Bernie for DNC Chair

Feature: What I saw at the Democratic National Committee candidate forum

January 24, 2017

If you turned on your television last night around 7:00 p.m., you might have skipped past Sports Center and Wolf Blitzer and whatever soft-core fantasy porno is on HBO and The Real Housewives of Mackinac County all the way to CSPAN3. If you did, you would have been treated to "a historic and important conversation about the future," which is to say, a bunch of people you've probably never heard of standing on a nondescript stage talking about how they want to be in charge of fundraising and other boring tertiary tasks for the Democratic Party. Lucky you.

Naturally to kick things off there was a slam poet named Raul, a young man with, as we were told, "powerful words to say about the power of words." I might as well quote the whole thing:

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-9-01-57-am"In 1906, an earthquake ruptures the San Andreas Fault, killing an estimated 3,000 people. If vibrations can break boulders and devastate lives, then our words can split open minds and alter the geographical shape of its content, because sound is vibration. Our verbs are its earthquakes. So let's break the ground our fallen heroes are trapped underneath of. Let's make poets from grace, leaders from beaten slaves. In 2010, an earthquake takes the lives of 300,000 Haitians. Do not underestimate the Hercules behind your tongue. Your voices are the reason the planet's axis is tilted, but your silence is the reason this planet is dying. So let's cause a ruckus. If earthquakes can destroy lives, our voices can rebuild them. In 2011, an earthquake devastates Fukushima, Japan. I have been to the mountaintop. And I looked over and I seen the promised land. But the only thing in our way is a mute mountain. So we crumble mountains, we crack rocks without a pipe. Just give me one word. One sentence can make the ground move like a tsunami. You can hear their words cracking the concrete, cracking like the blasts of rebels from the past, cracking like the blast that took Tupac's laugh. Malcolm exited this world believing that his earthquake would cause repercussions. The future—the future belongs to those who prepare for it today. So today I have a dream. But my dream wasn't heard. Today I have a dream, but my dream was deferred. Today I had a dream about a king, but the king wasn't heard. The legends are angry. The world is violent while we stay silent. Newton's Third Law states, 'For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.' For example, if the action is revision, then the opposite reaction is division. Problems react to solutions. Oppression reacts to revolution and the death of Trayvon Martin reacts to Zimmerman's execution. Now this is just love. Voices react to vibrations. Vibrations react to earthquakes, so if sound is vibration, our verbs are its earthquakes. So let's break the ground our fallen heroes are trapped underneath in. Resurrect poets from graves. React. Leaders from being slain. React. With drummers, trembling towers. Like an earthquake. Be like a rock. Watch this granite planet shake."

At the end of this monologue, which took Raul about four minutes to deliver while green lines squiggled up and down behind him on a screen, I had no idea whether earthquakes were good or bad or whether we were supposed to be climbing mountains or destroying them or rebuilding them or all three at once. I had forgotten that I was supposed to be figuring out which of the seven other people slated to talk was best suited to lead the DNC. I didn't even remember what day it was or whether I was on planet Earth.

It was another 10 minutes or so before we met the candidates. The first one we heard from was Sally Boynton Brown, the executive director of the Idaho State Democratic Party. She droned and whined in a nasally voice about how "we're all human" and said something about "Folks in our country who don't feel like their kids are going to have a better life than they had," which I think was code for "white people." At one point she said that something was "an issue that we have to solve, because if we don't solve it, nobody else going to." I can't remember what the issue was or whom she meant by "we."

Tom Perez looked and sounded like a political professional, for good or ill. Most of his prescriptions were sound: Democrats need to knock on more doors and at least pretend to care about their base. "We can't show up at a church every fourth October and call that an organizing strategy." No indeed.

Jehmu Greene, lately of Fox News, spoke in the same vein but was far more blunt. "The DNC did a piss-poor job engaging with young people of color in the 2016 election." Preach! "We also," she continued, "did a poor job communicating intersectionality."

Jaime Harrison, the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party and a former teacher, asked why people vote against their best interests. "It falls down to one thing: It's about trust," he said, adding that people vote with their hearts rather than their heads. "The most powerful way to persuade anybody is to show and not tell. The problem that we've had for the last decade in this party is that we do a lot of telling and not enough showing."

Raymond Buckley, another state party chair, pointed out that this was the eighth or ninth time that he and his fellow candidates have held a forum like this one. To think that they plan on doing two or three more! "How do we move forward?" he asked. "I think a lot of Millennials, a lot of Americans, were very upset with the way the nominating process worked out, not believing that it was fair. I think we have to address that." That seems like a good place to start.

Pete Buttigeg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a dead ringer for the bad guy in The Green Mile, complained about what he called "the salad bar problem" and referred to himself as "a walking intersectionality." He was probably the funniest of the candidates. "I'm a left-handed Maltese-American Episcopalian war veteran." A tough act to follow.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.) began by doing a kind of Frankenstein's monster walk, wobbling slightly and holding his hands out with his arms folded at the elbows. "We have a very serious turnout problem in the Democratic Party." He mentioned that in his home seat, the tenth district of Minnesota, he campaigns "like we're 10 points behind" no matter what, which allowed him to increase his share of the vote by 50,000 last year.

All of this took us up to the end of the first round of questions. Do you really want me to tell you what happened next? Brown said her party wasted too much money on TV and used the word "y'all" condescendingly. Perez got excited and made some interesting gestures. Buttigeg, channeling Scott Walker, said he doesn't think "the solutions are gonna come from Washington." Harrison laughed at least once. Greene said she wished young people weren't given "meaningless positions" in the party. Buckley said that everyone on the stage agreed with what everyone else was saying, which made me not want to listen anymore.

"It's clearly a critical moment for the Democratic Party," Aimee Allen, one of our hosts for the evening, said just before introducing the candidates.

Why can't they just pick Bernie?

Published under: DNC