DENVER (CNN) - I remember an extremely dramatic moment when Caroline Kennedy’s late brother appeared before the Democratic convention in Atlanta in 1988. When the spotlight came on him, he simply said: “My name is John Kennedy Jr.” And there was such a gasp in the room, such a collective intake of air, that I thought the roof would cave in.
Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama was a key to his success. It meant the blessing of a senior member of the Dem establishment. The Kennedys are Democratic royalty and it’s hard to overstate the importance of his endorsement.
Ted Kennedy just chose the wrong moment to run for president. He chose to run in 1980, against an incumbent Democratic president — it’s virtually impossible to win a primary challenge of a sitting president. Had he chosen to run in 1976, history might have been very different.
Another Kennedy — Maria Shriver, first lady of California - is here. She gets to go to both conventions. Her husband Arnold Schwarzenegger is speaking at the Republican convention next week.
DENVER (CNN) - One of the interesting things that happens at national conventions is that a lot of state and local politicians are slated to address the convention outside of prime-time hours, at hours when the audience is usually small and inattentive. Those are filmed and preserved, and used in political campaigns to show a politician addressing the convention, to try to raise his political stature.
I was at the 1984 convention when an obscure Southern politician gave a speech at an afternoon session in San Francisco that was a tribute to Harry Truman. It was an unusually interesting and articulate speech that talked about a Democratic party that Harry Truman would not recognize — it was surprisingly critical of what had become of the Democratic Party.
I wrote the speaker a note telling him what an interesting speech he had given. He replied thanking me, telling me that was the only note he got in response to his speech.
That politician was Bill Clinton. Unfortunately, I didn’t save the note.
DENVER (CNN) - Tonight marks the Kennedy moment of the convention. And what’s important is, the Kennedy legacy has a very specific meaning. Democrats for years have talked about finding another Kennedy. In the 80s, it was supposed to be Mario Cuomo. Now, Barack Obama is being called the “black Kennedy.”
The Kennedy image is that of the tough liberal. Liberals in the 70s and 80s were not tough guys; the stereotype was that of the wimpy liberal. Democrats long for another tough guy in the Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson mold.
Ted Kennedy has, of course, become the last bearer of that legacy of his generation - and Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of Barack Obama is certainly the most important endorsement of the campaign, because it signified the anointment of Obama as a Democrat in the Kennedy tradition.
DENVER (CNN) - A glimpse of Joe Biden - who has been back in the spotlight for less than one week. He found out he was being tapped for the ticket on Thursday. The rest of the country found out on Saturday. Now it’s Monday night. It’s amazing how fast these things happen.
And by the way, our polling shows, when he was named, even though he’s run for president twice, most Americans don’t know who he is.
Obama may have wanted to choose Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine — who has joined him on the trail in the new battleground state of Virginia - but the sudden emergence of the crisis in Georgia, which coincided with his dip in the polls, may have convinced him that he needed someone of foreign policy stature.
DENVER (CNN) - The theme for this evening is One Nation. The first theme. That’s very important because that is the signature image of the Obama campaign, and the basis, really, of his appeal.
When Bush in November 1999 declared himself a candidate for president, he said he intended to be a uniter, not a divider. That was a promise that I think the American people feel he failed to fulfill. Obama first became noticed on the national stage with his 2004 convention speech - the theme of which was unity: black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Republican and Democrat. Remember his refrain: There’s no red America, there’s no blue America, there’s the United States of America.
And I think that, even more than the theme of change, is the theme that underlies his political success. Because Americans are looking for someone to deliver what George Bush tried and failed to do.
It’s interesting — this is Jesse Jackson Jr., who famously split with his father over Obama. Jesse Jackson Jr., like Obama, represents a new generation of African-American politicians. In many ways, this is his national debut. We are witnessing the passage of leadership to a new generation of American-Americans. This is a turning point in black politics.
He is stressing the theme of unity. This new generation — represented by Obama and Jesse Jackson Jr. — they don’t speak the language of racial grievances like Jesse Jackson Sr. and Al Sharpton. They speak a language of unity.
DENVER (CNN) - No one will mention Obama’s middle name here.
DENVER (CNN) - Another theme you’re going to notice tonight is constant references to Hurricane Katrina and the devastation of New Orleans. That is the point at which George Bush’s presidency began to fall apart at the polls. Americans were shocked at the inability of the federal government to respond. That’s why you’re going to hear a lot of references - and it has a special resonance for African-Americans.
The catastrophe is being highlighted in a video featuring former President Jimmy Carter, who has a strange legacy among Democrats. He was not a successful president, his Middle East views have become more and more controversial. Nevertheless, he remains a figure of respect because of his personal morality and integrity.
They’re not highlighting his views on the Middle East, they’re highlighting what Americans remember most and best about Carter — his humanitarian work, his work with Habitat for Humanity, his personal integrity.
In fact, I would say he is regarded, because of his acts of charity, as one of the most successful ex-presidents in American history - in many ways the model of an ex-president.
He’s more admired for his ex-presidency than his presidency.
Interesting that he didn’t give a speech. I’m not sure what that means. Perhaps they didn’t want to remind people of a failed presidency.
DENVER (CNN) - Nancy Pelosi is the heroine of the last great Democratic victory, the 2006 midterm elections.
Now a lot of voters, including a lot of Democrats, are totally unfamiliar with the achievements of the Democratic Congress — and it’s showing in the polls.
For these rank-and-file Democrats, there’s one source of frustration: they believe they elected this Congress to get America out of Iraq, and it hasn’t happened. That’s why there are protests at the convention.
Pelosi has introduced the first refrain of the convention: John McCain has experience — the experience of being wrong. That’s the refrain they’re using: John McCain is wrong.
This is a tradition at many conventions — the repeated refrain. One of the most famous was in 1992, when Gore was nominated for vice president, the refrain he used was: It’s time for them to go.
DENVER (CNN) - Republicans are trying to portray the Obama campaign as a cult of personality. All conventions have elements of hero worship — but they have to be very careful not to go overboard this year, because that would play into Republican criticism.
The one thing they will need from somebody at this convention is a powerful speech that talks about what George Bush has done to this country. The problem they face is that over the course of the summer, the election became a referendum on Barack Obama. That’s a problem. He can win if it is a ref on Bush. It would be that if Bush or Cheney was on the ballot — but they’re not. We’re going to be looking for this convention to try to make Bush and the Bush record the central element of this campaign — and tie McCain to that record.
A few observations as the convention is about to convene:
This is Barack Obama’s convention. It will have his stamp on it, including ushering the Clintons off center-stage and into supporting roles-however reluctantly.
It is also a Democratic Party convention, with threads of history and some immutable principles since the 1960s-especially regarding civil rights, women’s rights, and a certain perspective on economic issues. The Clintons are (whatever their shortcomings) a big part of that story, especially the successful parts: Bill Clinton is the only Democrat to be
elected twice to the presidency since FDR.
The Clintons-like Ted Kennedy, who will be powerfully present tonight-do not want to see the presidency turned over to John McCain or four more years of Republican policies: remember, they have spent their adult lives fighting against the Republican Right….even to the extent of Hillary Clinton labeling it “the vast right-wing conspiracy.”