I’s amazing what weird situations an excess of curiosity will land you in. Here I am, for example, wearing female clothing and a false beard, impersonating a Democrat at the yearly convention of Daily Kos (www.dailykos.com), which is being held in Las Vegas, of all places.
I had kind of hoped to get through life without ever being in Las Vegas. But it’s not what I expected. On the flight out here, that line of Tacitus kept running through my head — urbs quo cuncta undique atrocia confluunt, a city where all evils, from everywhere else, come and gather. But it isn’t like that at all. It’s oddly innocent and childlike, a kids’ playground writ large. It’s plastered all over with various insignia of naughtiness but it’s really quite orderly and safe, and to tell the truth, it’s a little bland. So it really is the perfect place for Yearly Kos, a gathering of insurgents demanding re-admittance to the sheepfold.
The other thing I had expected was that the Kosniks themselves would provide abundant material for ridicule. But they don’t. They’re much more engaging than their posts on the Daily Kos web site would lead you to expect — and this really should have come as no surprise, since people notoriously show their worst side online.
No, the Kosniks are mostly not only sane, but obviously intelligent. A lot of them have pretty good haircuts. They’re personable, kind, witty, self-deprecating, thoughtful, earnest, and generally likable.
Oh, there are a few exceptions — a 300-pound doctor, who enjoyed telling us the witty things she says to her patients, and just would not shut up; a staffer from the Drum Major Institute (http://www.drummajorinstitute.org) in pink fishnet stockings and bat-wing spectacles who looked like an extra from <I>Hairspray</I> and thought term limits were a Really Good Thing; and a hyperkinetic “trainer” from Democracy For America (www.democracyforamerica.com) who had the stage manner of a contestant on American Idol, and would probably have won. He certainly had energy enough; he talked and gesticulated and paced for seven hours almost non-stop — I checked in every half-hour or so — and he was still enjoying the sound of his own voice when he practically had to be dragged out of the meeting room so the next scheduled event could begin.
Other not-entirely-attractive Kosniks included a staff guy fresh from beautiful defeat in Marcy Winograd’s primary challenge to bloody-fanged War Democrat Jane Harman; this chap was treated with the tender deference due to a veteran with a war wound. And there was a ringlet-haired Democratic Party op from Gainesville, Florida, who apologized for his state’s votes for Nader in 2000, and repeatedly referred to people like himself as “touchy-feely white guys.” This phrase got a modest laugh the first time he said it. These two, interestingly, were among the most strident in insisting that the one goal of political activity is to win elections.
But most of the Kosniks weren’t like that. Most of them seemed to be honest, sincere, good-hearted people, baffled and dismayed by what their country has become. What, I wondered, are nice folks like this doing in a cult like Daily Kos? So I was quite curious to see the cult leader, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, in action.
Moulitsas, known to his disciples as “Kos”, spoke briefly to the troops at the end of the day, after we were all talked out — well, not all; there were some brazen-lunged enthusiasts still going strong — and mellowed out with a beer or two.
“Kos” is a small, trim, birdlike guy, given to quick, fluttery gestures. He has a distinctive, shoulder- and hip-swinging walk — what you might call a sashay, actually. The play of expression on his face reminded me strangely of Louis Farrakhan, though I suppose this is the only point of resemblance between the two. He has that same slow, deliberate smile, held a little too long for comfort. There is something in his look that says he is confident of adulation, and pleased with his own success.
He read his text a little woodenly, and there wasn’t much to it. His two great points of self-congratulation were 1) Howard Dean is now DNC chair and 2) Paul Hackett almost got somewhere in Ohio. (You haven’t heard of Paul Hackett? Don’t worry about it.) Kos confidently predicted that Joe Lieberman would lose to his anti-war primary challenger, Ned Lamont — but then, last week Kos was saying that Francine Busby would pull an upset in San Diego. (You haven’t heard of Francine Busby, either? See Paul Hackett, above.)
Neither Kos nor anybody else today talked much about what you might call the content of politics. The word “progressive” was frequently invoked, but either everybody agrees on just what that means or nobody wanted to get into it. The Iraq war was mentioned, in my hearing, twice, in the context of alluding to the death of Zarqawi. Both times the crowd applauded this victory in the war on terror — applauded solidly but not thunderously; I couldn’t help thinking, wishfully perhaps, that although the Kosniks are loyal adherents of the understudy War Party, at least some of these progressives are starting to have doubts about this particular war.
Nobody mentioned Israel, or Palestine, or the Israel lobby, or anything remotely connected with these topics, even once.
Speaking of war, the Maximum Leader put in another appearance a little later, at a reception for ex-general and presidential candidate Wesley Clark. (What the hell, there was free booze, which is more than I’ve ever gotten out of any other general, or presidential candidate either.)
At this event, my benign impression of the Kosniks started to fray a little. There he was, General Clark, pigeon-chested, lizard-faced, the former butcher of the Balkans, his chalky cheeks ghastly under the camera flashes — as scary as anything I’ve ever seen outside an autopsy suite. And the Kosniks were loving him.
Kos made his slow ceremonious way over to Clark and the two of them exchanged courtly greetings, like the Doge of Venice unexpectedly meeting the Duke of Muscovy but remembering his manners — the least you could expect of Doges and Dukes, surely. The Kosniks were in raptures: witnesses to history. A burly six-foot chap standing next to me — a guy who could have tied the General in knots — gushed girlishly, “Now this is People Power! I mean, who are WE?” I wanted to ask, “Who is HE?” but remembered my disguise before I spoke. The General’s free booze had slowed me down a bit, fortunately.
Clark stood up, with a little help, on a table, and gave a smooth little speech. The burden of his song was, “send money.”
And so to bed, as Mr. Pepys says. Tomorrow we get to meet senate minority leader Harry Reid and Virginia governor and presidential aspirant Mark Warner — if they show. Nancy Pelosi has already stood us up. A bitter disappointment, but the General’s free booze has softened the pain.
MICHAEL J. SMITH is a grizzled old Lefty who is trying to destroy the Democratic Party on his blog, stopmebeforeivoteagain.org. He lives in New York City.