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Tuesday 22 Aug 2017 | 13:53 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 22 Aug 2017 | 13:53 | SYDNEY

Democrats in Denver I

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25 August 2008 15:53

This week the Big Top of the American political circus has come to Denver, Colorado, with the staging of the Democratic National Convention. This wealthy, charming city has the air of a festival about it. Events here will provide fodder for a million colour pieces – so we reasoned that I may as well add a couple to the pile. I’ll blog daily from Denver for The Interpreter.

Given the entirely absorbing Democratic primary contest and its remarkable outcome — an African-American major party nominee for president of the United States — this convention was always going to be a global media event. But as the general election race has closed in the past fortnight, the stakes have been moved a notch higher still.

McCain’s campaign has picked up its pace and finally found Obama's tender spots with some of their attacks. The Republican has also received a significant leg-up from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the form of the Russia-Georgia conflict. That imbroglio benefited McCain in a number of ways. It increased the salience of his national security credentials and, because of Obama’s deficit in that area, it raised the risk premium built into the price of shares in Obama.

McCain’s hard-nosed approach to Russia suddenly looked prescient to many Americans, and the Cold War feel of the thing worked in favour of the older candidate. Perhaps most importantly, the crisis undermined Obama’s theme of change: in Central Europe, it was back to the future, which demonstrated that the international system may not be particularly amenable to pretty rhetoric. Obama has a reasonable argument to make on Russia – it was not, after all, a Democratic president who peered into Putin’s soul and liked what he saw, and it is probably true that America’s current diminished prestige made it harder for Washington to do anything about Russia’s recent behaviour – but McCain was clearly the overall beneficiary.

With some polls marking the race as a dead heat, then, the immediate political effect of the convention will be parsed as carefully as its historical importance.

In my posts over the next few days I'm going to include a regular feature — 'Tribes of Denver' — in which I describe some of the archetypes I notice wandering the corridors of Pepsi Center and the streets of the city. I’ll start with two closely related Tribes, True Believers and Activists.

True Believers are grass-roots Democratic Party regulars – delegates from Independence, Missouri, union officials from Texas, representatives of 'GLBT for Obama' and the like. They are everywhere here, with a gleam in their eyes. From what I saw today, there are a lot of Hillary diehards in their ranks, bearing T-shirts like this one: ‘Hillary supports Barack and I do too.’

Activists are similar in motivation but different in affiliation– they're usually of the left, but they're not necessarily of the party. In one ten-metre stretch of the 16th Street mall today, I saw a jaunty chap sporting a devil costume and a George W Bush mask, and the American Alzheimers Association and others advocating the legalisation of marijuana. Shortly after those sightings, a noisy anti-war protest made its way up the mall. Alongside the many sincere participants were the usual assortment of cack-handed poseurs, including young men wearing balaclavas around the faces in the Beirut style. The Denver sheriffs looked amused.

The protest also had the normal kinds of protest signs: 'Impeach Bush' (bit late there, tiger), 'Running prisons for profit is a crime’, and so on. But I did spot one sign that showed some wit: ‘War is mean’.

I'll identify more of the Tribes tomorrow, when the Convention proper begins. Highlights should include a speech by Michelle Obama and a tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy.

Photo of Denver skyline by Flickr user Fort Photo, used under a Creative Commons license.