Convention Observations: McGovern, Danny Diaz, Carville, and the Food Stand Guy

My observations from Day 2 of the Democratic Convention.

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Corrected on 8/27/08 at 5:56 p.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Roger Friedman. He was helping George McGovern get through security at the convention.


Updated on 8/27/08 at 3:45 p.m.

DENVER–Joseph Cari, one of Tony Rezko's accomplices, self-admitted in 2005, was Biden's Midwest field director and has been a friend for 30 years. I'm not surprised that Biden has Chicago connections; I remember being at an Adell, Dallas County, Iowa, Biden event in the spring of 1987, and accompanying him was Bill Daley.

A lot of conservatives are giving Barack Obama trouble for not helping his half-brother in Africa. I'm inclined to think this is a bum rap. Obama's father left him when he was 2. He saw him again only once in his life. Obama did seek out his relatives in Kenya, as he describes in his fictionalized memoir, but does he have the responsibility to track down the multiple children his bigamous and neglectful father sired and give them money? I don't think so. Of course, if he did promise to help one and then failed to follow through, that doesn't speak well of him. But I don't think he's shirking some continuing responsibility. If your father had done what Obama's father did, would you feel any responsibility for his other offspring?

Check out the last paragraph in this post from Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com. I don't know Mr. Silver, but I hope to run across him at the convention and see if I can get a Web address for the Nauoo Expositor poll.

Danny Diaz, communications director at the Republican National Committee, was in the hall, heading down to radio row. He noted that the Richard J. Daley Library at the University of Illinois-Chicago Circle has now opened up the archive of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, of which the unrepentant terrorist bomber William Ayers (who admitted to bombing the U.S. Capitol and Pentagon) was cofounder and Barack Obama was chairman of the board of directors. I have written on this, and on how the records may reveal that the ties between Ayers and Obama were much closer than Obama has indicated. The archives may also tell us more about Obama's work on education, a subject he has not given as much emphasis as one might think. And he has little to say about the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which had massive funding and civic support but, by the accounts I have read, had little in the way of positive results. It's a fair question to ask about a presidential candidate's performance on an enterprise of that sort. The Obama campaign has been alarmed enough about the Ayers issue to test it in their polling, run an ad on it, and sue to get the 527 ad that raises it off the air. This could become an important part of the campaign.

The man running one of the food stands—he recognized me from television but couldn't recall my name. I told him. Then he told me that all the food workers have been instructed by the people running the convention not to talk to members of the press. He said he was a retired member of the Teamsters Union, and he said he told the organizers, "You can take me out, but I'm talking to people." What's the idea of forbidding the vendors from talking to the press? They can't say "you're welcome" when some pressie says "thank you"?

The Democrats had a nice remembrance of prominent Democrats who have died in the last four years, starting off with the recently deceased Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones. The crowd gave loud applause when the picture of Lady Bird Johnson came on the screen; they barely murmured when Eugene McCarthy's picture appeared. Forty years ago, Mrs. Johnson dared not appear at the convention in Chicago, which had been scheduled to coincide with her husband's 60th birthday, while supporters of McCarthy were beaten up by Chicago police. McCarthy would have evoked great applause at some subsequent Democratic national conventions, and Mrs. Johnson only a pleasant murmur. This year, it is the other way around.

I saw James Carville outside the convention hall and asked him about the stories saying the Democrats had not attacked John McCain enough on the first night of the convention. He told me that what he criticized was a lack of consistency, and "I didn't get what the takeaway was." But he said he thought the convention would do better tonight.

I ran into former Rep. David Bonior on the floor. He's from Michigan, as I am, and I can remember when he was a state representative from Macomb County in the 1970. He was elected to the U.S. House in 1976 and became House minority whip in 1995. In 2001, Michigan Republicans, then in control of the governorship and the Legislature, drew the lines in such a way that Bonior could not be re-elected. He ran for governor and came in a respectable third in the primary, behind the current governor, Jennifer Granholm, and former Gov. Jim Blanchard. Bonior, who has always been close to labor unions, was chairman of John Edwards's presidential campaign. I expressed my consolations. "We had a great campaign," Bonior said, and described Edwards's disgrace as "a kick in the stomach." He said the 26 Edwards delegates are "virtually all" for Barack Obama. He also told me that a recent poll by Stan Greenberg—who has polled in and written about Macomb County for years—showed McCain ahead by 7 percent, "not bad at this point." I said I had heard that another pollster found Obama up 7 percent in next-door Oakland County. Historically, Oakland was Republican and Macomb Democratic; in 2004, John Kerry narrowly carried Oakland and George W. Bush narrowly won Macomb. Maybe they're both moving in different directions. Bonior said the good arguments for Democrats are change and "class values."

On the floor I was approached by James Barone (he pronounces the name with three syllables), the Democratic-Farmer-Labor county chairman in Ramsey County—the county seat of which is St. Paul. He has a son named Michael Barone; St. Paul is also the home of the Michael Barone who has classical music and organ music programs on Minnesota Public Radio, which are nationally syndicated. James Barone is an Obama delegate. His wife, Victoria Rinehart (I'm not sure of the spelling; apologies if wrong), is a Ramsey County Commissioner, with an office in the county courthouse close by the Xcel Center, where the Republican National Convention will be held next week. The security people originally planned to have the county courthouse inside the convention security perimeter. Then, it was pointed out that criminal defendants have to be brought into and out of the courthouse, and the line was redrawn so that the courthouse is outside it.

Gov. Ed Rendell's take on the race in Pennsylvania. "In many ways, the campaign hasn't begun. It will on the first debate on September 26." Despite current polls favorable to Obama in the state, Rendell says, "We've got our work cut out for us. Obama will deliver an economic message that will make a difference for the middle class. On the trail, he will be pumping that message. He'll do about as well as Kerry in Washington, Beaver, and Allegheny counties. Where the economy is not doing great, people don't care about ethnic badges, niche issues, or wedge issues." He said the House race in Pennsylvania 11 "will be close, but Kanjorski will win." Here, Rendell compares Obama to Adlai Stevenson.

Outside the convention hall, I saw former Sen. George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic nominee for president. He said he hadn't been provided with a credential, and a man named Roger Friedman from Fox News was helping him get through security. McGovern and I both remembered that we had established some time ago that he and I had been next-door neighbors in 1947, in Diamond Lake, Ill., when McGovern was a divinity student at Northwestern and my father was an Army doctor at Fort Sheridan. McGovern noted that he had switched careers soon after that, seeking a history Ph.D. at Northwestern. "I made the right choice."

As we were about to enter the convention hall, he reflected on the 1968 Democratic National Convention, at which he was a candidate (he started running with the support of some Robert Kennedy delegates after Kennedy was murdered). He noted that only 12 to 13 percent of the delegates there were women, that the delegates were picked in every state by white middle-class, middle-aged men. Referring to the minority resolution that passed the convention and authorized the McGovern-Fraser reform commission, "We opened up the process to women, young people, blacks, and Hispanics. In 1968, the transcendent issue was Vietnam, and many delegations had no one 30 and under."

At that point, I saw William Kennedy Smith and introduced myself to him. He said he had come as part of the Kennedy family and that his uncle Edward Kennedy's speech was a great thrill. He and his brother Steve embraced McGovern, and I waved goodbye to my 61-year-ago next-door neighbor as he went up an elevator with Friedman.

This convention was relentlessly on message. George W. Bush inherited the best economy in history and wrecked it. John McCain went along 90 percent of the time. Rinse. Repeat.

A good workmanlike keynote speech by former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner. Not great, but the crowd noise grew lower as he went on, and he had a good level of attention at the end. A good solid speech by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, thick with criticism of Bush and McCain.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick says, "Government is the name we use for the things we choose to do together." But government also means compulsion. If the "we" who "choose" are a majority or supermajority, there are still some who do not choose to do together some of the things for which government is the name we use. Government makes them pay for it anyway or sends them to jail. Representative government is a good thing. But it's not kumbaya.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is a talented demagogue and gets the crowd on its feet screaming. Loudest decibel level of the convention so far. He went on too long; Hillary Clinton must be seething. Her speech will run past primetime, and perhaps that's why she talked over applause and cheering; she wanted to get as much of it as she could in before 9 p.m. MDT.