To have seen it, you had to be watching either a public or a cable network. You also had to be watching closely.
Otherwise, early Tuesday evening in the Democratic National Convention, you missed an ever-so fleeting unscripted moment of democracy at work.
The old axiom, “Never watch sausage nor legislation being made”, fits that moment perfectly.
What happened was not pretty; in fact, it was downright ugly with a ruling from the presiding officer, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (right), saying the “ayes” sounded stronger than the “nays”, a dubious ruling, at best in a vote requiring a majority. If the vote needed more than a majority to pass–this is not made clear–then it is not just dubious, but obviously wrong.
The party platform of an incumbent president is dictated by the incumbent. It is intended to outline positions on which the party is in general agreement. The platform committee that shapes the set of positions is appointed from among the delegates. It always contains delegates who can be relied on to deliver language the president wants.
The platform is a largely ignored document with a shelf life of about 15 minutes. The only time the platform gets attention is when convention delegates strongly disagree on its wording, setting off a disruptive floor debate. This 2012 Democratic convention had no time for such a debate.
The floor debate that Mayor Villaraigosa blocked, has its genesis in what appears to have been platform committee action from Utah Democratic delegates. Other Democratic delegates who were supposed to keep the Platform Committee in line were missing in action when the language was changed.
The platform language that was briefly changed was the deletion of “God” and “Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel”, both topics using boilerplate language that had been adopted four years ago in the 2008 platform.
That insurrection had to be corrected by party officials “at the top” as one delegate said. At the moment, President Obama is locked in delicate negotiations with Israel over the future of the Palestinian people. He has to win re-election if those negotiations are to continue. If Romney wins, there will be no negotiations, just capitulation by a Republican party heavily financed by wealthy Israeli-backers in the U.S.
Those Utah delegates, or whoever it was that managed to delete God and “undivided capital” from the platform, were, of course, on the side of the angels in this debate. But politics, like sausage, is conducted in the mire of the possible, not in the land of “what ought to be”
Putting ‘God’ in the platform is an insult to Americans who do not share that faith or whose religions refer to the Ultimate by other names, Allah and Yahweh, for example. That argument, however, does not play well politically in a nation with so many voters firmly believing this nation’s founders were rock-ribbed Christians (which they were not).
The Democratic platform retains the magic phrase, “subject to negotiations with the parties involved”, which means that no matter what the platform infers, the future status of Jerusalem remains in the “final status” category. God, of course, is not subject to negotiations.
A video clip of Mayor Villaraigosa in the chair gaveling down rebellious delegates, is below. Note carefully shots of two delegates, who wear the Tee-Shirt worn by other Arab-American delegates. The shirt uses an Arabic phrase, “yallah, vote”, or “Hurry up, vote”, to rally other Arab American voters. The woman at right in one shot in the video shakes her head in disappointment and disgust.
This race between Obama and Romney remains tight, though the Democrats continue to lead in the key swing states. The language of the platform will have little impact on voters.
What impact it does have is that God and “undivided Jerusalem” are handy tools for Republicans to use in their “know-nothing style” campaign ads that whip up their base against the Democrats.
Fortunately, for the Democrats, their unscripted moment came long before the major television networks begin airing the night’s proceedings. Only cable networks (which viewers have to pay for) and public television (smaller audiences) began broadcasting at 7 p.m. (EST) while the free (crammed with commercials) major networks waited until 9 p.m. to join the proceedings.
During the nightly two-hour commercial network air time, the Democrats ran a smooth convention, highlighting its stars. Not so the Republicans.
To the Romney forces’ later deep regret, convention planners unwittingly handed a showcase headline slot to movie actor-director-tough guy Clint Eastwood. Eastwood used his own unscripted time to speak in a condescending tone while he insulted President Barack Obama with Eastwood’s own middle-school level of gross, unfunny humor. (“He can’t do that to himself”.)
The Democrats dealt with their unscripted moment of democracy before a smaller audience, and fortunately for them, out of sight of the majority of viewers.
What they could not dispose of was the image of AIPAC once again playing the tune to which the Democrats willingly dance. No one knows this better than President Obama. What he needs is four more years in which to show that backbone Vice President Joe Biden spoke of in his glowing nomination speech for the President Thursday night.
The President, or those “at the top” who dictated the final 2012 Democratic platform, paid a price of one more small dance to the AIPAC tune, to help the President win his second term.
Words in the platform are easier to swallow than an Israeli attack on Iran before the November election. And thanks, it would appear, to the President’s resolve in standing firm against such an attack, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now shows signs of standing down on his determination to attack Iran.
This news report from Israel appeared during the convention proceedings (on Wednesday). It suggests that the war drums in Israel are quieter now. The clue is in recent IDF appointments:
If anyone needed further proof that Benjamin Netanyahu has buckled under the pressure and will probably not be giving the order to attack Iran in the next few months, at least not before the U.S. elections, the latest reported IDF appointments seem to supply it.
Yedioth Ahronot reported Wednesday that two key appointments in the IDF that have been frozen for the past few weeks are going ahead. Maj. Gen. Yoav Har-Even, who was only promoted last week, will this week become the new head of the IDF General Staff’s operations directorate, replacing Maj. Gen. Yaakov Ayash who is moving to Washington to serve as the IDF military attaché. The other is of Col. A. (name withheld for security reasons), an air force operations chief who will assume command of Ramon airbase, replacing Col. Tal Kalman.
Both appointments were in the pipeline for a while and Yedioth surmises that both the decision to postpone, and now the decision to go ahead with the appointments, are due to fact that “the level of alertness and readiness in the IDF, which was at a record high in recent weeks, is about to go down.
As President Obama prepares for his final nine-week post-convention campaign run against his Republican opponent, he should be encouraged by these signals that Israel has resigned itself to a second-term Obama presidency.
The picture at top of Mayor Villaraigosa is by Kevin Dietsch of UPI for Newscom.