By Daniel Politi
The papers lead with the opening day of the Democratic National Convention in Denver and they all focus their pieces on both Sen. Edward Kennedy and Michelle Obama. The New York Times calls Kennedy’s surprise speech “triumphant” and says that it “evoked 50 years of party history.” The historical symbolism attached to what USA Today describes as “an emotional tribute” to Kennedy is a theme that several of the papers note up high. The Los Angeles Times says it “was a parade of the past and future,” while the Washington Post points out that “the face of the Democratic Party shifted on Monday night to a new generation of leaders.”
Michelle Obama’s speech focused on her life and family and began to espouse a theme that will be repeated over and over again this week as she described “her husband—and his entire family—as embodiments of the American dream,” notes the NYT. The Wall Street Journal says Michelle Obama “sought to humanize a couple that supporters fear may seem distant to many Americans.” The WP calls Michelle Obama’s speech “the climax” of the day “for a political party confident of its chances of capturing the White House but still struggling to lay aside its own divisions.” The award for the paper that brings up the name of Sen. Hillary Clinton the quickest goes to the NYT, which manages to mention “the tension” in only the second sentence of its lead story. But the rest of the papers aren’t far behind.
Kennedy apparently decided only yesterday that he would give a speech at the convention and received a rousing standing ovation when he appeared on stage. Kennedy is fighting brain cancer; the WP notes that he “appeared spry,” the LAT says that “his voice was strong,” and the NYT points out that he sounded “very much like the man who enraptured the party’s convention 28 years ago.” Kennedy summoned the memory of his brother and echoed his speech from the 1980 convention by declaring, “The work begins anew. The hope rises again, and the dream lives on.”
Everyone says that Kennedy’s speech helped at least give the appearance of party unity, even if tensions continued to linger between Clinton and Obama supporters. Michelle Obama also clearly tried to reach out to Clinton supporters by praising the former first lady even before mentioning Sen. Joe Biden in her speech and noting that she “put those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling so that our daughters—and sons—can dream a little bigger and aim a little higher.” The LAT is alone in mentioning that for all the talk about her husband, Michelle Obama “never mentioned his effort to break the ultimate racial barrier by winning the White House.”
No one can resist mentioning the picture-perfect moment when her two daughters joined their mother on stage and chatted with Obama over a video link from Kansas City, Mo. (“It was a beautiful family tableau,” says Slate‘s John Dickerson. “The whole bunch seemed straight out of Central Casting. That’s a cliché, and for the first black family with a realistic chance of living in the White House, becoming a cliché is a big win.”)
Despite all the positive words, all the papers make a point of emphasizing that much of the day’s discussions on the convention floor continued to be about the ongoing tensions between supporters of Clinton and Obama. USAT even blankly states that “Clinton-watching has become the mesmerizing sideshow” of the convention and notes that any gestures or words by either half of the Clinton marriage are being constantly analyzed. It’s difficult to know how much to really make of all this. For his part, Slate‘s John Dickerson says that “this kerfuffle was overblown” but still notes that the “situation was serious enough” that top officials from each camp felt the need to issue a statement emphasizing unity. And it’s clear John McCain is trying to make the most of it as he has issued ads that mention Clinton in his quest to court her supporters.
Clinton spoke up against the McCain ads yesterday and, once again, said she stood behind Obama but, the LAT, in a separate Page One piece devoted to the issue, says it was clear “that tensions have only swelled since the heat of a primary competition.” These tensions run both ways. Obama supporters are angry at what they say is the Clintons’ failure to do more to gather support for Obama. But Clinton supporters say the former first lady isn’t getting enough credit for everything she’s already done for him, plus they’re still upset that she was never seriously considered as a running mate.
A piece in today’s WP won’t do much to allay those feelings as it reveals that Obama told Clinton “it was unlikely he would choose her” at a private meeting after she conceded. Clinton supporters say they are particularly offended because Obama never even sought to have a meeting with her to discuss how she could help him win.
Clinton will give her speech tonight and is expected to meet with her delegates and release them to Obama either today (WP) or tomorrow (LAT). The two camps are apparently working on a plan to allow delegates from some states to vote for either of the two senators and then interrupt the roll call to declare Obama the winner by unanimous consent.
In the WP‘s op-ed page, Marie Cocco says that whatever she does “Clinton can’t win tonight” because “[s]he will either be deemed too cool or all-too-cagily warm.” While network analysts are likely to focus on tearful Clinton delegates as a sign of tensions in the party, Cocco notes that it’s usually the nominee who takes charged to build unity once the rival has conceded. “Unless the loser happens to be a woman,” writes Cocco. “Then it’s just like high school, and she must do the work.”
Why all the tears? Why can’t these supporters just move on and be happy for the fact that a woman came very close to being the nominee? In the NYT‘s op-ed page, Susan Faludi writes that it’s important to understand that in the historical struggle for gender equality “every victory turns out to be partial or pyrrhic.” Clinton will speak on the 88th anniversary of women’s suffrage, which was, just like her candidacy, “not merely a cause in itself, but a symbolic rallying point, a color guard for a regiment of other ideas.” Now, while many younger women say they don’t care if there’s a female president “they will still have all the abiding inequalities that Hillary Clinton, especially in defeat, symbolized.”
Meanwhile, the WP talks to delegates from several swing states and notes that there’s a pervasive feeling of anxiety about Obama’s prospects of winning the election. Some think Obama just needs to change his strategy, but others are concerned that voters in their states won’t be easily convinced to pull the lever for a black candidate with an unusual background.
The WP‘s Eugene Robinson says Democrats need to “snap out of it” and just stop worrying. “Unlike Republicans, Democrats like to obsess about what could go wrong.” Robinson writes. “It’s kind of a partisan hobby.”