Monday, August 25, 2008

Establishment Media Desperately Seeking Disunity

Riding the 16th Street bus between venues this morning, I encountered a young woman, DNC delegate credentials slung around her neck, sporting two buttons on her shoulder bag—one said “Hillary ‘08” and the other “Obama ’08.”

And that, as best my impressions tell me so far, is the extent of party disunity at the Democratic National Convention.

Perhaps you have a different impression, and if you happen to be somewhere else this week, maybe a place where your best news options are USA TODAY or a cable news channel, I don’t blame you.

Just take a gander at the number one story on the cover of today’s USA TODAY:

Poll: More than half of Clinton backers still not sold on Obama

DENVER — Fewer than half of Hillary Rodham Clinton's supporters in the presidential primaries say they definitely will vote for Barack Obama in November, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, evidence of a formidable challenge facing Democrats as their national convention opens here today.

Sounds grim, right? But read past the first paragraph. . .

In the survey, taken Thursday through Saturday, 47% of Clinton supporters say they are solidly behind Obama, and 23% say they support him but may change their minds before the election.

Thirty percent say they will vote for Republican John McCain, someone else or no one at all.

The way I see it, that is an aggregate 70% strong or moderate support of Democratic nominee Barack Obama among former supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Perhaps this lead, from the New York Times, is more to your tastes:

Delegates for Clinton Back Obama, but Show Concerns

Delegates to the Democratic National Convention arrive in Denver having largely put aside the deep divisions of the primary fight between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, although some hold lingering concerns about Mr. Obama’s level of experience, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.

More than half of the delegates that Mrs. Clinton won in the primaries now say they are enthusiastic supporters of Mr. Obama, and they also believe he will win the presidential election in November, the poll found. Three in 10 say they support Mr. Obama but have reservations about him or they support him only because he is the party’s nominee. Five percent say they do not support him yet.

The poll, which was taken before Mr. Obama selected Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware as his running mate, also suggests that Mrs. Clinton’s 1,640 pledged delegates are evenly split over whom they plan to vote for on the floor of the convention during the roll call vote on Wednesday evening.

A much more accurate read, as I’m seeing it here in Denver.

Of course, the two articles above are based on different polls, so you might assume that the given biases of Gallup/USA TODAY versus NYT/CBS might account for the different takes on the same story. Or maybe you’ve noticed that the USA TODAY survey is of registered voters, while the Times story focuses on DNC delegates. But my look at the numbers (as far as the two news organizations will let me look, anyway) tells me that the stories with the disparate headlines are based on very similar stories.

The campaign for the Democratic nomination was over-long (that’s the party’s fault, not the candidates’) and hard fought. A lot of time, money, energy, and self-esteem was invested, and with that much invested, it is hard for some to just flip a switch and sing Kumbaya.

But we do not elect presidents by group sing. We vote. And by the measures of both polls, an overwhelming majority of Democrats are going to vote for Barack Obama

So, why the fascination with the “schism” narrative?

Yes, in this giant sports metaphor we call American culture, conflict always seems like a sweeter story than unity. The “I belong to no organized political party—I’m a Democrat” narrative is older than the man that coined that phrase, Will Rodgers. And, if you buy into the idea that the establishment media has a vested interest in keeping the general election race (Obama vs. McCain) close, then stories about possible Democratic defections are a natural. But I can’t help but feel that there is something else, something, perhaps, much more insidious, at work here.

What does it say when you tell voters over and over that some people just can’t vote for an African American? What does it say when you repeat ad absurdum that Clinton supporters, mostly identified as women, are not team players? What does it do to paint well in advance of a possible victory a Democratic president with the taint of illegitimacy?

Besides reinforcing traditional biases, besides incubating distrust where there might have been none (or, at least, little), the repetition of these memes discourages participation in, and the evolution of, the system.

In sum, it breeds cynicism. And nothing kills hope like cynicism.

I don’t necessarily want to start singing Kumbaya myself. I have not been drinking the Kool-Aid inside the Pepsi Center (in fact, I have not been drinking ANYTHING—there is nothing besides a drinking fountain in the press center, and I am THIRSTY). I did see one man here passing out “Hillary ‘08” stickers. There are some divisions over issues inside the Democratic Party. And there are likely a few people here (and I think that is a very few) who will have an episode of blind cynicism themselves and vote for four more years of failed and corrupt Republican leadership. But all of that is so clearly outweighed here in Denver by a strong sense that in order to march the ball up the field (to use a sports metaphor myself), in order to move this country forward, in order to restore some modicum of responsibility and morality to the White House, Democrats of all stripes will be voting Obama-Biden come November.

But don’t take my word for it, read the papers—past the headlines if you must.

Can Democrats unite behind a single ticket this election cycle? From here in Denver, the word is (OK, words are): Yes we can!

UPDATE: Amy Sullivan of Time Magazine—who is here in Denver—gets it right:

Given all that buildup, it may come as a surprise that the Democrats who will gather around the gavel in Denver are actually more united than perhaps at any other point in the past 30 years. When Obama accepts the Democratic nomination on Thursday night, he will inherit a party focused on its determination to take back the White House, and that overarching goal should paper over any lingering resentments or policy differences, at least until after Election Day.

It’s a solid article all the way through. Does being in Denver give reporters a different perspective?

(h/t Ian Fried)

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos. . . and, I hear, Air America, too! Welcome!)

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