Final Thoughts from the Convention

Thursday Night
The expectations for Obama's speech were through the roof, and he did not disappoint. His speech was perfect: he was able to slam John McCain on the issues while maintaining his own integrity; he was able to give details on how he would make change while avoiding tedium; he was able to unite a party and get 84,000 people on their feet without making promises he would not be able to keep; and he was able to display his sense of humor while maintaining sincerity. In essence, the speech was everything that it needed to be. The audience was tired from an eventful convention and a long primary season, and Obama kept his speech short and to-the-point.

The Convention ended with a bang as fireworks erupted above the stadium. But more impressive was the energy being released inside the stadium. The level of enthusiasm and excitement, of patriotism and hope, was truly inspiring. People of all ages, races, and geographical regions comprised the record-setting crowd, and there was a sense of unity that hadn't existed in years. The night, especially the end with the future president, vice president, first lady, and second lady standing together on a confetti-strewn stage to the applause of 84,000 people in the stadium, and millions more at home, was magical.

Overshadowed by Obama's great speech were fantastic speeches by Al Gore and Bill Richardson. Both speeches mixed clever zingers with solid facts. Both politicians were clearly very popular with the audience, entering and leaving the stage to standing ovations. And (coincidentally?) both men are likely contenders for Obama's cabinet if Obama is elected in November, with Richardson a possibility for Secretary of State and Gore a phenomenal choice for Secretary of Energy. All in all, it was a great night to be at Invesco Field and a strong night for the Democrats.

Biden as VP
Over the last week, my opinion of Joe Biden as Obama's running mate has changed quite substantially for the better. While this change is not due entirely to the Convention, I do think that the public image of Joe Biden is one of the ways the Convention was most successful.

Joe Biden has been in the Senate more than twice the amount of time I've been alive. When the VP buzz surrounded him in the days leading up to Obama's selection, I was unenthused. With all his experience, he seemed like old politics; I thought he would weaken Obama's message of change. And he was from Delaware, a safely blue state with only three electoral votes. It wasn't that I was totally against Biden: I liked that his strengths neatly matched Obama's supposed weaknesses (foreign policy experience, age, etc.), and I knew he was clever and funny, making him more entertaining to watch. But I wanted Obama to take a risk. I wanted to see a young up-and-coming politician or the first ever bipartisan ticket. I wanted to see him pick someone from a key swing state. I wanted something exciting.

The second day of the Convention we had a quick, show-of-hands survey on my bus about our feeling on Biden being the VP. (The participants of the survey were fifty-two high-school students, virtually all of whom were liberal.) The choices were simple: overjoyed with the selection, happy with the selection, okay with the selection, or unhappy with the selection. I voted for the "okay" option. The results: 21 were "overjoyed," 18 were "happy," 10 were "okay," and only 3 were "unhappy" (all three of these voters were avid Hillary supporters who thought Obama should have chosen her as VP). Wow. With such strong support for Biden among youth, I was beginning to feel much happier with the selection.

Then Wednesday night of the Convention arrived. First, Beau Biden got up to speak about his dad. At the time, I had never heard of Beau and, while I was familiar with his dad's qualifications and experience, I really did not know much about the kind of person that Joe was. Beau spoke of the car accident, and how his dad was always at his bedside in the hospital, and how his dad wanted to give up his Senate spot (and instead was ultimately sworn into office in the hospital), and how his dad never lived in DC but instead came home every night. Joe's speech that followed was eloquent and powerful and well delivered, but it was Beau's that allowed me to really feel like I knew who Joe Biden was, and the more I knew him, the more I liked him.

Thus, a week after greeting the news of the VP selection with a sigh of "oh well, that's ok," I am very strongly in support of Joe Biden as VP. I like that he has never lived in Washington, that he is one of the poorest people in the senate, that you can feel the respect between him and the Obamas and the love between him and his family. I came into the Convention avidly supporting Obama for President, so I did not need the DNC to convince me of much. But it did convince me of Joe Biden. I am excited for him to campaign with Obama, and I can't wait for his debate with Sarah Palin!

Sarah Palin
Obviously, this weekend's big news is McCain's pick for VP: Sarah Palin. Who? That's right: Sarah Palin. Admit it. You didn't know who she was when you heard the news. That's okay. Don't feel bad. Most people didn't. We will learn lots about her in the coming months, but right now, some pros and cons of the pick are already pretty clear.

First off, the choice shows that McCain is worried about getting the rightwing, evangelical vote. He wasn't confident enough in their support to court the independent or more moderate vote with a VP like Tom Ridge or Joe Lieberman. Palin's ultra-conservative views appease Republicans who feel McCain is too liberal. At the same time, McCain hopes that his selection will attract some Democrats and Independents, namely, the Hillary supporters who feel that getting a woman in the white house is the most important issue of the election. While some disgruntled Hillary supporters may vote for McCain because of Palin, the vast majority will probably realize that Palin and Clinton are ideologically opposite in virtually every way, and on November 4th will ultimately vote for Obama.

Also, the choice makes more sense when one realizes that McCain had no good choices for VP: Ridge and Lieberman would have upset the right-wingers, Jindal and Pawlenty would have been destroyed in their debates with Biden, Huckabee lacks economic credentials, and Romney does not get along well with McCain and would have been a classic "politics as usual" choice. Another factor in the decision may have been that McCain, Obama, and Biden are all Senators and McCain may have been looking to add some job diversity to the election.

On the flipside, McCain's pick may prove to be one of the worst VP choices in the last century. Firstly, the pick should bring an end to any complaints about Obama's lack of experience, since Palin is much less qualified than Obama. She has been Governor of Alaska for less than two years, and before that she was the mayor of Wasilla, AK, a town of about 7,000 people. The selection also brings questions about what McCain was looking for in a VP, as McCain, a 72 year old man who was tortured in a POW camp for 5 years and has had cancer four to five times, chose someone who may help him get elected, but is not an ideal candidate to step in as the president of the United States. Also, when considering the names of Palin's five children: Trig, Track, Bristol,Willow and Piper, Palin's judgment must be called into question.

And perhaps most importantly, as stated above, the selection of Palin will likely do little to gather the liberal and moderate votes, as people realize that Palin is strongly pro-life, anti-gay rights, pro-Iraqi war, anti-equal pay for equal work, and pro-tax cuts for the wealthy. Yes, she is a woman, but at the end of the day, she is an ultra-conservative, unproven politician, and that is what truly will count.

Was the Convention a Success?
When evaluating the success of the Convention, it is important to remember that one strategy of the Republicans was to set the expectations for the DNC especially high, so that anything that did not meet these expectations was considered a failure. So, yes, there was not a major bump in the polls from the Convention, but when considering the impact of individual speeches, the Convention was an overwhelming success.

Bill and Hillary Clinton both did fantastic jobs uniting the party and throwing their full support to Obama. Michelle's speech was successful in humanizing her and her husband and showing that the Obamas are anything but elitists. Joe and Beau Biden's speeches achieved their goal of helping the public get to know Joe and making him seem like a nice, normal guy instead of a typical politician. Bill Richardson and John Kerry, among others, were great at showing McCain to be an untrustworthy flip-flopper who would provide four more years of the same Bush policies. And, for all the reasons stated above, Obama's speech was everything that it needed and strived to be. So on the basis that the Convention was simply the sum of its parts, it was a very successful four days in Denver.

However, it should be noted that political conventions no longer serve the purpose they were designed for. Originally, conventions were all about choosing the nominee for president and deciding on the party platform. But, with conventions now televised and followed more closely by the general public, they have become little more than an advertisement for the party, a chance to attract voters and support, to introduce up-and-coming politicians to the national scene, and to restate what the party stands for and believes in. Since the Convention no longer serves its original purpose, some traditions and procedures left over from the old days appear so useless and ridiculous that they are actually funny. For example, on Wednesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated "Joe Biden's name has been placed in nomination for Vice President, all those in favor say 'aye,' all those opposed say 'nay,'" and then moments later announced, "I have been informed that Joe Biden has accepted the nomination for Vice President." These are the times when the Convention feels outdated and useless, when indeed the Convention has a valuable use, it is just a different one than it was years ago.

Thus, I am not advocating getting rid of political conventions, but rather remodeling them. This is especially important to retain youth interest in conventions, as conventions will only seem relevant if they actually still ARE relevant. These changes may be easier to accept for someone like me who has never witnessed a convention that actually helped to decide the nominee or party platform and consequently has no sentimental regards for what the conventions used to be, but to keep people believing that conventions still matter (which they do), we need to eliminate the outdated aspects, leaving only the parts of the convention that are still pertinent.

Highlights and Lowlights of the Convention/JSA experience
There was not one clear highlight of the Convention for me, but rather, my highlight was just being there for all the important speeches and events, being around all the protests and news groups, and being in the same building as almost every important Democrat in the country. It was amazing to be in the midst of all the action, and I had a few fun encounters with famous people that reminded me how diverse the group of people coming to Denver for the Convention was. On Tuesday as I was walking towards the Pepsi Center, I walked right by Howard Dean. I commented (mostly to myself) "hey, that's Howard Dean," to which Dean turned around and responded, "yes it is" with a smile and kept on walking in the opposite direction. Then on Wednesday inside the Pepsi Center I walked within a couple feet of Muhammad Ali and got a nice close-up picture of him. On Thursday, after Obama's speech, I saw John Oliver from The Daily Show interviewing (and annoying) someone in Invesco Field just about thirty feet away. While those were not the main memories I will savor from the Convention (rather I will remember the numerous phenomenal speeches and the sight of 84,000 on their feet with hope for a politician and for a change), they were nice reminders that even the people we see on the TV or read about in newspapers are real people, just like the rest of us.

One aspect of my Junior Statesmen of America (JSA)/Convention experience that was both an annoyance and a good learning opportunity was that, with the exception of Thursday's events at Invesco Field, JSA did not provide us with credentials necessary to get into the Convention.This was not how it was presented to me and to the other 249 high school students from across the country who participated in the JSA event, so when I arrived in Denver I did not yet have any credentials. In an effort to get these credentials, I began numerous conversations with strangers, gradually bringing up the topic of credentials and hoping that they would have extras or would know of someone who did. I also spent a good portion of each night calling and e-mailing people attending the Convention whom I knew, or whom my parents knew, or whom a friend of my parents knew, or a friend of that friend of my parents knew, or: you get the idea. More than 95 % of my attempts were unsuccessful, yet, with a lot of persistence and some luck, I was able to get into the Convention every night except Monday.

The experience was a good lesson in networking; it taught me that the more people you know and the more high-up or well-connected those people are, the better chance you have to see results. Also, I learned that luck is an essential ingredient in getting a credential. The first credential I obtained (on Tuesday) was from a kind man working in the credentials office who sympathized with me and agreed to "pull some strings" and managed to get me a pass. My second credential was from Tim Allison, a delegate from Santa Barbara, whose wife and son were leaving the Convention around 4:30 that day. Since credentials don't have any names on them, they gave me one of their passes. Then JSA was able to get us all passes for the final event for the day and night at Invesco Field.

While the day-by-day constant struggle to get into the Convention was tiring and frustrating at times, it was also a great learning experience and a good lesson on politics: it's all about who you know and being in the right place at the right time. Before this experience, I was not used to asking favors from people I had never met. Nor was I used to thinking as I walked down the street that one in every hundred delegates was holding onto an extra credential because their child wasn't feeling well, or their wife's flight was delayed, or their friend's mom had just died. The tricky part was figuring which one of those hundred people it was.

My main complaint with the JSA experience at the Convention was the schedule. We were staying in a hotel in Boulder, which normally is about a half hour drive from Denver, but traveling in a slow bus with all the extra Convention traffic, the commute added an additional hour of driving in each direction. We would usually leave the hotel around seven in the morning. With three people sharing one room, we would wake up around six each morning to get ready. We were instructed not to bring laptops with us during the day as we were constantly walking from one place to another and did not have anywhere to leave them nor did we have much time to use them. At night, we would get back to the hotel around 12:00 or 12:30, have small group meetings for about half an hour and then go to our rooms. I would then spend close to an hour writing e-mails either in an attempt to get credentials from someone for the next day, thanking people for their effort (and rarely their success) in trying to get me credentials, or just responding to some other non-Convention related e-mails from back home. Thus, it was usually about 1:30 or 2:00 AM when I would start writing my blog post for that day. Often sitting on the floor of our hotel room bathroom with my laptop (so not to wake up my roommates who would go to bed around this time), I would briefly try to summarize my experiences that day. Consequently, every blog I wrote from the Convention was posted sometime between two and three AM, with the knowledge that I would be waking up in just three to four hours for the next day.

At first, I managed this minimum sleep schedule just fine, but by the end, I really felt worn out from the lack of sleep. (Over the five night period I was at the Convention, I got a combined 18-19 hours of sleep; the day/night I got home, I slept about fourteen hours.) Writing the blog posts began to feel more like a burden, one last thing keeping me from my desired sleep, rather than a fun opportunity to share my thoughts and discuss the events of my day. So that is my one main complaint of the Convention; I wish I had had more time to post during the day and more time to sleep during the night. But other than that, it was a phenomenal experience that I will treasure all my life.

The Future
It will be fun to see which parts of this convention are talked about later in the election and which speeches are completely forgotten. It will also be extremely interesting to compare the Republican National Convention with the DNC and see how they are similar and different. I assume there will be more protesters at the RNC and less focus on bipartisanship, among many other differences.

Obviously, Hurricane Gustav poses an interesting challenge for the Republican Convention planners. Celebrating the Republican Party while a hurricane ravages New Orleans may remind everyone of the failures of the Bush administration during Katrina. At the same time, using the Convention to help support the hurricane victims and taking time away from the scheduled events to volunteer for hurricane relief (as seems to be the McCain plan for the Convention), may help boost the Republican party and show a distinct difference between McCain and the mistakes of the Bush administration three years ago. However, deviating off course from a well-planned convention could be risky, as it means less time to do the normal convention advertising and the more improvised something is, the higher the probability that some part of it will go wrong.

Regardless of how the Republicans ultimately handle the hurricane dilemma, it will be fascinating to see how the Republican Convention measures up to the Democratic one, and to see which issues become more or less important as we approach November 4th. One thing already seems clear, regardless of the polls, the DNC was a success.

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