Joe Biden’s voice broke moments into his speech, to the state Democratic convention last weekend, when he mentioned his late son, Beau, a politician and military officer who died heartbreakingly of brain cancer last year.
“I’ll only say this once, but … um …” the vice president faltered.
Just then a protester leaped up near the front of the hall, unfurled a yellow banner, and began to shout about a conspiracy to cover up the alleged secret cause of Beau Biden’s death: cell phones.
“Let him go … it’s okay; my son, Beau, would love that part,” Biden said softly, as delegates moved to quiet the outburst, with security en route. “Hey, let’s not act like Republicans. I ain’t Donald Trump.”
The Veep’s soft-spoken reaction to the deliberately cruel provocation, on a personal level, was a sharp contrast to how the Republican presidential front-runner handles such demonstrators — “I’d like to punch him in the face,” Trump said of one at a recent rally.
As a political matter, however, Biden’s response belied a far more passionate tone of outrage and pushback prevailing among the convention’s 3,000 delegates — aimed both at Trump and his GOP rivals for their incitements and inflammatory rhetoric against immigrants, minorities, gays, unions, and women’s rights during the bizarre Republican presidential campaign.
Nearly every platform speech and conversation in the hallways of the San Jose Convention Center featured emphatic, aggressive, and sometimes fearful notes of partisan indignation about Trumpism.
“Just look at the politics of poison coursing through the bloodstream in the race for the Republican nomination!” thundered Attorney General Kamala Harris, the front-runner in the U.S. Senate contest, in the weekend’s most powerful speech.
“That race has been a race to the bottom,” she said. “A race to anger. A race to blame. A race to fan the flames of nativism in our country.”
There is, of course, nothing new about Democrats railing about Republicans at a party convention.
A combination of special circumstances — not just Trump’s feverish appeals to right-wing fury, but also the sudden death of right-wing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and, in its wake, the unprecedented contempt Republicans have displayed toward President Obama — seemed to push Democrats to put into perspective the routine, intraparty feuds of any pre-primary convention.
Unlike the atmosphere at similar, recent party meetings, when bitter kvetching and resignation about Republican gains and antics in Congress was easily offset by confidence about the party’s baked-in political domination of California, the San Jose Democrats seemed more focused on the profound implications of the looming, general election of the extraordinary 2016 campaign.
“We’re California,” said Senate President Kevin de León of L.A., another Democratic rising star. “We don’t build walls; we tear them down.”
Best and worst: A look at some winners and losers:
• Harris was the biggest winner, securing the party’s endorsement in a surprising landslide over Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange County, who was thoroughly out-organized. Now, not only may the AG use the Democratic seal of approval on her campaign materials, but the party will also steer money and other resources into her campaign. More important for neutral observers: Harris threw the weekend’s best party, appropriating the city’s Tech Museum for a bash featuring three wide-open bars and two floors of dim sum and those beguiling little cupcakes that must be consumed by the half-dozen.
• Bernie Sanders supporters were more vocal and visible all weekend, fueled by young Democrats, while Hillary Clinton backers dominated the Women’s Caucus meeting, where the establishment rules. The party doesn’t endorse in presidential primaries, but outgoing Senator Barbara Boxer and Rep. Maxine Waters, among other elders, breached protocol in the caucus to champion Hillary: “It’s great to feel the Bern, and I’ve got no problem feeling the Bern,” said Boxer, “but it’s time for us to make history and elect Hillary Clinton the president of the U.S.”
• Supervisor Salud Carbajal, to the surprise of no one, captured the endorsement over Mayor Helene Schneider via the consent calendar, after earlier cleaning her clock in pre-convention party votes in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties. The no-drama endorsement was signaled by the fact that neither traveled to San Jose.
• The best-swag contest was a tie between mini-boxes of “Tax-Free Tampons,” handed out to boost pending legislation to repeal the sales tax on feminine hygiene products, and Mardi Gras–style necklaces festooned with green plastic marijuana leaves, distributed by the Brownie Mary Democratic Club, named in honor of the late maiden saint of medical marijuana.
There were no injuries.