In two weeks, the Republican Party of Florida will hold their state convention, and 12 of their 15 Presidential candidates will be attending. This weekend, the unfortunately under-loved Democratic State Convention came and went, and you were lucky if you got a selfie with Alan Grayson.
That’s not intended to throw shade on The Notorious AMG. I’m just saying if you’re a municipal candidate from a teeny-tiny beach town, this was your weekend to shine. No one was there to steal the limelight.
It’s seriously messed up that the Democratic State Convention would underwhelm in any way. Florida controls 29 electoral votes — the same number as New York. Chicanery here in 2000 resulted in George W. Bush “winning,” which in turn gave us the war in Iraq and the Great Recession. The stakes couldn’t be higher, which is a fact we’re inevitably reminded of when the party wants our votes.
But when it comes to grassroots Democrats actually participating in the process of electoral politics, the message is the party is not that into us.
Take the straw poll. Well, actually they already did. There is no straw poll. Back in 2004 it looked like the straws weren’t going to poll the way they wanted them to, so they just burned them. The straw poll hasn’t been seen since.
Also, no platform — not even a mission statement. For the actual “convention” people filed into a dark hall first thing in the morning to listen to speeches, some of which were very good, like Carlos Smith’s. The speeches contained ideas and ideology, but they’re not a cohesive platform.
For the most part the convention was like a shareholders meeting, minus the comfort you’d get at a corporate event. We weren’t allowed to park on-site. Folks had to drive up to the Wide World of Sports and take a shuttle in, and then walk past an empty parking lot to the convention center. There wasn’t any coffee to be found anywhere in the convention center, not even to purchase. People spent hundreds of dollars a night on their hotel rooms; the lunches were outrageously expensive; dinner was $250. It’s like they didn’t want us there.
Just as a matter of optics, why weren’t the Presidential candidates invited? And don’t tell me they declined. With a chance to come to Florida and court our 29 electoral votes, any serious Presidential candidate would walk here barefoot if they had to. They weren’t invited. It’s unthinkable we held this event without a single appearance — not even a Skype message — from any of the candidates.
I was standing outside of a committee meeting on Saturday when I overheard a bright-eyed college kid wearing a Bernie sticker say to his friend that he thought the Presidential candidates would surprise us. “We paid $250 bucks — I bet they do something…special. Surely, one of them is going to show up.” It broke my heart. This isn’t the way we build the base. I hope his parents or his organization felt they got their money’s worth for that ticket — and I surely hope he didn’t dig into his own pockets for it, because that’s an expensive lesson in being shortchanged.
The fact that the convention was devoid of candidates isn’t to say is was devoid of presidential politics. Au contraire. The FDP packed the agenda with Hillary Clinton surrogates. The keynote speaker for the much anticipated $250 dinner was Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill. Lately, she’s best known for breaking with Senate expectations of civility to harangue colleague Bernie Sanders on behalf of Hillary Clinton.
The keynote for the General Assembly was Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who campaigns for Clinton less acerbically than McCaskill. Klobuchar has an easy smile and is generally more likable and entertaining than the Senator from Missouri. If I were paying $250 for dinner, I’d much rather see Klobuchar than McCaskill — but still, neither is the real deal. Former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank came out to support a fellow Wall Street pal and Senate hopeful, Patrick Murphy. Frank has not endorsed Clinton yet, but he’s been a loud and cranky opponent of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, and is vehemently against re-instating Glass-Steagall.
Right there, you have three high-profile Clinton surrogates invited to the convention either to address the entire body, or to sell a favorite son. Because the Democratic National Committee is so closely tied to the FDP via Debbie Wasserman Schultz, you have to acknowledge the lack of Sanders’ surrogates wasn’t an oversight. It was baked into the cake.
We didn’t get Presidential candidates at our State Convention for the same reason that Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants only six debates — half of those on weekends when no one will be watching. She seems to believe that if she keeps everything on the lowest possible boil, that all these dirty Sanders hippies will get distracted and move on.
To me, this doesn’t appear to be a party that’s trying to grow. It seems to be a party that’s strategically trying to shrink. They don’t want you to be comfortable with coffee or parking. They don’t want you to feel empowered with a straw poll or a platform. They don’t need your input, they just want your money and your vote. They want the country to be safe again for Wall Street “Democrats” who think a $15 minimum wage, expanding Social Security, and single payer health care are un-pragmatic crazy talk. And the worst part is, they’re engaging in wild magical thinking because this is not how you win elections.
As Markos Moulitsas pointed out earlier this week, these basic, populist demands are mainstream now. Hillary is keeping up in the polls only insofar as she mimics Bernie’s economic positions. Putting her in front of meaningful crowds of Floridians might mean she’d have to own these positions. As it stands, her plan appears to be to run away from them, like her life depends on it, once the primary is over. And putting Bernie in front of a Florida crowd that’s controlled by DWS just isn’t going to happen. She’s “in the bag” for Hillary, as is everyone at FDP. It’s an ugly thought. But there’s an even uglier truth behind the words.
The RPOF thinks they know why the candidates didn’t come for a visit this weekend. Regarding Clinton they said in a statement: “Her absence at this convention is a clear reflection of the lack of momentum and grassroots organization that Florida Democrats have going into 2016.” Truth be told, the RPOF couldn’t do a better job of wrecking morale within the party if they did it themselves. This event went out of its way to stamp out any spark of spirit within the ranks.
Would it have killed them to invite Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to Orlando? No. It would have made great headlines, fired up the base and been great for organizing. But it would have also necessitated that Debbie Wasserman Schultz play it straight up the middle — fair and square. For whatever reason, she doesn’t seem capable of that.
Instead of throwing a big party the base wouldn’t soon forget, the FDP threw an HRC-monogrammed wet blanket on everyone. The low-boil lack-luster affair was as intended. This is a business. The party is banking on the hope that this room temperature casserole of sadness will improve Clinton’s chances of winning.
Despite the fact that the party did everything they could to handicap the weekend for Hillary, the weekend buzz among the rank and file was all about Bernie and his spritely supporters. They had tables at both ends of the hall, tended by entirely different organizations. Bernie swag was everywhere. I’m sure a small fortune was made on Bernie t-shirts. I saw candidates who I know had been supporting HRC sporting Sanders stickers — as if they couldn’t be seen in Clinton swag. Perhaps the minimum wage challenge changed their minds.
The establishment might have been trying to keep the pot on low-boil, but the rank-and-file was hot for Bernie. That’s not good news for anyone expecting to ride Clinton’s coattails. This weekend could have been the start of an amazing campaign season for all Democrats, including Hillary.
Instead, we shuttled back out to our distant parking lots under-caffeinated, underwhelmed, and wondering if our party will ever catch-up to that bright-eyed kid looking for something…special.
Brook Hines is a writer, photographer, activist and former alt-weekly publisher, as well as an award-winning advertising creative with more than 20 years’ experience crafting strategy in “words + pictures” for clients ranging from healthcare companies to county fairgrounds. She’s the Senior Political Correspondent for Progressive News Network (tune this Sunday at 7:30 pm or download the podcast anytime), the Communications Chair for the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, Outreach Chair for the Orange County Democratic Party, and the 2015-2016 Co-Chair of New Leaders Council, Orlando Chapter.
All opinions offered here are her own, delivered from the perspective of social theory, cultural criticism, and near constant stream of caffeine. Political and media analysis through a Progressive lens. Appeals to conformity will be met with lulz.
You can easily find Brook Hines on Facebook and Flickr and here. Read all of Brook’s articles here.
These are her Italian Greyhounds, Trouble and Daphne. During the 1700s Frederick the Great of Prussia took his Iggy to war with him, and he buried the dog himself when it died at the Sans Souci Palace. It was Frederick’s dying wish that he be buried next to his dog, so on the 205th anniversary of his death, on 17 August 1991, Frederick’s family transferred his remains to Sans Souci, and placed them beside his little Italian Greyhound.