As part of their pre-Convention program on Monday, C-SPAN showed some footage from conventions past. Among the vignettes was the speech by the late Ann Richards at the 1988 Democratic Convention, a stark reminder of how far the Democratic Party has fallen in 20 years.
With her languid manner, easy cadence and pregnant pauses, Ann Richards swayed and educated her audience even as her words skewered the Reagan-Bush administration. Though I had watched the original speech back then, the only line I could recall was the one about poor George, born with a silver foot in his mouth. Now I noticed afresh how she drew blood with each turn of phrase. Too bad Ann Richards is no more. Otherwise, she could have given the same speech this week, with just the names of the characters updated, and it would be just as relevant. Consider this: “They tell us that they’re fighting a war against terrorists. And then we find out that the White House is selling arms to the Ayatollah”. Or this, “And you don’t have to be from Waco to know that when the Pentagon makes crooks rich and doesn’t make America strong, that it’s a bum deal.” Or this, “They tell us that they’re fighting a war on drugs and then people come on TV and testify that the CIA and the DEA and the FBI knew they were flying drugs into America all along.”
Read the speech, or listen to it and feel amazed that there were politicians in our midst who could speak like this. More striking than any particular punchline is the disgust, anger, and scorn she harbored for all that had taken place during the Reagan years, her contempt for the Iran-Contra scallywags palpable in every sentence.
It has been three days since the 2008 Democratic Convention started, and not one speaker has come close to Ann Richards’ passion, leave alone pugnacity, in expressing the violation the current administration must engender in any decent person. Instead, what we hear are hosannas to that persistent Democratic weasel word of conventions past, ‘bipartisanship’. Of the obscenties and atrocities of the Bush administration there has been scarcely any mention (Dennis Kucinich was given a non-primetime slot, where he hurried breathless through a quick litany in an enthusiastic speech, albeit too rushed for any impact — it bears mention that he never once mentioned his own impeachment resolution!). Bill Clinton’s brilliant delivery notwithstanding, John Kerry alone came close to expressing outrage, only four years too late and to marginal effect.
Once again the Democrats have taken the Republicans’ bait. As usual they feel obliged to prove their patriotism. This time their opponents have saddled them with an added burden of proof, to show as well that they are Americans! Each speaker seems more scripted than the last — election consultants are to Democratic candidates what defense contractors are to the country, as corrosive and as disastrous. Nearing the end of another bloodless convention, the Democrats have not come anwhere close to showing their anger over what has been done to the country; to speak out on how it has been terrorized by its own government, how its lives and wealth have been squandered to make money for the few, the warmongers and the war profiteers. Or to speak truthfully of the serfdom that is in store for average Americans unless they act.
The Democrats forget that politics and economics are connected but hardly the same thing, and that competence is no substitute for the rule of law. Five million ‘green jobs’ will not repair the damage to the Constitution. High-tech videos and soft-touch lifestories have never yet roused a people, and will not this time. Without the kernel of anger and indignation, all else is but a frill. With the kinds of speeches we have heard so far, Democrats would have done infinitely better to just replay Ann Richards’ 1988 address. But that would be divisive, disruptive, and so not ‘bringing people together’ — another meaningless phrase much in favor lately among Democrats.
Which is to say, it might turn away the odd Republican who might somehow vote Democratic (they forget how many Democrats will stay home because of their infinte caution). It is reported that the Obama team edited out a line from Kucinich’s speech which said something like, “They want four more years — in a just world they would get 10 to 20”. To paraphrase Robert Frost, Democrats have become too bipartisan to make their own case. Call it a case of being ‘done in by decorum’.
NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of his writings can be found on indogram.