Election 2008

Matt Rourke/AP
Police are seen as they drive down a street as the city prepares for Democratic National
Convention in Denver, Sunday, Aug. 24,
2008. (AP)

Will the Democratic Convention Unite the Party?

August 25, 2008 06:14 PM
by Liz Colville
The Democratic National Convention is a rally for the Democratic party, but the close race between Obama and Clinton has added a divisive element to the 2008 event.

Rallying Behind Obama

For Ill. Sen. Barack Obama and his supporters, the Democratic National Convention is a four-day rally culminating in Sen. Obama’s nomination as the party’s presidential candidate, a role he has informally played for months by campaigning across the country, meeting with international leaders and running advertisements against the presumptive Republican candidate, Ariz. Sen. John McCain.

But for some Democrats, the events of August 25–28 will continue to highlight the fact that Democratic voters in the primaries and caucuses were divided nearly down the middle over the decision to choose either Sen. Obama or N.Y. Sen. Hillary Clinton as their presidential nominee. For some Clinton supporters, a symbolic nomination to the ballot at the convention will be enough, but others wanted to see her nominated as Obama’s vice-presidential candidate.

The two senators themselves have been “publicly trying to ease the strained relations that exist between some of their supporters,” the New York Sun wrote earlier in August. Adding Clinton’s name to the ballot was one such measure.

The convention’s planned national security theme for Wednesday night has drawn prominent names to speak, including former President Bill Clinton. But Clinton is reportedly “disappointed” at his assignment, which is to argue Obama’s superiority as commander-in-chief over rival McCain. Instead Clinton wanted to “speak about the economy and more broadly about Democratic ideas—emphasizing the contrast between the Bush years and his own record in the 1990s,” writes Politico.

The Democratic Party platform, a document created in election years since the mid-1800s, is perhaps the most concrete symbol of the party’s unity in the face of a lingering Obama–Clinton rift. The Rocky Mountain News reports that this year’s platform “isn't based on subtle themes and gentle reminders.” It enumerates crucial issues in the areas of health insurance, education, energy, foreign policy and more.

A Washington Post–ABC News poll conducted August 19–22 finds that 20 percent of Sen. Clinton’s supporters from the primaries now support McCain, though 70 percent now support Obama—the highest percentage since she suspended her campaign.

Sen. Clinton, who will speak on Tuesday night, addressed her New York delegation Monday, pressing supporters to defect to Obama as she did in the May speech marking the end of her campaign.

Background: The role of the Democratic National Convention

The Democratic National Convention can be as tense and divisive as it can be unifying. Historically it has seen names added to the ballot at the last minute and has left attendees in the dark about their nominee until the final night. Lasting documentation of the event is the party platform, which reflects the most pressing matters on the party’s agenda. Past versions can be viewed on the American Presidency Project Web site, which reprints party platforms dating back to the 1800s (1840 for the Democrats and 1856 for the Republicans).

Changes to the Democratic party and the nomination process have been most visible at the convention, as have new philosophies later put into action, like President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Created in 1848, the Democratic National Committee is now the oldest political organization in the world. In 1968, George McGovern’s loss provoked his creation of a commission to make rules “reflect[ing] the diversity of the party.” Unit rule, which meant a state’s majority rule decided on delegates, was then abandoned. In 1984, super delegates were added to the nomination process.

The 2008 platform, expected to be approved on Day 1 or 2 of the convention, highlights several important issues in need of attention, including the policy of rejecting health care to those with “pre-existing conditions,” and the No Child Left Behind Act and its policy of “labeling schools as failures based on achievement test scores,” the Rocky Mountain News writes. The detailed, 57-page platform reflects the fact that Americans “are looking for answers on key issues,” says Michael Yaki, a San Francisco lawyer and director of the platform.

Reference: Washington Post–ABC News Poll, August 19–22, 2008


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