slammed the Republicans.

Even the most illogical or banal statements were cheered, so long as they were embedded in the hope of victory. This is the hope -- or, as Obama's sloganeers have it, the Hope -- that ultimately unites the disparate elements of the Democratic coalition.

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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.