By Al Giordano
Yesterday, in Independence, Missouri, Senator Obama delivered this speech on patriotism, titled "The America We Love":
If you've been sprouting Chicken Little feathers in recent days, gnashing teeth over the nominee's reported "move to the center" (or "to the right"), worrying about whether Wes Clark got pushed - or leaped on his own - under the proverbial bus after his remarks distracted from the message of this speech yesterday (Clark, himself, on Good Morning America today acknowledged, ""I'm very sorry that this has distracted from the message of patriotism that Sen. Obama wants to put out"), I have an interesting homework assignment for you.
Please put aside 28 minutes and 22 seconds today to give your full attention to the video of that speech. And then, if you still feel this nominee is offering more of the same as previous nominees, come back here and make your case at least with the benefit of the full knowledge of what exactly was trampled upon during yesterday's Chicken Little stampede.
...it is worth considering the meaning of patriotism because the question of who is - or is not - a patriot all too often poisons our political debates, in ways that divide us rather than bringing us together. I have come to know this from my own experience on the campaign trail. Throughout my life, I have always taken my deep and abiding love for this country as a given. It was how I was raised; it is what propelled me into public service; it is why I am running for President. And yet, at certain times over the last sixteen months, I have found, for the first time, my patriotism challenged - at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I stand for.
So let me say at this at outset of my remarks. I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign. And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine.
That last turn of phrase received such great applause from the Missourians in that hall because most people understand that an early skirmish in the general election fight will determine to what extent Republican nominee John McCain - the former prisoner of war in Vietnam - will or will not have the elbow room to impugn Obama's patriotism. McCain and his surrogates have tried to go there so far with limited success. Those words put up a barrier around their ability to do so in deeper ways. Obama's "I will not stand idly by" was a warning shot. The people in the room got it. They know what is at stake in a depth that perhaps not every progressive pundit or blogger does.
I myself relate very intensely to the paradox, cited by Obama yesterday, that it is often the greatest patriots whose patriotism becomes questioned by lesser lights:
...throughout our history, men and women of far greater stature and significance than me have had their patriotism questioned in the midst of momentous debates. Thomas Jefferson was accused by the Federalists of selling out to the French. The anti-Federalists were just as convinced that John Adams was in cahoots with the British and intent on restoring monarchal rule. Likewise, even our wisest Presidents have sought to justify questionable policies on the basis of patriotism. Adams' Alien and Sedition Act, Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, Roosevelt's internment of Japanese Americans - all were defended as expressions of patriotism, and those who disagreed with their policies were sometimes labeled as unpatriotic.
In other words, the use of patriotism as a political sword or a political shield is as old as the Republic. Still, what is striking about today's patriotism debate is the degree to which it remains rooted in the culture wars of the 1960s - in arguments that go back forty years or more. In the early years of the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War, defenders of the status quo often accused anybody who questioned the wisdom of government policies of being unpatriotic. Meanwhile, some of those in the so-called counter-culture of the Sixties reacted not merely by criticizing particular government policies, but by attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases, the very idea, of America itself - by burning flags; by blaming America for all that was wrong with the world; and perhaps most tragically, by failing to honor those veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national shame to this day...
As a writer, I believe that words should be powerful enough to stand on their own no matter who is writing them. Too many voices (at least among those with access to the media) rest on their laurels to claim authority. That's why, here and elsewhere, I try to limit any autobiographical references in my work. But when it comes to the topic of patriotism, since it is such a deeply personal one for me, I'm going to let loose a few snippets today.
Those of you that have known me over the decades know that my life's work has been deeply fed by my own sense that true patriotism requires dissent (and, most importantly, effective dissent; it is not enough to be "correct" if one can't also bring others over to his or her position). It's what caused me to dedicate the most energetic years of my youth to community organizing. It's what led to my arrest on charges of nonviolent civil disobedience 27 times, and long nights in various jails and prisons. It frankly brought me to the extreme of having to move outside the borders of my own country in order for this American dissident to have the wider vista to be able to describe my country as it truly is and the freedom of movement, economic and political, to be able to continue to change it.
The late Marty Jezer's book, Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel (1993, Rutgers University Press), along with others on the same subject, chronicle parts of my story during the decade of the 1980s when I studied and organized at the right hand of that late and often misunderstood patriot. And American patriot he was, maybe the last truly great one of the 20th century. It briefly tells the story of my work as an organizer in New England's anti-nuclear movement in my late teens and early 20s, prior to joining forces with the late Hoffman. Jezer - who was also part of that movement and eyewitness to those events - noted in his book that there was a natural tension between some of the older "60s generation" activists in that movement and me that was provoked by - get this - the small American flag pin that, when organizing, I wore on my shirt during that era.
Halfway across the country during those years, another young man of my own generation was organizing, too, on the South Side of Chicago. When I listened to his words, yesterday, I concluded, again, that he was formed by similar generational challenges:
Most Americans never bought into these simplistic world-views - these caricatures of left and right. Most Americans understood that dissent does not make one unpatriotic, and that there is nothing smart or sophisticated about a cynical disregard for America's traditions and institutions. And yet the anger and turmoil of that period never entirely drained away. All too often our politics still seems trapped in these old, threadbare arguments - a fact most evident during our recent debates about the war in Iraq, when those who opposed administration policy were tagged by some as unpatriotic, and a general providing his best counsel on how to move forward in Iraq was accused of betrayal...
Of course, precisely because America isn't perfect, precisely because our ideals constantly demand more from us, patriotism can never be defined as loyalty to any particular leader or government or policy. As Mark Twain, that greatest of American satirists and proud son of Missouri, once wrote, "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." We may hope that our leaders and our government stand up for our ideals, and there are many times in our history when that's occurred. But when our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expressions of patriotism....
When was the last time that the United States had a president that understood, on such a clear and elaborated level, that dissent is the essence of patriotism?
No president by the name of Reagan, Bush or Clinton valued, or even understood, that central tenet of democracy.
For the last 28 years, at least, in the USA, the executive branch of government has chipped away at the most American of rights and freedoms, not just through restrictions of individual rights by The State, but especially by fostering the private sector's greater powers over us in the workplace, the marketplace, especially in the realms of ownership and privacy.
The space has closed radically upon patriotic American dissidents, including in, but not limited to, my own field of journalism. More often than not, it's economics that clip our wings. (Who would have thought that in 21st century America, for example, that one could lose his livelihood - and a press pass - simply for mentioning American patriots like Saul Alinsky or Andrew Kopkind? Had I had to pay the high cost of rent and food in the US when that came down last month, would I have enjoyed the time and space to be able to jumpstart this blog anew so rapidly and successfully? Just sayin'. When you factor in economics, the United States as the freest nation on earth ends at a different kind of border today: the one with the toll booth that exists inside national territory where you have to be able to pay to continue to speak freely.)
We have seen, especially post-9/11, hysteria and fear consume the leaders of both major political parties. Not since the McCarthy era has there been so much worry about associations and reputations, and the always-ready-for-a-nasty-witch-hunt "speech cop" mentality plagues the left (in organizations, in academia, in fundraising ventures) as much as, sometimes more than, it does on the right.
Among the baggage from the Clinton era of Democratic Party politics is this narrative about a nominee "moving to the center." I myself have a hard time breaking out of it, even though I know it's generally bullshit, and here's why: I have reported the campaigns of hundreds of candidates in the US and elsewhere, and for a number of years in my reckless youth I worked inside of political campaign staffs. And there's one thing that is evident from that experience: What a candidate says while seeking office has little to no bearing on his or her actions upon obtaining that office.
Too many progressive activists suffer from the illusion that if they leverage a candidate during a campaign that getting him or her to say one thing or another will later translate into policy. Ironically, it was Ralph Nader that pioneered that view of activism and we can all see to where it has naturally led him and some others after the frustration of decades of believing, despite the bad results, in a tactic that did not work. I can find very few examples of that in the campaigns I've covered, and plenty of evidence to the contrary. Candidates that clipped to the right turned out to govern quite progressively. Candidates that tacked to the left governed more conservatively, sometimes to authoritarian extremes. A thousand issue organizations and interest groups tell their members to send them money and portray themselves as those who are policing the politicians and leveraging campaign seasons to do it, but their track record producing results from those politicians is abysmal.
And it's also a popular myth these days in some circles that "moving to the right" is what has hurt previous Democratic nominees. That's exactly the opposite of what happened to Michael Dukakis in 1988, whose 17-point lead in the polls was blown not because he moved to the right (he didn't) but because he was unable to frame his more liberal views in a non-ideological or "post-partisan" manner. From his disastrous debates where he boasted to be "a card carrying member of the ACLU" and his stammering, impersonal response when a CNN moderator asked him whether he would still oppose the death penalty if his wife was raped and murdered, it was clinging to the left side of the divide that brought down that Democratic nominee.
In sum, I don't think that anything that Obama or McCain say during the campaign is going to determine how each of them will govern. If you think otherwise, can you cite an example of when that happened in US presidential politics? (Think of George H. W. Bush's 1988 mantra - "Read my lips: No new taxes!" - and his subsequent raising of taxes on most Americans when president.)
Nor do I particularly mind when I'm told that one of my big issues or heroes has been "thrown under the bus." Heroes are adults and have to take their knocks at times when they phrase things inartfully or get caught in a "gotcha" moment on TV (like happened to General Clark yesterday).
Here's a recent example that is close to home: No US journalist is as associated as much as I am with the reporting that exposed and beat back the attempted 2002 coup in Venezuela. Few have had the opportunity I've had to report, up close, on that country's president Hugo Chavez and to conclude that he is a democrat of policy and soul. When in his Latin American policy speech, Obama offered stern and errant words about Chavez, my response was neither to whine about "Sister Souljah moments" (another unfortunate concept that floated ashore with the debris from the Clinton era) nor to blindly deny that the nominee's view is wrongheaded. The tone that I recommend taking at those moments can be found in that which I took, when writing about the good, the bad and the ugly of what I deeply care about: Obama and the US-Latin America Time Bomb (May 26, 2008, Narco News).
My duty to the causes I care about is not to cry that we've been victimized, or that "the sky is falling," or to play armchair quarterback shouting from the bleachers at the captain on the field that he must make his next play a run or a pass. Nor is it to yell, "I'm taking my money and support and game board and going home." It is, rather, to inform and organize greater public opinion to grow to see the issue as I see it, so that whenever he may take office, he will have to deal with the reality that we have created with or without him.
People that care deeply and legitimately about misunderstood or unpopular issues like abolition of the death penalty for anyone (even for child rapists), or that Israel has to end its terrible treatment of Palestinians, or that there should be no immunity for telecommunications companies that spy on behalf of the government on Americans that communicate abroad, or fill-in-your-pet-issue-here, have to first educate and organize the citizenry to demonstrably agree with them before they can realistically insist that any political candidate stick his neck onto their pet chopping block.
Of much greater priority for me is to organize a network - as we are doing here - that, when the next president takes office on January 20, 2009, will be able to spread the word and frame the public debate in a way that he will have to do the right thing.
I do think it will be much easier and safer to do than it has been in a long, long time if that president is someone that instinctually understands that dissent is patriotism's highest calling: someone that will not attempt to demonize us nor pander to us, but who will at least be open to the conversation. And I opine that anybody that thinks we're seeing just "more of the same" is suffering from a kind of post-presidential-campaign-stress-syndrome and the traumas of campaigns past to a degree that he and she are unable to see what really is different at this moment in history.
Actually, I have to correct myself already: the highest calling of patriotism is not dissent. It is smart dissent, that based not on self-indulgence or the blurting of one's frustration's out in ways that seek to share the panic or the misery, but based on - even sometimes against great odds - building the objective conditions by which we will win the important battles worth fighting. We don't need any candidate's permission or endorsement of our issue or position to do that, and we sure don't have to wait for any politician to begin organizing the people to set him straight once in power. Ironically, we, the people have more leverage - if we organize - after a candidate becomes an official, than we do during the heat of an electoral campaign when he or she is so singularly focused on the goal of getting elected. And if we can use his own campaign as the basis through which to become organized, that much stronger will be our ability to move mountains when and if that campaign is victorious.
By Al Giordano
Two weeks ago, The Field - reporting on the US presidential election - moved to a new location:
It's been quite the ride. The former host, on June 11, censored us, then disappeared six months of archives from public view, then re-routed the site to the wrong forwarding address. Miraculously, tens of thousands of regular readers alerted each other, found our new home on your own initiative, and are now reading and commenting at the new site as vibrantly as ever.
More than $5,000 that readers had sent to RuralVotes to "Send Al to Denver" to report from the Democratic National Convention will reportedly not be allocated to the purpose for which they were solicited. Again, the readers solved the problem, contributing more than $6,000 in the past ten,oh!, five days, to The Fund for Authentic Journalism to that end, and we're on our way.
So far, so great... but there's something still missing: It's the blogger credential awarded to The Field by the Democratic National Committee, based - according to the DNC's own criteria - on the heavy reader traffic the Field demonstrably generated that followed us to the new domain.
Can we still do a fine job of reporting the convention with or without that all-access credential? The answer is definitively "yes, we can." Our Denver Posse will be working out of The Big Tent, co-sponsored by the Daily Kos, near the convention center.
But can we do an even better job of reporting with that credential in our hands? Of course, we can. That's the purpose for which the credential was intended.
There is a matter of principle at stake here that is part of the larger struggle to change the Democratic Party and the country. The Field's credential has been kidnapped and, at that, by an organization, RuralVotes.com, headed by a member of the Democratic National Committee (the group's co-director, Debra Kozikowski). In sum, a DNC member (who, as a superdelegate, already has her own credential) is today making a mockery of the DNC's own criteria for blogger credentials even though - as we will demonstrate convincingly here - her remnant of a website no longer draws sufficient readers to qualify for that credential.
You can draw your own conclusions as to why that is. My only issue is that the credential belongs in the hands of those of us - The Field and its Field Hands - that earned it.
Many hundreds of blogs applied to the DNC for a limited number of 124 convention credentials (one blog from each state and territory, plus 70 or so of us national ones). You can review the credentialed blogs at the DNC page that lists them:
And here is the DNC page explaining the process by which the blogs were awarded credentials.
It's clear from that page that the number of readers and the Technorati.com rating of each blog was central in the decision of which bloggers would receive credentials:
"Bloggers must submit their daily audience and list their authority based on Technorati stats. Bloggers may also provide examples of posts that make their blog stand out as an effective online organizing tool and/or agent of change."
The Field - launched in December, 2007 at a website that previously had, on average, only 300 visits a day, and which by February had clocked more than 90,000 visitors on Tsunami Tuesday, and remained in five figures (a couple of times, breaking 100,000), every day since then (until very quickly after two weeks ago when we crossed the sea into the promised land) - clearly met those standards and more, which was recognized by the DNC with the award of the credential. The Field clearly also meets the DNC's requirement of being "an effective online organizing tool and agent of change."
Beginning in February, Debra Kozikowski (the aforementioned DNC member) of RuralVotes (the ex-host of the ex-Field) began asking me repeatedly to take actions to bring The Field's Technorati rating number into the top 10,000 blogs. Here are verbatim quotations from her emails to me, in chronological order, urging me to do that and cheering me on as I accomplished that mission:
February 25: "BTW, that technorati ranking went up by 1,000 places overnight -- i won't be happy until we're in the top 10,000 at least."
March 3: "we're in the 23,800 range -- up nearly 1,000 spots over the weekend. i'm dying to break into the top 20,000. keep up the great work!"
March 11: "ok so we're at 22, 230-ish in our technorati rankings -- call 'em anything you want (eek, i can't believe i said that) but don't break any legal thresholds on me and get us in the top 20,000 blogs on technorati. LOL"
March 11: "Authority: 245 Rank: 21,736 ...we're almost at the 20,000 mark -- find a hook to make me smile."
March 12: "LOL i can see that technorati rating rising now..."
May 8: "another rise in technorati rating wouldn't hurt either -- i want us to hit the 10,000 rankings vicinity."
May 18: "climbing daily -- just 2852 spots to make the top ten thousand blogs in the universe ... a huge goal and in a slowed down readership (as there is not much exciting at the moment) amazing you keep us climbing. high five anyone?"
May 19: "Hey their link brought us another 100 rankings up the technorati ladder. LOL"
May 23: "your rumor mongering put us 1,092 spots from being ranked in the top 10,000 at technorati. i do not want to encourage another of your vesuvias leaning ego-blasts but ... this sure is interesting. and man - taylor marsh is pissed at you for 'peddling' said rumor."
May 25: "777 spots away from the top 10,000 on technorati"
May 27: "The Field now has a technorati rank of 9,620 with an authority rating of 523 -- that's why I'm happy."
Two days later, Ms. Kozikowski forwarded me the email from Aaron Myers of the Democratic National Committee, awarding us the credential:
From: "Myers, Aaron" <MyersA@demconvention.com>
To: "Myers, Aaron" <MyersA@demconvention.com>
Date: Thu, 29 May 2008 18:15:24 -0600
Subject: Your blog's DemConvention credentials
Congratulations. The Democratic Convention staff has completed its review of blog credential applications and I'm writing to let you know that your blog will be credentialed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver...
For a few days after that, the ex-host continued to wax ecstatic about the achievement. Here are two more interesting quotations from her subsequent emails:
June 1: "that technorati rating was great! Thank you for exciting that world."
June 5: "we are now 1,402 spots away from the top 5,000 in technorati ranking -- you keep this up and I'll have to temper my tantrums ... that will kill me."
Unfortunately, within a week, the ecstasy had morphed in a most bizarre fashion back into what she categorized as her own "tantrums." I won't rehash the story of the censorship and exodus of The Field and its readers here (those just tuning in now to the story can read about it here and here and here.) But it seemed to me that somebody thought that the award of the credential, and the more than $5,000 readers had contributed to "Send Al to Denver," gave her a petty tyrant's power over my journalistic practice - and me as a human being. (An illusion that has, obviously, since been shattered most splendidly.)
Long story short: The Field moved, and the ex-host lost the overwhelming majority of its readers, a statement we will now demonstrably prove. Even counting the few that return now and then to the ex-host site to view the carnage of the train wreck or out of curiosity over whether they've yet informed all the donors of the right to a refund (move on, nothing to see there: they haven't and here's betting they won't), you can see from the ex-host's own statistics page exactly how much of its readership it has lost in only 18 days since The Field pulled up stakes:
Likewise, on that stats page file, one can also see the top referral blogs to the former host site:
Those top referral sites, the Daily Kos, Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic, fivethirtyeight.com, John Cole's balloon-juice.com, jedreport.com, James Wolcott of Vanity Fair, etcetera, have since changed their blog rolls and/or links to reflect the new address of The Field at narconews.com. (And I thank them very much for that.) The larger community - the blogosphere and its netroots - widely recognizes The Field's new location as its one and only legitimate home.
Just two weeks old, the new and improved The Field now has, according to Technorati, 84 incoming links from other blogs (added to the 2,424 incoming already into Narco News, and another 892 incoming to The Narcosphere section of the same newspaper, that totals 3,400 and it's quite the alliance). The Field at its former location had 2,129 incoming links - 93 percent of all the 2,285 incoming links to the former host site. In other words, we brought them ten times (on good days, more than 300 times) the traffic they had and will probably ever have again. Another blog at the ex-site of the ex-Field, to which all traffic has been rerouted without explanation, and has been in existence various months, enjoys only 66 incoming links by comparison. How many bloggers applied for convention credentials with better Technorati stats than that but were left empty handed?
I say this not to put down another site because of its low readership - there are many excellent sites across the Internet that do not have a lot of readers but are still of high quality, I read them and link to them frequently - but to make a different point: that, clearly, the DNC awarded its blogger credential to a blog (The Field) in a large part because it had a measurably large readership. It would never have awarded a credential to a site as scarcely read as the one that is trying to maintain an undeserved grip upon the credential that it does not merit.
More importantly than what does or doesn't happen at other sites is that The Field has been reborn with more vitality and readership than before, and in a very short time span since June 14. One can click The Field at its new location - http://www.narconews.com/thefield - at any hour of day or night and see the same ample activity and intelligent comments discussions that existed when it was located at its previous home, whereas the blog on the former host site is a virtual ghost town, with an average of one or two, if any, comments per entry. "I think I saw," one reader commented, "a tumbleweed blowing through there."
Clearly, nobody - other than those trying to benefit from the confusion - is happy with the way that the former hosts kept the $5,000+ our readers donated with the explicit solicitation to "Send Al to Denver." (The ex-hosts have returned some of those funds to some of the small donors that have demanded refunds, while others continue to report problems getting their refund, but the ex-hosts have so far refused to proactively alert the rest of those donors that their donations won't be spent for the purpose solicited and given. Thankfully, our readers have generously, mostly, solved that problem already):
Some readers - quite independently on their own initiative - set up an online petition to the DNC to restore my credentials, which in no time at all, without any major push, has garnered 350 signatures (and this is the first time I've linked to it in a diary post). Here's the link:
The petition states:
We the undersigned readers and supporters of Al Giordano and the blog "The Field" request that Mr. Giordano be awarded credentials for the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Our request is based on these facts:
1) Al Giordano was awarded credentials through his previous blog host, but the credentials have not been given to him since he was forced to move;
2) Mr. Giordano has thousands of readers and supporters who immediately followed him to his new site, thereby proving that Mr. Giordano was the "draw" to the old site, not the owner of that site;
3) Mr. Giordano will bring a progressive voice to the media coverage of the Democratic National Convention similar to that of his years of journalist experience and printed work; and
4) Mr. Giordano's expenses for the Denver Convention will be almost totally funded through independent small donors who are his readers and supporters.
I wrote to Aaron Myers of the DNC last week, asking him to please update the URL on the credentialed blogs page and to direct future correspondence regarding our credential to our new address. Strangely, he hasn't responded, not to say "yes," not to say "no," not to explain or disclose anything. And the DNC site still links to an ex-Field that no longer exists and is instead rerouted to the different, but virtually empty, blog.
Such non-response so far probably just indicates that the DNC has no idea what to do about this situation. But without addressing it, the uncertainty may grow to create the impression that the DNC wasn't or isn't really serious about awarding blogger credentials based on size of readership. If a single DNC member can successfully sequester a credential for a little-read stump of a website while so many more deserving bloggers will have to do our work without that important tool, what would that say about how the Democratic National Committee has changed, or not, in recent years?
And so I turn to you, kind readers (some of whom are also DNC members that may not agree with how one of their own has kidnapped a credential): Other than telling your own blog readers about the petition drive that The Field's readers have started (I think that's great), what can be done about this unfortunate turn of events?
Should the DNC allow this situation to continue without redress? Should it transfer the credential to The Field, its rightful holder? Should it create a new credential based on the unforeseen circumstances? Or should it let a DNC member hang onto a blogger credential that, if not for the high readership and Technorati rating that my work and its readers, alone, generated, would have never gotten into her hands in the first place?
Oh, that poor, kidnapped credential, tied and bound to a chair where nothing but tumbleweeds blow by, wasting away where it will never be able to be put to truly effective use!
The easy way to resolve this would be for someone in authority at the DNC to contact me immediately at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can work this out in a problem-solving spirit without further ado.
It's already been settled by our readers that - with or without a credential - we'll be reporting from the convention. But everybody would live more happily ever after if somebody upstairs of wisdom, intelligence and common sense at the DNC (there must be a doctor in the house) would take the few minutes it would require to step in and correct a wrong being perpetrated by one of its own.
Update: Field Hand Christi has posted a diary at Daily Kos about this situation. It's her first ever. I will now rec it. If you agree with what she says (I do), please do the same.
Update II: DemConWatch is on the story:
If you haven't followed the story of Al Giordano of The Field and how he's unjustly lost his bloggers' credential, go over to the new location of The Field, and read the latest update. Al has been doing some great blogging this spring, and he deserves to be in Denver.
To quickly summarize, he was awarded a credential for blogging at his first blog, the owners of that blog started to censor him, so he moved to his current blog. But the original blog owners still have the credential, even though the original blog wouldn't come close to qualifying for a credential without the traffic Al brought it.
All the DNCC has to do to fix this is give Al a credential. (They don't even have to take away the old one). This should be an easy one for the DNCC to take care of.
By B.J. Roche
Photo: B.J. Roche.
I've been reading the news coverage of this event, and I have to say, there may have been some angry Hillary supporters in this crowd, but they were definitely in the teeny-minority. There were plenty of supporters, but the mood overall seemed to be one of great enthusiasm and hope. Even the music was great: Curtis Mayfield: Move on Up, U-2, It's a Beautiful Day, it reminded me of that great feeling when the Clintons won, and they used the song, Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow. You felt like maybe it was a new turn.
Most people I talked with were there to be part of history and glad that this was finally happening. This was not an easy event to get to. People had to stand in line waiting for busses to take them to the event, another long long line to get inside the field, an then another hour-plus wait for the bus to take them back to the parking lot. So you really had to want to be there. About 4,000 people were, according to one of the organizers, although I've seen estimates as high as 6,000.
Photo: B.J. Roche.
The day was like one of those English village movies, where a little town undergoes a big event, and all these different characters get their cameos. Unity is one of those towns like you find all over western New England,that the economy has forgotten, a mix of classic buildings like this great town hall, and double wides and pre-fabs everywhere else. People used to work in the textile mills in Claremont, but those mills now mostly sit empty, busted windows, overlooking the river, and people now commute to Dartmouth, either the medical center or the college.
The "mayor" who introduced the event, Ken Hall, was straight out of central casting in the back-hill Yankee category--a McCain voter (he says he may be flipped this time--you've gotta love New Hampshire), bit of a gut on him, suspenders and belt--but happy to have so many people in town. He had bought new sneakers for the event, which he later showed off at the Kiwanis hamburger stand.
Hillary Clinton was terrific. In fact, it was more her day than Obama's. Let no one doubt her strength in the end, and the fact that she will continue to play a big role in civic life. (I'm thinking Ted Kennedy could do worse than hand her the mantle.) She fought a good fight and I came away with more respect for her than ever. I was not a big fan of hers before, but I am now.
I ran into Ken Bazinet, an old friend who was covering the event for the NY Daily News. Ken had spent Thursday night in the bar at the Mayflower in DC, where the Dems were meeting, buying drinks (of course) for lots of big Hillary donors, chatting up Terry McCauliffe etc. etc. He said all was fine and the atmosphere mellow until the women came in. Angry women. They're still angry apparently. Ken's theory: women who didn't grow up playing team sports don't know how to lose.
Actually, I understand this anger. I first encountered it at a dinner party years ago when I argued that Hillary would have a hard time going up against Rudy Giuiliani for a senate seat because she was so polarizing. (Ok, so I was wrong about that one!)
I found myself arguing with another professional woman, with whom I probably agreed about everything else. I realized then that many women have an almost visceral link to Hillary because they feel they've traveled the same road together. She is them. They've had to fight to get where they are and they're not backing down.
Photo: B.J. Roche.
If that roiling anger that Ken saw in DC was there in Unity, I didn't see it.
Hillary really looked terrific, in a blue suit and really it might have been very hard for her, but she gave a gracious and rousing speech. She used some humor, she didn't gush, and she hammered at McCain.
So they didn't do the raised hands together. The 11 oclock pundits were analyzing the body language like they were Doctor Phil. (Did they not know that it was about 90 degrees?) I didn't even think about any
of that until I got home and read the coverage The pundits will pick this thing apart for the next 24 hours, but from where we were standing in the cheap seats, it felt sincere and honest and classy. And I think that's what most regular people are looking for.
Seeing them both up there, I realized that we owed Hillary a debt for toughening this guy up, pummeling him a little bit, and kicking the crap out of him once in awhile. It was great training. She was Burgess Meredith to Sylvester Stallone in Rocky.
And at the end, when people shouted "Thank You Hillary!" I think they really meant it.
Update: Kleiman agrees.
See also: The on-scene reports from this event, posted here yesterday, by Cheshire County Field Hand Dan Carr.
By Al Giordano
C-Span will broadcast live the remarks by rival presidential candidates, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) in Washington DC this morning, beginning at 11 a.m. ET (which is to say, starting now).
On Thursday, The Field offered a preview of how the two candidates must each clearly define their stances on immigration reform, or be defined by it.
I'll be adding periodic running commentary here.
Field Hands will no doubt add great commentary in the comments section, below.
11 a.m.: McCain is up first and promptly. Starts in by complaining that the forum isn't a "Town Hall Meeting" of the sort that he's been demanding with Obama.
11:03 a.m.: McCain's first pitch is against taxes on businesses. "The global economy is here to stay, my friends. We cannot build walls to foreign competition, and why should we want to?" (Is it possible he'll just give a routine stump speech and avoid the immigration matter altogether?)
11:10 a.m.: He then moves on to his stump speech texts on education and energy. CNN is also livestreaming the event (click "Live Video").
11:11 a.m.: He begins to get into what sounds like it will be the immigration issue, says "I represent Arizona," and a heckler begins shouting something about Arizona. This actually serves to create sympathy for him. Pivots very well into a statement about lack of "trust in government." Americans "want us to stop yelling at each other." Applause.
11:13 a.m.: Notes that in his state of Arizona, Spanish was spoken before English. Recounts his co-sponsorship of the Immigration Reform Bill for "those who came here, as my great grandparents did.... Many Americans did not believe us that we were not serious when we said we must secure our borders.... We have economic and humanitarian responsibilities as well... When I was in prison in Vietnam...." Mentions a fellow inmate named Alvarez who had ended up there before him. Mentions names on Vietnam memorial wall: "Rodríguez, Hernández and López."
11:16 a.m.: Hecklers interrupt again. Sounds like "Saca las tropas" ("get the troops out"), then "your silence is a war crime." The elected officials gathered are not into the heckling.
McCain then skillfully uses the heckling context to end his remarks. It's quite brilliant. He gets to tell the right-wing that he was heckled at the NALEO convention and gets off without adding any detail as to what he plans to do in the future on immigration. The stupidity of some activists sometimes amazes to the point when one wonders whether the whole incident was a plant.
Now on to questions from the audience....
11:23 a.m.: After a non-eventful question and response about the mortgage crisis, the mayor of Seaside, California asks McCain about wasteful military spending taking away from domestic human needs like education and health care. McCain thanks him and all of California "for stealing Arizona's water." Laughter. He's clearly emboldened by the idiotic heckler incident. "We have so little water in Arizona that the trees chase the dogs." He's in his element. He then says that the most waste is in military spending because "that's where the money is" and vows to fight it. He gets very warm applause.
11:27 a.m.: Finally, on to immigration, from an elected official who refers to him as "the next president of the United States," a line loudly applauded. "There are 12 million people here illegally and they are all God's children." Mentions working with Ted Kennedy...
11:35 a.m.: Florida State Rep. Juan Zapata thanks him for his support for the US-Colombia "Free Trade" agreement, mentions McCains trip next week to Colombia. McCain: "I believe in free trade, including the Colombian free trade agreement... We need to reward Colombia... and... President Calderon in Mexico, he is fighting hard against drugs... We've got to help the Mexicans fight the war against the cartels...." Segues into concern about "displaced workers" and "training people for the workforce.... I'm for free trade but I also believe we can't be callous and uncaring about the victims."
11:40 a.m.: In response to a statement from a Vietnam veteran with a son in Iraq, McCain says "we are winning... The fact is that we can withdraw... with honor and in victory... the strategy in Iraq is succeeding..." Murmers from the crowd and shushing of audible grumbling. "Defeat of the military is a terrible thing for us to handle. I believe we can come home with victory and honor."
11:43 a.m.: Speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives speaks of the hardships caused by the anti-immigration policies, cites the border fence and raids that break up Latino families. McCain: "The reason why we failed getting the bill through the Congress is that Americans didn't believe that we would take care of our national security requirements." Notes that he supported 1986 immigration reform. Mentions "the flow of drugs across our borders and the influence of the cartels... I come from a border state my dear friends. I know these issues... I understand... People who have come here illegally have none of the protections of citizens, so they are preyed upon...." Calls for dealing with border security "and then" deal with this issue. "You are elected officials. You know the burden of illegal immigration... That lady still stands with her torch raised by the golden door." Loud applause.
11:46 a.m.: Last question asks if, as president, McCain will return to NALEO conference next year. He says yes. Sustained applause as he ends his participation. (Clearly, there are many Republican elected and appointed officials in this group, too.)
All in all, I think McCain turned a potentially precarious situation into a real winner for him, thanks to an assist from the slow-class hecklers (who obviously haven't read Alinsky!). I guess I'll have to devote an entire post to how these morons are only helping the guy.
Now, "a brief break" before Obama comes out to speak.
12:13 p.m.: C-Span, after a break, resumes live coverage of the NALEO convention, suggesting that it won't be long now before Obama's turn at the mic.
12:17 p.m.: If there was any doubt from the warm applause for McCain about whose crowd this is, the whistles, cheers and much louder applause as Obama takes the stage and says "¡Sí se puede!" provoking a brief round of "Obama! Obama! Obama!", that doubt just evaporated.
12:20 p.m.: "I'm hoping somebody out there will be the first Latino nominee of a major party."
12:21 p.m.: "This is an aspirational community that embodies the best of the American dream... That fundamentally American ideal that I've always seen in the Hispanic community... We stood together when I was an organizer in Chicago... We stood together when I was a civil rights attorney making sure that Latinos were well represented in Chicago... We marched together in the streets to fix a broken immigration system... You can trust me when I say I will be your partner in the White House and I will be your champion in the White House... Because for eight long years Washington has not been working for ordinary Americans and for Latino Americans...."
12:23 p.m.: Goes right after McCain. "What he's offering is not change... We used to work together to offer change on immigration... But what he didn't mention is that when he was running for his party's nomination, he walked away from that commitment. He said he wouldn't even support his own legislation if it came up for a vote... We can't vacillate... We need immigration reform that will secure our borders and punish employers that exploit immigrant labor... Putting them on a pathway to citizenship, that has to become one of our priorities as well. And I say it now and I will say it after I'm president!" Prolonged applause. "Si se puede!"
12:27 p.m.: Obama plugs voter registration of Latinos, indicates its a priority for his campaign. Now on to Q & A...
12:42 p.m.: In his regular style of not sugar-coating the story, Obama adds that "we cannot dismiss" the concerns of many Americans that the law has to be followed, that the legal immigration system has to be strengthened, and that the best way to stem the flow of illegal immigration is improve economic conditions in the lands they are leaving.
1:03 p.m.: Forum ends with a standing ovation for Senator Obama.
By Al Giordano
Just a quick update on the progress of Field Hands, the self-organizing venture by readers of The Field.
The Cheshire County New Hampshire group is not waiting around for Local status to get busy. It has seven members so far, just three short of qualifying as a Local. Today - with a small assist by me, from a distance - they'll be on the press bus to and from the Unity, NH event - in next door Sullivan County - with Senators Obama and Clinton (in a town where both candidates tied last January with 107 votes apiece), with pen and paper, reporting the inside story for all of us.
Imagine a national (international) grassroots effort in which no matter what part of the country (world) news is happening, you can get the unmediated story from your fellow and sister readers and commenters. That is one of the potentials of the Field Hands phenomenon.
Every Field Hand group is autonomous: you don't need permission from me or anybody else to self-organize in the ways that benefit your community and your world. I'm not responsible for your actions, and you're not to blame for mine. It's mutual aid at its finest.
This is a self-organizing movement that will not end on any country's election day. By November, at the rate this is growing, there will be a network in place to make sure that promises of "change" will be delivered.
Plus, you'll get to meet folks that live near you that you might never have met otherwise. What happens on the Internet screen only matters to the extent that it impacts the real life outside of it.
We'll be eager to read the on-the-scene eyewitness report later today from Dan Carr and the Cheshire County Field Hands, and compare it to what the commercial media tells us.
Update: I notice that the Texas Field Hands group is just one member away from becoming Field Hands Local #17. If you're a Longhorn that hasn't joined yet, you could put that group over the top, and it will then be added to the sidebar here at The Field.
Update II: Texas has now qualified as Field Hands Local #17. Yee-ha!
Update III: In case you missed it, Barry Crimmins weighed in again yesterday on behalf of those (including some that commented anew last night on his page) that have demanded but not received all or any of their refunds from the ex-hosts of the ex-Field. (Y'all wouldn't believe the number of emails and comments I've gotten from biggies in the nonprofit world astonished by such abusive treatment toward small donors.)
Update IV: We have contact! Dan from Cheshire County Field Hands has established a wi fi connection from the Unity event and has just posted this to the comments section below:
Hi everyone, They set up a WiFi here and we're live. People moving through the screening slowly. It's tough to find the cursor in the sunlight so I may be posting slowly. Not many Hillary or Obama buttons but the women from Unity I spoke to were Hillary supporters and were all on board without any big problems. Good local band warming up the crowd , a festive summer event in New Hampshire, just the largest ever in Unity!
Update V: More from Dan Carr, live from Unity...
The folks are filling up the field and while the band Public Seven from Boston is playing. They jusst had a cheer for Obama followed by aq cheer for Hillary. People are still coming through the detectors. There's a long line down the road outside. They're all in the shade of a line of trees in the center of town. The joke so far is "Is this the middle of nowhere, no but you can see it from here." That's the next town over Acworth. Congressman Paul Hodes and Congresswoman Caarol Shea-Porter are coming on stage.
Update VI: CNN has a livestream here (click "Live Video" at upper right corner of that page).
Update VII: Final on-scene comment from Dan (more already in the comments section, too):
“It was amazing”, Said a woman wheeling her baby out in a stroller. There were a few folks who didn’t want to go along with the mood, but by the end nearly everyone was smiling and the two Hillary supporters who brought rally signs were posing for the media more than taking things seriously. Earlier one had shouted “We need you Hillary.” We nearly got cleared out by one of those June rainstorms in new Hampshire but the sun is back out and the people in line are comfortably chatting. One older couple from Unity sat on the bleachers after most had left and said to, there’s no rush, that was great! The woman I posted about before left with a big smile and I think a little more open mind to the changing reality. You probably saw in the middle of Hillary’s speech a kind of realization caught up with her, she felt a pang of loss I thought. The crowd responding to what she had said chanted Obama, but seeing the pause in her demeanor switched to chanting Hillary. Though no one cheered when Hillary asked the crowd to support Barack and work for him like they did for her by the end a general elation was shared by all. It was as if we really could lift the pall of the last seven years. The WiFi has been extremely slow today here so My posts to you all have been more limited than I hoped. I have to take a look at the photos, if any are interesting I could share them.
Thanks, Dan! Through sun glare, rain shower and bad wi fi connection you went, you saw, you conquered! We're all looking forward to the photos and the post-show commentary.
A New Hampshire "Nascar Voter" for Obama. Photo by B.J. Roche.
Saturday Morning Update: Dan has written a recap of what he saw and heard yesterday from the press section in Unity, NH. It now appears at the jump...
By Al Giordano
Today marks the opening round in a very “outcome determinative” contest among the US presidential candidates to either frame a clear position on immigration reform or be framed by it.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) holds its annual conference in Washington DC, and, there, the Democrats will have the upper hand. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson will receive their annual award tonight. New York Senator Hillary Clinton will address the group this afternoon. And it’s all preceded by a “leadership luncheon” at noon led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) and US Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), all of them Democrats (as are most Latino elected officials across the country.)
But that’s just the pre-game show. On Saturday, both Obama and McCain will address the group.
During last year’s Univision debate among Democratic presidential aspirants, translated real-time, the Spanish-language network asked its viewers to send in questions for the candidates. It received thousands of responses, more than 70 percent of them asking about immigration reform. For the Mexican-American majority among Latinos in the US, as well as many others, that’s the big issue: whether 12 million undocumented Americans will continue to be harassed and hounded and forced into the shadows (and whether Hispanic-American US citizens will continue to be persecuted on the pretext of searching for "illegals"), or whether – as with all previous generations of immigrants – they will be provided a reasonable path to citizenship.
Interestingly, this is perhaps the one issue in which George W. Bush took real leadership during his two terms in office, bucking the fringe elements of his party to promote an Immigration Reform Bill last year, which was co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of Senators including McCain and Obama. The right-wing talk radio and blogosphere noise machines cranked up and divided the GOP, generated hundreds of thousands of calls into Congress (crashing the US Capitol switchboard) and senators of both parties that had said they would support the bill caved in to the haters.
As the video above recounts, McCain’s then front-running campaign for the Republican nomination crashed and almost burned out: he ran out of money, had to lay off most of his staff, and his poll numbers tanked until he was able to break through again last January in New Hampshire as his chief rivals – Giuliani, Romney, Huckabee – one-by-one fell from their own noticeable shortcomings, leaving McCain the last Republican standing.
There is a significant sector on the right that does not forgive McCain for his mainstream views on immigration. And there is a natural tendency among Hispanic-Americans to favor Democrats over Republicans – one that Spanish-speaking George W. Bush was able to minimize against Al Gore and John Kerry in the previous presidential elections.
Here’s a recent recount of what percentages of Hispanic-Americans cast their votes for Democratic presidential candidates in the past 28 years:
76 percent: Jimmy Carter's share of the Latino vote in 1976.
72 percent: Bill Clinton's share at reelection in 1996.
67 percent: Al Gore's share in winning the popular vote in 2000.
56 percent: John Kerry's share in his loss to George W. Bush in '04.
Note how the Democrats' lead among Hispanic-Americans has steadily decreased, mainly because of the inroads made, first in Texas, by George W. Bush. But as of today, Obama is surging ahead among Hispanic-Americans, with 60 percent to just 23 for McCain.
Gebe Martinez of Politico describes the pincer grip that has McCain squeezed on both sides of the issue, mostly through his own fault, because during the GOP primaries McCain backpedaled and turned against his own bill:
“I don’t think [McCain] can appease the hard-core xenophobes and convince the Latinos he is standing up for them at the same time,” said Cecilia Munoz, senior vice president of NCLR (National Council of La Raza), who has been in the middle of immigration bill negotiations. “I think he has to pick a side and make it clear. Is he going after the votes of the xenophobes?”
Were his failed bill to come up again, he would not vote for it, he said
Robert Oscar Lopez offers detailed nuance, via Counterpunch, on Obama and Hispanic voting groups:
Latinos are not a captive constituency like African Americans on the left, or white evangelicals on the right. We usually split 60/40 between Democrats and Republicans with a significant subset amenable to switching sides. The split is partly related to the differences among Central Americans and Cubans, who can lean Republican, and Chicanos and Puerto Ricans, who tend to lean Democratic. But we have a collective identity, as evidenced by the solvency of pan-Latino media companies (Univision in Spanish or SiTV in English). We feel a commonality even if we can never articulate what exactly makes us all Latino, so in spite of our diversity, we aren’t Balkanized. No umbrella group is so unpredictable and yet so culturally cohesive. If a party gets lost in the mixed signals, it can pay the price at election time; just ask Ken Mehlman. In 2006, when Republicans appeared nastier than Democrats on immigration, Latino support for the GOP dropped to around 28%, and the Democrats stormed Congress.
That nuance, however, is more relevant to the contest in Florida (where the more diverse Latino vote will be topic of separate upcoming threads here) than to the hotly contested western states targeted by Obama for liberation from GOP dominance in recent presidential elections: Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, as well as some potential for surprise in Texas and Arizona if he can solidify his big lead among those voters.
In the Southwest, Mexican-Americans are practically the whole ball game when it comes to “the Latino vote.” And there, the immigration reform question is that which matters ahead of all others.
This weekend’s NALEO conference in Washington, with 1,000 elected and appointed officials, is really, though, just the warm up: In a little more than two weeks both McCain and Obama will both address the National Council of La Raza conference in San Diego on July 13. An expected audience of 20,000 await them there. High stakes, much?
But we’ll know on Saturday a lot more about how McCain and Obama are going to navigate this river. McCain is going to have to choose which parts of the GOP base he will alienate: He can’t please both Hispanic Repubicans and the xenophobe fringe.
For Obama, though, there is also a whiff of precariousness in the current: If at any moment over the upcoming months he equivocates or is perceived as trying to establish a foothold to the right of McCain on Immigration Reform, he will risk his big lead and his chances in those important western swing states.
Beginning today, the immigration issue is crossing the media curtain - another kind of border - and into mainstream debate in the US presidential campaign.
So far, this sub-contest is Obama's to lose.
And if he plays it honestly, directly and coherently, it is also Obama's to win.