Scenes from US Politics

By August 31, 2008Article, Atlantic Eye

DENVER, August 31 (UPI) — It has been four years since I filed my first articles for UPI. “Come to Boston and write for us,” Martin Walker, then editor in chief, now editor emeritus, had said to me. So I did. And I became a stringer for the 2004 Democratic Convention.

About a year later, I was offered my own column.

U.S. political conventions are bizarre animals. Europeans and non-Americans in general marvel at and are intimidated by the frenetic activity, a mixture of glitz and shtick. It is loud. It is crazy — what can only be described as typical Americana.

This year I brought a small delegation to Denver: Kurt Bodewig, vice chairman of the Bundestag’s International Affairs Committee and formerly Germany’s minister of transportation; Karl A. Lamers, vice chairman of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and member for my home town Heidelberg; Jens-Hald Madsen, chairman of Global Panel Nordic and until recently foreign affairs spokesman for the Danish prime minister; and Barbara Day, a friend of Vaclav Havel and a respected British anticommunist fighter.

Just prior to the convention I had been in upstate New York for a fundraiser for Dan Maffei. Dan is a bright 40-something candidate for Congress in the Syracuse area. He had run two years ago and nearly unseated Jim Walsh. On this very sunny Friday, Sen. Hillary Clinton was the keynote at the residence of the Rothenbergs — longtime upstate New York supporters of the senator.

Clinton was well on the mark. She was comfortable in her skin. It was, after all, just a day before Sen. Barack Obama would announce Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate. “I look forward to representing you next year,” Clinton said, foreshadowing that she would not be the vice presidential nominee. She spoke of factories moving out of upstate New York and how Dan would be a great advocate for the region.

Most folks do not realize that New York is one of the largest agricultural producers in the country. Syracuse is one of the Top 10 green cities in the country. Clinton told a vignette of having been in the Midwest during her presidential bid. She was with farmers. “As I spoke of farming in New York, particularly family farms (there are 34,000 in New York alone), I could see the farmers looking at me beyond puzzled. They couldn’t understand how there could be farms in New York. They were thinking of New York City, and not the state. It was a funny moment on the campaign trail.”

Back in Denver, I was covering the convention from the Pepsi Center. One of the great lines of the Democratic Convention was from Sen. Edward Kennedy. Looking vulnerable from his cancer treatment, he received multiple standing ovations. My point of view notwithstanding, Kennedy received a particularly long ovation when he said, “When Barack Obama is president, young people will not be committed to a mistake, but to missions worthy of their bravery.”

On the second day of the convention the European delegation of Bodewig, Day, Lamers and Madsen spoke to students and professors at a small roundtable at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Hosted by Professor Kenneth Bickers, the intense two-hour dialogue covered energy security, immigration, cyber warfare, space science, the North Atlantic alliance, Georgia, and soft vs. hard power. The European delegation was particularly pleased with this part of their Colorado trip. The interaction was intense and detailed. Boulder is also a truly beautiful campus.

The evening of the second day, Hillary Clinton outdid herself with a brilliant speech before the delegates. She spoke of Obama’s vision, gumption and work ethic. I have rarely seen her speak as well as on this evening in Denver.

Once each day I would meet up with two leading DNC members who were particularly helpful to the delegation. They are bright and smart — representing different generations. Along with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, they represent the best of the Democratic Party; others should take their example.

On the final day the delegation met with Wesley Clark. Clark spoke of the need to show more resilience toward Russia’s move into Georgia. “There should be a three-step plan. The Russians need to withdraw their forces from Georgia. They need to accept the territorial integrity of Georgia with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And they must agree to remove their troops from these embattled regions within six months.”

It would be a mistake not to give Clark a leading voice in a Democratic administration. As if to prove the point, he received huge applause the last night of the convention while standing with 20 other general officers and admirals.

Hillary, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were all superb, even exceptional. But I enjoyed meeting with those who most would not hear about. I was particularly impressed with Diane Lawless, who is running for City Council in Lexington, Ky. Then there is the Rev. Kenneth E. Sherman of Democrats Abroad in Canada — a longtime friend who has been true to his progressive roots for more than 50 years. Finally Greg, the bartender at the Hyatt Regency — emblematic of the fine service the staff and the city of Denver generally heaped upon her visitors.

As I boarded my plane to head back to Europe, John McCain surprisingly announced Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate — strategic brilliance bordering on insanity.

Welcome, world, to the U.S. presidential election season: masterful theater — where entertainment is at its very best.

(UPI Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. A venture capitalist with seats in Berlin and Prague, he is a member of the National Advisory Board of the U.S. Democratic Party.)