Politics » Politics Feature

Getting Started

Protestors and the Hillary question grab attention as the Democrats convene in Denver.



On Sunday morning, I woke in a Denver hotel room, and, while channel-surfing, discovered Fox News broadcasting a new version of the Fall of Man. While it was not exactly Miltonian in scope (no loss of Eden per se), the network's treatment certainly had its apocalyptic moments.

There was its reporter, a neat-looking bespectacled young dude who appeared to have been time-traveled from, say, 1957, to the scene of a gathering march whose members, far scruffier by contrast, belonged to the social tableau of roughly a decade later. Like 1967, the age of Dangerous Long-Haired Hippies. Or 1968, to be precise, since the leaders of this demonstration in downtown Denver had explicitly promised to recreate that year of revolutionary ferment and, specifically, to re-do the Democratic-convention chaos of Chicago 1968.

What did I say, Milton? No, Dante, make it. Or how about George Romero? Over the bottom-of-the-screen slug "Leftist Protesters ..." something-or-other, the Fox man betook himself into the maelstrom of marchers, extending his portable mike to this one and that, asking each of them in turn what it was they thought they were doing. What ensued had to be a Sunday morning first on prime-time cable.

The response that Foxman got from anyone he approached was threefold. Either "Fuck you!" (unstrained by any seven-second censor) or the middle finger (in several cases, the two-fisted version) or both. (Update: The expletive just mentioned is what I heard; for the record, others heard such variants as "Fuck Fox News" and even "Fuck America" — the latter version appearing in the Fox crawler during a later replay. In any case, the famous four letters went fully voiced — conceivably in all those variations.)

This mise en scene-cum-cacophony went on for a full minute as the young reporter began to resemble some dogged but courageous fool lost in a no-man's-land as the Fox anchor-lady back in the studio viewed the proceedings with alarm.

"Things are out of control here, as you can see," he told her.

"Yes, I can see things are out of control there," she said. And that was but a segue into an even grimmer announcement. "And wait 'til you see what's going on inside the Pepsi Center itself!" she teased.

All through the commercial break, I — like presumably the millions of others watching at home — wondered: What must be going on inside the arena where the nation's Democrats would be gathering, beginning Monday, for four days of celebration, culminating with the acceptance address from Barack Obama on Thursday night?

Were orgies taking place inside? Were dark conspiratorial plans being hatched amid Satanic trappings? Just what, Fox lady? I was on the edge of my seat. (Hotel bed, rather.)

In fact, once the break was over, there was no more reference to anything hot and heavy going on in the Pepsi Center. Instead, the Fox lady and her cohort on the anchor desk merely went back to reviewing b-rolls of the End of the Civilized World, as they had just seen it before the break. They then rattled off a list of some of the incendiary presences who were slated to appear at a rally at the end of the ongoing march, and, lo and behold, one whom they lavished several admonitory words on was former Georgia congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, the current presidential nominee of the Green Party USA.

Among the horrors so far inflicted on honest society by McKinney, as the Fox folks reminded us, was her alleged physical assault some years back of a U.S. Capitol policeman who, befuddled by a brand-new Afro hair style she was sporting, stopped her at a congressional checkpoint and challenged her for her ID.

Not long after their tabloid-style treatment of McKinney, the Fox people went on to their wait at Denver's airport for the arrival of Michelle Obama, wife of the presidential-nominee-to-be. "We hope to be able to ask her about some of her statements in the past," the reporter at the scene said, referencing, among other things, her reported acknowledgement during the Obamas' Wunderjahr of these last 12 months that, for the first time in her life, she was genuinely proud to be an American.

That, plus several wry reminders from the Fox reporter on the scene that Michelle Obama was the product of an Eastern Seaboard education, and a repetition of the reporter's intent: "We intend to stay here and try to get some words with her and see if she has anything to say." ("... for herself" seemed to be the implied continuation.)

Rotsa ruck, I thought, and decided I'd had enough for one day of the Fair and Balanced network. I turned off the TV and fell to thinking about my own conversation in Memphis last week with a visiting Cynthia McKinney, who was accompanied by the Green Party's candidate for U.S. Senate, Chris Lugo.

I had sat down with them at the Barnes & Noble store at Wolfchase Galleria for a brief chat, and either McKinney and Lugo were concealing their involvement in what Fox saw as a concerted effort to undermine the Western World and its values or they were in fact calm, reasonable people, possessed of a will to protect the environment, reform the political apparatus, and impose some restraints on what they saw as an unbridled capitalist system that had run amok for the last eight years.

McKinney served two different stints in Congress, and Lugo had so far not made a scratch during his two statewide races to date. Neither had realistic hopes of winning this time around, and there was something both forlorn and heroic about their current effort. Since they could not be said to represent large numbers of people in the body politic, they might even have been regarded as irrelevant — maybe even in the comic, almost vaudevillian way that the Fox folks portrayed such types (as an alternative to their being arch-villains at the gates).

But, as Lugo emphasized, they were taking the first, perhaps tentative steps toward organizing a base of support among public interest groups — a foundation that could give them leverage in the system. Maybe so, maybe no. McKinney and Lugo were, in any case, as intolerant of what might be described as liberal condescension as the people at Fox News were.

Barack Obama? They saw him to be the same old same old — just another sellout to the special interests. McKinney was on hand at Sunday's rally and during the rest of the proceedings in Denver this week to make that point to whatever audience she might be able to command.

She'll have trouble. All eyes and all expectations are on the man from Illinois (by way of Hawaii and Indonesia), and, as the Tennessee Democratic chairman Gray Sasser got the first meeting of the state delegation to this year's party convention under way on Monday morning, that sense of hopefulness (or simply "hope," as the candidate himself likes to say) was palpable among the delegates.

The speaker at that first breakfast meeting of the delegation was one Fabian Bedne, who is involved, he said, in an outreach effort among Hispanics in Tennessee. His speech was largely a snoozer, as he dragged on through a recitation of policy goals until he happened to be mention the magic word: "Obama."

That inspired a spontaneous wave of applause — one that was as nothing compared to what the several thousand attendees at Obama's forthcoming coronation at Envesco Field will experience. Really, right now, the name is just a mantra. We'll all get a chance to see what the man himself looks like on Thursday night.

And, as for the much-vaunted Clinton floor rebellion that numerous news outlets were ballyhooing (Fox once again in the van), one of the former First Lady's men, Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, visited the Tennesseans for breakfast on Tuesday to dispel any such thoughts.

Rendell began by asking for a show of hands. "How many people who originally supported Hillary Clinton do we have here?" he asked. A forest of hands sprouted up. "Well," he reminded his fellow Hillary devotees, "we had 10 days in which to get mad. Then we needed to get over it." Barack Obama would be "a great president," he said, and would push all the policy options that candidate Clinton had called for. "I'm sure of it."

The long and the short of it was that there were some changes that had to be made, and "we can't wait five years, we can't wait eight years" to get about them. So, as far as that lingering Hillary hurt went, Rendell said, raising his voice to an exhortatory pitch and sounding, and even looking, like one of Tony Soprano's minions:"Forget about it!"

Whether they will, of course, is one of the yet-to-be-answered questions of this election season.

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