Thursday, July 31, 2008

What I believe

Lately, I have spoken to a number of reporters about the upcoming Democratic National Convention. In almost every interview, sooner or later, the reporter asks me, "You don't honestly believe that [Howard Dean] [the DNC] will allow Senator Clinton's name to be put in nomination?" The is generally followed with second question: "You don't honestly believe that Senator Clinton will be the nominee?"

None of the reporters who have asked these questions has misquoted my replies. But none has captured the tone of my answers correctly, which is actually surprising because for the most part the journalists with whom I have spoken correctly get both the content and the flavor of all my answers to their other questions.

Why the disconnect with regard to what I honestly believe about the DNC and the ultimate nominee? Perhaps I have not made myself clear enough in my replies. So, for the record, here are the questions and the answers.

Q: "You don't honestly believe that [Howard Dean] [the DNC] will allow Senator Clinton's name to be put in nomination?"

A: If the DNC genuinely wants a Democrat to win the White House this November and the DNC leaders are at all in touch with the political climate, the DNC leadership will recognize that the only way that can happen now is if the Democratic Party holds a convention that includes Senator Clinton being placed in nomination and if a genuine and meaningful vote is held, a vote that gives superdelegates the option of choosing between the two candidates leading candidates at the close of the primaries and caucuses.

The question at this point should not be whether the DNC leaders will allow Senator Clinton's name to be placed in nomination. The question should be whether Senator Clinton will consent to that.

Q: "You don't honestly believe that Senator Clinton will be the nominee?"

A: If Senator Clinton's name is in fact placed in nomination and she accepts the opportunity to be considered by the superdelegates, Senator Clinton could easily end up being the nominee. I cannot read the minds of the superdelegates. Many have changed their public position about which candidate they prefer throughout the primary season - a completely legitimate thing to do, just as it is completely legitimate for any voter on any issue to vary his or her opinion right up until she or he actually votes.

I have my doubts about whether the DNC leadership is in fact sufficiently in touch with the political climate among rank and file Democrats to realize what seems eminently clear to me - the need to legitimize the choice of a nominee by having an authentically democratic convention if a Democrat is to win the White House this fall. And I have no idea whether at this point or in three weeks, Senator Clinton would be willing to have her name placed in nomination.

But, yes, I absolutely believe that a reasonably aware and intelligent DNC leadership will allow Senator Clinton's name to be placed in nomination. I also believe that if the superdelegates end up with a live choice between candidates, either candidate could become the Party's nominee.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Denver Group: Who is helping The Denver Group on Act Blue

A worthwhile read

Informative data and helpful commentary from Dr. Long and noted in this post from her website.

The Denver Group: The Denver Group publishes new ad in CQ Daily

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A salute to the courage of the unknown Clinton delegates

At this point I have only very general information about Clinton delegate efforts to assemble a nominating petition that could be used to put Senator Clinton's name in nomination in Denver this August. The reason I lack concrete information has everything to do with the climate being created by the current DNC leadership and nothing at all to do with the courage or stamina of the Clinton delegates.

The DNC has done everything they can to chill efforts by delegates to produce a nominating petition on behalf of Senator Clinton. This particularly disturbs me because the delegates involved in any such effort would simply be following the DNC's own rules as put forth in the Call to the Convention. When an institution discourages its own most central members from using the institution's own procedures, something has gone terribly wrong.

Top DNC officials signal that delegates who do not go along with the new script, rather than the official rules, will suffer retaliation. We need to make it clear that no authentically democratic Democratic Party would treat its own delegates this way. By doing so, I hope we can fortify the delegates who choose to exercise their right to participate in producing a nominating petition.

This issue goes beyond the question of whether Senator Clinton decides, using her own best judgment, whether to sign such a petition. It goes to the heart of the crisis that has befallen the Democratic Party, a crisis of conscience. The official national leadership, the DNC, shows no signs of limiting their efforts to mislead the American public about the current state of the nomination process. That same leadership wants to ignore, diminish, or punish any Democrat who resists these efforts.

The delegates, Democrats who worked hard to enjoy the privilege of representing the voters of their respective states at the Democratic National Convention, deserve better. If the DNC will not honor them, then it is up to us, rank and file Democrats, to do so.

In that spirit, let me say to any Clinton delegate who exercises his or her right to sign a nominating petition: you are the truest Democrats of all. You represent not only those who cast ballots on behalf of Senator Clinton. You evidence the bravery and the integrity that characterize American democracy at its best.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The DNC stoops to new lows in latest propaganda

Today, many Democrats received the following email.
From: Tom McMahon
To: _________
Date: Mon, 28 Jul 2008 14:07:06 -0400
Subject: Special invitation from Barack Obama

The Democratic Party
Dear ____:

One month from today, more than 75,000 Americans will join Barack Obama at the first truly open Democratic National Convention in a generation.

If you make a donation in any amount before midnight this Thursday, July 31st, you could join Barack backstage before he accepts the Democratic nomination.

Watch this short video invitation from Barack and make a donation of $5 or more today:

Watch Barack's video message

[link to donation page omitted]

This year, the convention will be built around the participation of ordinary Americans. Democrats like you are opening up the political process like never before, and it is a bold and exciting time for our party.

Free tickets to the convention will be available soon. But if you make a donation in any amount by Thursday, July 31st, you and a guest could be flown to Denver, spend a couple of nights in a hotel, participate in the convention, and then go Backstage with Barack before the big event.

Watch Barack's invitation and make a donation of $5 or more today to be part of this extraordinary opportunity

[link to donation page omitted]

Your donation will not only support our party, but will build our 50-state strategy to secure victories up and down the ballot in November.



Tom McMahon
Executive Director
Democratic National Committee


If you do not wish to make a donation, you can still be selected to join Barack at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Learn more here.

Paid for and authorized by the Democratic National Committee,
This communication is not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.

Democratic National Committee, 430 S. Capitol St. SE, Washington, DC 20003
Contributions or gifts to the Democratic National Committee are not deductible as charitable contributions for federal income tax purposes.

Click here to unsubscribe from this mailing list.

This communication is almost too pathetic to be worthy of addressing. Yet it requires comment because it shows

  • an egregious misunderstanding of what a "truly open convention" would be
  • just how desperate the DNC and Senator Obama are to raise some money
  • the ongoing conflation of the DNC and Senator Obama
  • the continuing refusal of the DNC to accept the reality that they have a badly fractured party and unwillingness to take the substantive steps to address that problem and head off disaster

Having a pep rally and holding a contest to hang out backstage has nothing to do with the idea of an open political convention. Historically, an open convention means a convention where the outcome is not settled in advance and where the people who have earned the right to be decisionmakers at the convention get to exercise that right. The only way this year's DNC convention could seriously qualify as convention that will be built around the participation of ordinary Americans would be if it acknowledged the participation of millions of Americans in the primaries and caucuses - including every single voter who went to the polls in Michigan and Florida.

Such acknowledgment would start with the DNC making every effort to make Senator Clinton feel comfortable having her name placed in nomination at the convention, so that the delegates to the convention - not 75,000 spectators in a stadium - could exercise their right and fulfill their responsibility to elect the nominee who seems best equipped to defeat Senator McCain this fall. The reason the onus lies with the DNC, and not Senator Clinton, is because the DNC spent sixteenth months trying to oust Senator Clinton from the primary and caucus process and make it seem as though any effort on her part to make herself available to be the nominee was some sort of traitorous act.

Senator Clinton would have every right and some good reasons to refuse having her name placed in nomination. But this is an entirely separate question from whether the DNC should be actively announcing loudly and clearly that should she deem it advisable for herself, her party, and her country to accept being placed in nomination, the DNC would more than happy. The DNC should in fact be more than happy were this to come to pass because only by having Senator Clinton's name in nomination can the party have what it continues to pretend it is going to have: a meaningfully open convention, open as in open-ended in result out of respect for the Party's own rules and the more than 18 million voters who made Senator Clinton the popular vote winner during the primary season.

Note: I refused to reproduce in the copy of the DNC communication the links to Senator Obama's campaign donation pages because I find it hard to credit the claim that the DNC circulated this email without the authorization of Senator Obama's claim. Tip for Senator Obama: if in fact your campaign did not not authorize the DNC to send this email blast, time for you to join the rest of us in clearly and loudly expressing your objections to the DNC's ongoing and presumably intentional efforts to dupe rank and file Democrats, including those you apparently expect to help fill the football stadium you rented before you even knew you would actually be the Party's nominee.

For the people who Just Say No Deal, tickets to a pep rally will not be satisfactory.

The Denver Group: The Denver Group Open Letter to Howard Dean gains more than 1000 signers; The Denver Group makes second attempt to notify Dr. Dean

The Denver Group: Information from The Denver Group - Early morning July 28, 2008

The Founders and the Democratic Party of today

During this weekend a new friend, someone whose assistance to the The Denver Group has been crucial, ran a major book sale for the benefit of a library in the area. My friend's efforts put me in mind of some of the books I consider most relevant to what is happening in Democratic Party politics, U.S. politics, and world politics today.

Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different by Gordon S. Woods sits among those at the top of my list. Professor Woods is an accomplished historian with a distinguished faculty position at Brown University. Revolutionary Characters is a collection of essays, revised for the book, that originally appeared in The New Republic and The New York Review of Books. These essays are light reads, erudite but not meant as works of pure scholarship. (Professor Woods' break-through academic book is The Creation of the American Republic 1776-87; in 1992 he published another favorite of mine, The Radicalism of the American Revolution.)

In Revolutionary Characters, Professor Woods offers his take on the distinct personalities of those he regards as the most central founders of this country: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, and Aaron Burr.

These men and their compatriots achieved one of the most the most radical political reorientations in Western history: the formation of a modern republican democracy, based on ideals that no other nation-state at the time had ever rested, ideals such as each individual's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The founders wrote many documents, some for the public, some meant to take legal effect, some private correspondence. Many of them spoke with eloquence in private and public settings. But their singularity lies in the fact that that they were much more than talkers. They were doers, and they accomplished what in their time was inconceivable to most Europeans and British colonialists. They questioned the authority of Britain over the American colonies. They asserted that the British parliament brought this questioning upon itself by refusing to take seriously the claims of the colonists even when those claims rested on laws and principles embedded in British culture. And when when Parliament and the British monarchy repeatedly disregarded the colonists' claims, the founders took grave action. They fought for their principles and for this country's independence and won a war that seemed to many at the time to be a lost cause.

Among other merits of Revolutionary Characters is that Woods' essays do not deify or romanticize the founders. He summons up each of them as distinctive individuals, real people who did not always agree with or even like one another. Yet at a certain point in history they shared a common goal - the readjustment of the relations between Britain and the American colonies, and eventually the colonial separation from Britain and the formation of an entirely separate sovereign entity. They achieved this goal without pretenses, often fighting through their own differences and the differing interests of different colonies while simultaneously cooperating to achieve American independence.

The Founders did not, it appears, think that the way to accomplish their objectives was to put on a unity show.

Professor Woods maintains that the founders were able to accomplish what they did precisely because they used their unusual level of education and position in American society of their time so as to combine ideas and politics, theory and practice. In doing so, they managed to accomplish their goals without papering over their differences.

Professor Woods also holds that today's politicians simply cannot act in the principled fashion he attributes to the founders, precisely because the founders created a country founded on the idea of egalitarian democracy, with a large roll for the non-elite general population. Professor Woods argues that such a population cannot handle political figures who act on principle, who combine idealism with pragmatism. In short he thinks that the very polity created by the founders makes it impossible for politicians today to act as they did.

With all respect to Professor Woods - and my respect for his work and scholarship is tremendous, I disagree. I think Americans today are starved for principled political leadership, sick of panderers, and tired of pretenses as opposed to honest talk about everything ranging from whether the Democratic Party actually already has a nominee to whether U.S. foreign policy is mitigating, fostering or leaving unaffected the outbreaks of terrorism around the world.

I think that millions of "ordinary" and "common" Americans yearn for leaders who combine substantive ideas with political savvy. Many of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's supporters admire precisely this about her. She is a woman of ideas and a woman of tremendous political skill able to take ideas and use politics to put them into practice. And she is a hero to millions of Americans, who seem to recognize this combination in her.

And millions of Americans are disenchanted with a Democratic Party whose top officials refuse to recognize Senator Clinton as a potential nominee for the Party's candidate for President this year. Those same millions are even more disenchanted by the ceaseless parade of half-truths and evasions the DNC's top leaders put forth about the state of the Party, whose support it needs to survive as an institution, and whether it can muster that support both this fall and in the years to come.

It may seem radical to ask Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi, among others, to act in the principled and high-minded way that Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and the other founders did. But as the ordinary people whose lives, liberty and opportunities to pursue our happiness the founders fought for, I think it would be far more radical - and certainly sad - if we did not demand this of Dr. Dean, Speaker Pelosi, and the rest. If we do not demand that that Democratic Party leaders act in the best traditions of the founders, then we are saying that we have given up on the project that they begun: an ongoing republican democracy where citizens and politicians alike may have real and public differences, but where they share ideals of justice and fairness to all.

Even though I hold Professor Woods' scholarship in the highest esteem, I would like to see today's Democratic politicians discredit his pessimism about the possibility of politicians today acting in the spirit and tradition of the revolutionary characters. Moreover, I believe that if Dr. Dean, Speaker Pelosi, and all major Democrats started acting more like the founders and less like Professor Woods thinks politicians now have to act, the great project that is the United States of America would come through with flying colors.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Texas "two-step": a continuing mechanism for privileging elites over rank and file Democrats

The history of the Texas State Democratic Party is extensive and complex, like the rest of the history of Texas. With NQ radio devoting renewed attention to what occurred in the caucuses in this election season, it seemed an ideal time to focus on a small piece of that much larger history and take a look at how Texans ended up with a prima-caucus or, having been here for this year's version, what I will always think of as the Texas two-step.

I recommend reading a fuller account of the Democratic Party in Texas here. Meanwhile, here's the scoop on the whys and wherefors of the two step, which traces directly back to mid-twentieth century developments in both Texas and federal law. In Texas state law structures the Democratic Party, meaning that the state laws involved must conform to the requirements of the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court. Not surprisingly, through 1944 Texas had an "all-white" primary law : in other words, blacks, American Indians, and anybody else not considered "white" could not vote in any party's primary. After several challenges to this bigoted law, and several attempts by the Texas state legislature to permit the Democratic Party to exclude non-whites from participating, in 1944 the U.S. Supreme Court decided Smith v. Allwright, decisively rejecting any primary rules that excluded voters on the basis of race.

In the 1960s and 1970s progressive Texas Democrats welcomed the participation and support of black voters, because at both state and national levels The Democratic Party involved in the struggle for civil rights for Americans of all races. But in the period between 1944 and the civil rights movement, the state level Democratic Party in Texas (along with other southern state level Democratic Parties) was not exactly reaching out to enfranchise blacks.

Caucuses in all states that use them have always been a way to increase the power of Party elites at the expense of rank and file voters who participate in primaries. Nothing distinguishes Texas from other caucus states in this regard. But Texas had a history of primaries and state law called for them. So the Texas caucuses became a key way for Party insiders or elites to blunt the effects of a the more inclusive primary votes. The caucus - which has varied in form and structure throughout the decades - was at one time used to preserve white dominance even as nonwhites gained a legal right to vote in the Texas Democratic party primaries.

Formally speaking however caucuses are color blind. They privileges whoever seeks to blunt the primary process in Texas. So, any candidate who thinks she or he will fair less well in the more accessible primaries will tend to invest resources in controlling the caucuses. Whether one finds it ironic or fitting that this year that candidate was the Democratic Party's first major African-American contender for its nomination will depend on one's view of the use of historically racist mechanisms to achieve outcomes that produce race-related results that run contrary to racism.

Of rules, justice, and Democrats

Because organizations like the DNC have rules, and because people like to know what rules say, I have made some effort in this space to present relevant DNC rules applicable to the current situation faced by The Democratic Party.

But, rules must be applied. As we have seen before with this year's DNC, the rules are not always applied straightforwardly. Moreover, often, especially in party politics, the rules do not rule the day. They only rule the day and rule the day fairly if the person in charge of applying them makes them work that way. Furthermore, even strict adherence to party rules does not not necessarily guarantee substantive fairness or even courtesy to all viable candidates for the Democratic nomination.

I have no idea under which circumstances if any Senator Clinton would be willing to accept having her name placed in nomination; I have even less of an idea of the circumstances under which Senator Obama would decline to have his name so placed.

What I have a firm grasp of is what justice (and good sense) demands from Howard Dean: It is not enough that he promise to abide by the Party's rules (which can be variously interpreted or even amended to jigger a result if that is how the Party leadership wants to treat their own rules). He must extend, on behalf of the DNC, an equal welcome to the two Democrats whose historic campaigns qualify them to have the option to be placed in nomination.

Consider this analogy. The rules laid down by the U.S. Constitution as amended by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments required the states to treat blacks equally as whites. That was and is the rule. Yet in Plessy v. Ferguson, the then Supreme Court upheld the proposition that separate was indeed equal, thereby interpreting the Constitutional rules so as to allow for a host of state laws and policies that demeaned and devalued black people. Ultimately, in Brown v. Board of Education, a later Supreme Court declared that separate was not, and could not be, equal, certainly in schools.

One way to think about the shift from Plessy to Brown is as a change in the interpretation of the Constitutional rules in light of empirical evidence about the effects of segregated schools on black students. But I think a better way to think about the shift is to regard it as a change in attitude, not toward the rules (or at least not only the rules) but toward the people - black and white - governed by them. By the time of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court's expectations of white people had changed; as had the Court's disposition toward the claims of black people. The Court no longer catered to the expectations of white separatists; and the Court sought more genuine and complete justice for blacks and all Americans who rejected the bigotry reflected in and perpetuated by "separate but equal".

Right now, Dr. Dean and the rest of the DNC leadership seem to be adopting a Plessy-like attitude toward Party rules and also toward the two candidates most affected by them. Dr. Dean says, basically, that of course the rules will be followed (and any suggestion to the contrary makes the interlocutor not a "real" Democrat or a supporter of Senator McCain's bid for the presidency). But Dr. Dean is not out there fighting for genuine and completely equal treatment of Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. In Plessyesque fashion, he purports to be mindful of this obligation under the Democratic Party's rules, but he condones and commits conduct suggesting he does not take the obligation with requisite gravity were he truly dedicated to meeting it.

Were Dr. Dean to shift to a more Brown-like attitude, he would not rely upon technocratic promises about the rules (which he knows can be manipulated and modified to achieve a particular result). He would adopt a stance of genuine equal opportunity for both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. He would, on behalf of the entire DNC, call for each candidate to have a genuinely equal opportunity to seek being placed in nomination while making it clear that both candidates are equally free to decide at any time that she or he does not think it wise to do so. Rather than grudgingly concede that one candidate can exercise a right granted under the rules while simultaneously trumpeting the falsehood that the other candidate is already the Party's nominee, Dr. Dean could refuse to play this game any more. He could be a real party leader and announce that the DNC affirmatively wants to see both very successful candidates treated equally at the convention, and that true equality involves each candidate being encouraged to stand for nomination in a true celebration of democratic principles.

While I am most definitely not holding my breath for Dr. Dean to suddenly commit to this more robust attitude toward fairness, I will continue to urge him and the rest of the DNC leadership - including all the superdelegates - to make the shift. Let every superdelegate and every senior DNC official express a desire for true equality and true democracy everywhere, including at the Democratic National Convention coming up this August. As a rank and file Democrat, I would delight in knowing that party's leaders and key players want to put these principles into practice in Denver, thereby adding luster to the modern Democratic Party's tradition of demanding equality and justice for all.

(If you share this view, you may want to check out The Denver Group and support its ongoing efforts to persuade Dr. Dean and the rest of the DNC leadership to join that tradition. For more information, go here. If you have specific suggestions for The Denver Group, please contact The Denver Group directly.)

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Yesterday I heard from a friend who was feeling discouraged by the Dean/Pelosi/Obama strategy of completely ignoring those who know that faux unity is neither a prudent nor principled route to putting a Democrat in the White House this year. My friend asked where I find my stamina to resist the relentless drive to push this misguided route. The question gave me a moment's pause. I am of course sometimes tired from pressing for justice and good sense in the face of the apparent lack of interest from people who seem to care about neither. Then, I realized that I draw strength from thinking of the many Americans who have worked for justice and good sense, with no guarantees that they would see either achieved. There are well-known Americans in the group. Martin Luther King, Jr.comes to mind immediately. But there are so many who like me are not famous. There are the thousands who marched for civil rights, bravely enduring taunts, jeers, and worse. There are farmworkers who risked everything to unionize so they could work collectively to demand decent living and working conditions. There are individuals I have known personally who resist every day when they observe unthinking and arbitrary exercises of power by people who have some but cannot or will not use their power fairly and responsibly.

In all these cases there were and are no guarantees of success. But knowing that millions of other Americans have demanded justice from powerful people and institutions reminds me that my efforts keep faith with theirs. That unspoken pact among seekers of justice across time and place fortifies my own resolve.

Local coverage of Dr. Dean's opinion of those who disagree with him

This just in from reporter Jim Morrill of The Charlotte Observer who covered Dr. Dean's recent stop in Charlotte.

Speaking to reporters later on his bus, he dismissed the protesters.

"I'm not sure all of them are Clinton supporters," he said. "I think some of them are having fun at the Democrats' expense. I think shouting through somebody's speech is low-class."
Dr. Dean, I personally would probably not shout through your speech. But I think it low-class when you refuse to meet with rank and file Democrats, with the credentials to prove it, who have not interrupted your stumping; have been trying to get you to realize that you and the rest of the Party leadership are imperiling an institution, The Democratic Party, that many of us have supported ardently throughout the years; and who have been made to feel by you and your associates as though that support and dedication is as nothing to you. Not only is that low-class, it is none too bright, sir. Just as I would not have recommended that Senator Obama alienate much of his original base by the position he took on FISA among other things, I would suggest that you must stop dismissing a wing of the Party whose votes will be needed by the Democratic nominee - whoever that turns out to be.

You can read the full coverage by Jim Morrill about Dr. Dean's stop in Charlotte at Campaign Tracker: Hillary protesters greet Dean in Charlotte.

Where DOES the buck stop at the DNC?

Although The Denver Group knows that this year's convention is being "negotiated" and also knows that people other than Dr. Dean play a role in deciding how the DNC will conduct its convention, in my individual capacity - not as co-founder of The Denver Group - I continue to address my concerns to Dr. Dean.

This is because Dr. Dean has a position which he has not resigned: he is chair of the DNC. As the chair he must be assigned, and take, full responsibility for DNC actions. I do not care what pressures are being brought to bear on him to make Senator Obama or Senator Obama's spokesperson the de facto chair of the DNC. Until Dr. Dean resigns his office, it his office.

If Dr. Dean has so compromised his position in that office that he cannot act independently of a particular candidate in order to protect the interests of The Democratic Party as a whole, Dr. Dean should step down forthwith and be replaced with somebody who has the fortitude to do the job properly.

I know any number of people willing to take on the job, including some old friends from the blogosphere. These people understand the importance of maintaining an intact, credible Democratic Party. If Dr. Dean cannot raise money for the DNC without compromising the independence of the Party for its own good, no problem. I know that there are people who could do the job without compromise and not only would they raise money for the DNC simply by acting that way, I would do everything in my power to help them.

Dr. Dean, if you are unwilling or unable to attend to the interests of the Party as a whole, particularly with regard to running a nominating convention in Denver that might actually legitimize the Party's candidate, please step down immediately, so we can find somebody up to the job.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Dr. Dean, please skip the mixed messages

DNC Chairman Howard Dean continues his travels through the southern United States seeking votes for the candidate whose nomination as the Democratic contender he has always welcomed. In Raleigh N.C., Dr. Dean emphasized registering new and undecided voters - a strategy that probably makes sense, since Dr. Dean has made it clear that he believes that his preferred candidate does not need Clinton Democrats to win in November.

Yet at another stop in N.C., Dr. Dean tried the tired but timeless trick of trying to eat his cake and have it too. A friend who had a chance to speak with Dr. Dean told him that the Senator Clinton's delegates are very anxious about the convention and that they need reassurances from the DNC as to how the convention will be conducted. Dr. Dean replied similarly as he has on other recent occasions when asked similar questions. According to the friend, Dr. Dean stated that the rules are clear and that the DNC will follow them. Then, Dr. Dean repeated his line that the "rumors" to the contrary are being spread by "McCain people" and followed that up by saying that if "Hillary wants her name placed in nomination with a roll call vote, then she can have it."

Dr. Dean, I for one (and I know that I am far from the only one), have said over and over that I am in no way shape or form a "McCain person". Not only have I been attempting to contact you as an individual rank and file Democrat for months, but I have gone to great lengths to form, with co-founder, Marc Rubin, The Denver Group, precisely to reach you through the mass media since all other efforts to get your attention have failed.

Telling people one on one that "if Senator Clinton wants her name in nomination, she can have it" is a far cry from treating her with the equal respect you have treated Senator Obama. When you are ready, Dr. Dean, to really show respect for Senator Clinton and your fellow Democrats (that would be me, among others, Dr. Dean, not some vaguely referenced "McCain person"), you will publicly announce that you want and hope that Senator Clinton will in fact make it clear that she is willing to seek the nomination. It remains Senator Clinton's prerogative to do so or not as she sees fit. But it is your responsibility, Dr. Dean, as the party leader preaching unity to actually create the conditions under which real unity, the type that leads to a Democrat winning the White House this year, can come about. For further information, Dr. Dean, check out The Denver Group. We've been trying to reach you, sir, precisely because we would prefer to see a Democrat win this year.

The Denver Group: A supporter volunteers to pick up the "tip" for those who contribute to The Denver Group via Act Blue

The DNC Convention Rules - the essential provisions going forward

As noted previously in this blog, in February 2007, the Democratic National Party published a "Call to the Convention". This document went out over Howard Dean's name in his capacity as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee after being adopted by the Committee on February 2.

The Call to the Convention serves as a blueprint or governance document specifying how the the convention will be convened and what will happen there. The first parts deal with how people other than superdelegates (or as they are officially called "automatic delegates) can qualify to become delegates to the National Convention. The later sections specify how the Convention is to operate.

Section VI defines the term "Presidential Candidate" for purposes of the Convention. Here is that provision in its entirety:
The term “presidential candidate” herein shall mean any person who, as determined by the National Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee, has accrued delegates in the nominating process and plans to seek the nomination, has established substantial support for his or her nomination as the Democratic candidate for the Office of the President of the United States, is a bona fide Democrat whose record of public service, accomplishment, public writings and/or public statements affirmatively demonstrates that he or she is faithful to the interests, welfare and success of the Democratic Party of the United States, and will participate in the Convention in good faith.
Note: the "plans to seek the nomination" does not state a deadline for when a candidate must announce that he or she so plans. So any candidate who meets the other guidelines in Section VI and announces prior to the convention's start that she or he is seeking the nomination qualifies as a "Presidential candidate" for purposes of the Call. As of today, July 25, Senator Obama is the only person who is in this position. As of August 1 or August 15 or August 20 (I'm just naming random dates before the start of the convention), others may have thrown their hat in the ring. John Edwards, for example, could do so.

An alternative mechanism by which a candidate can indicate that he or she seeks the nomination is by signing a nomination petition from the floor and this can be done up to the day before the relevant Convention proceedings. This is specified in a number of provisions from VIII. PROCEDURAL RULES OF THE 2008 DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION including subsection 6a:
6. Nomination of the Democratic Candidate for President: The Permanent Chair shall receive nominations from the floor for the Democratic candidate for the Office of President of the United States in the following manner:
a. Requests to nominate a presidential candidate shall be in writing and shall have affixed thereto the written approval of the proposed nominee and the name of the individuals who shall be recognized to make the nominating and seconding speeches on behalf of a presidential candidate and shall be delivered to the Convention Secretary at a location as specified by the Secretary no later than 6:00 p.m. of the day preceding the day designated for the commencement of presidential nominations.
Provisions 6(b)(c) and (d) specify the nomination process applicable to all nominees:
b. Each such request must be accompanied by a petition indicating support for the proposed nominee signed by delegates representing not less than 300 or more
than 600 delegate votes, not more than 50 of which may come from one (1) delegation. A delegate may not sign more than one (1) nominating petition for president and for vice president.
c. The order for nominating presidential candidates shall be determined by the National Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee, the Permanent Chair of the Convention and each presidential candidate, or his or her authorized representative, who qualifies to be nominated pursuant to this section.
d. Each presidential candidate shall be allowed a total of twenty (20) minutes for the presentation of his or her name in nomination by nominating and seconding speeches, the time to run without interruption from the recognition of the nominator.
e. Delegates and alternates shall maintain order during and following nominations for the Office of President and demonstrations shall not be permitted.
Finally, subsection 7 defines what happens after the nomination speeches are given:
7. Roll Call for Presidential Candidate:
a. After nominations for presidential candidates have closed, the Convention shall proceed to a roll call vote by states on the selection of the presidential candidate. The roll call voting shall follow the alphabetical order of the states with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and the territories treated as states for the purpose of the alphabetical roll call.
b. A majority vote of the Convention’s delegates shall be required to nominate the presidential candidate.
c. Delegates may vote for the candidate of their choice whether or not the name of such candidate was placed in nomination. Any vote cast other than a vote for a presidential candidate meeting the requirements of Article VI of this Call and Rule 12.K. of the 2008 Delegate Selection Rules shall be considered a vote for “Present.”
d. Balloting will continue until a nominee is selected. The nominee shall become the candidate of the Democratic Party of the United States for the Office of President upon the conclusion of his or her acceptance speech.
Note: it is because of subsection 7(c) that the difference between being a nominee and simply being on the ballot makes a difference. If a candidate is not a nominee at the time of the roll call, votes for that candidate simply count as "present".

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The difference between supporting a person and supporting a principle

Today, one of the political activities with which I am involved, The Denver Group, received some attention from the MSM. Both reporters I spoke with were courteous and professional. But the stories they produced about The Denver Group run the risk of conflating two very different things: supporting a particular candidate and arguing for a certain procedure.

Anybody who reads this blog knows that my preferred candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination is Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. But that is not why I decided to co-found The Denver Group with Marc Rubin.

I have said it here and I say it when interviewed: I do not know whether come August and the Democratic National Convention, Senator Clinton herself will be willing to accept being placed in nomination and thereby being entered into a truly democratic election process.

That choice is Senator Clinton's and I would listen carefully to her reasons for accepting or rejecting being placed in nomination were that opportunity offered to her; just as I would listen carefully to her were she to end up winning a meaningful roll call vote and having to decide whether to accept the nomination. Based on her reasons, I might or might agree that her decision is wise but the decisions involved are hers to make.

But I would want this year's Democratic National Convention to include both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton's names in nomination even if Senator Obama were my preferred candidate. This is because I care about something that has very little to do with either candidate. I would care about it if the two candidates who lasted through the primary season without ending up with enough pledged delegates were Senator Dodd and Governor Richardson.

I care about genuine equality of opportunity under established procedures. I care about this for its own sake but also because I believe that it is only by agreeing upon procedures before the results are in is it likely that people who disagree deeply about the specific results can accept that divide yet then move on to support the actual outcome.

I know that many people think that Senator Obama can win the presidency with lots of money and the unhappiness people have with the current Republican administration. I do not think that will work. Senator Obama needs votes from millions of people like me, people who feel that a process that was established without regard to particular outcome must be followed to its natural conclusion. A rigged or short-circuited process taints the result in a way that I find off-putting. So often this political season the Democratic Party, sometimes at the state level and sometimes at the national one, has seemingly disregarded its own rules because some in the Party find that following those rules is inconvenient or fatiguing or scary. I understand those feelings: they are based largely on the fear of uncertainty. But just because one fears or dislikes uncertainty one cannot wish it away.

The Democratic Party's rules and the people's votes produced an inconclusive result with regard to the nominee going into the Convention. Fortunately the party has a procedures for resolving such a situation: any and all candidates who qualify for and accept being put into nomination can be considered by superdelegates, whose votes end up determining the outcome.

Regardless of who that group would end up electing were they presented with a real and meaningful choice of candidates at the convention, I want to see the superdelegates accept responsibility for their positions. And I want Dr. Dean, Senator Obama, and anybody else who is unwilling to see the the superdelegates take responsibility to get over it. The superdelegates are adults capable of exercising their faculties of reason and judgment. Just like we rank and file Democrats they do not need a sham Convention just because that would comfort some folks. I trust that superdelegates understood from the get-go that they might have to decide the contest. Certainly, I along with many others, understood this.

That understanding makes me committed to something wholly apart from my preference for Senator Clinton. I am committed to enfranchisement, enfranchisement wherever franchise is offered. By exercising the franchise individuals go through a decision making process to resolve a situation that was not previously resolved. I insist that the superdelegates be meaningfully enfranchised at the Democratic National Convention, that they be given a real chance to make a real choice. If they choose my preferred candidate, I will be quite pleased. But even if they do not I will feel able to regard the Democratic Party as an institution committed to democratic principles.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008



Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A reasonable question asked about Open Secrets and Senator Clinton's debt

Let me begin this post by making a few things perfectly clear. I have no more information about the level of Senator Clinton's primary campaign debt than anybody else who has access to newspapers and the web. I am simply stating my own understanding of the current situation based solely on reports from newspapers and Open Secrets, an organization discussed below. My views are my own and do not reflect the views of any other individual who has written or spoken publicly on the status of Senator Clinton's primary campaign debt.

In a recent post, I analyzed Senator Clinton's debt situation as I understood it and continue to understand it. Subsequently, the Open sponsored by the Center for Responsive Politics, a web site that gathers publicly available information about candidates, policies and politics posted this information regarding the state of Senator Clinton's campaign finances. The Open Secrets website has made some people think that Senator Clinton's primary campaign debt has been retired. But to think this is to misunderstand the site.

The information at Open Secrets lumps together money raised for the general election and money raised for the primary campaign. Money raised for the general election cannot be used to pay off debt related to primary campaign expenditures. So though Senator Clinton appears to be in the black overall, she still needs to raise money to pay off debt from the primary season. This is why, I believe, Clinton campaign members continue to urge those who have not maxxed out to the primary (have not yet donated up to $2300 to the primary stage) to donate if they are able and willing to assist with paying down the debt.

Open Secrets only bases its reports on Federal Election Commission data. From the Open Secrets page discussing its coverage of Senator Clinton's campaign:
"NOTE: All the numbers on this page are for the 2008 election cycle and based on Federal Election Commission data released electronically on Monday, June 30, 2008."
Open Secrets does not know how much money Senator Clinton has raised for retiring the debt so far during July. Neither do I. Even Senator Clinton's campaign accountants probably do not know because presumably donations are coming in as you read these words. Frustrating though it may be, people have to accept that there is a lag time between the figures reported to the FEC by all candidates from both major political parties and completely current information.

A reasonable question asked about Mark Penn and Senator Clinton's debt

Recently I provided an analysis of the current state of Senator Clinton's debt based on public reports. An anonymous reader sent me a reasonable question about my analysis. I claimed that I interpret Mark Penn's silence on his willingness to forgive some or all of his outstanding bills to Senator Clinton as an indication that he is indeed willing to forgive the some or all of what he claims he is owed. The anonymous questioner wanted to know why I draw that inference.

Answer: If somebody or some company is owed a lot of money by an organization, a campaign, or an individual of course that creditor would, other things equal, like to be paid in full. So it would not be in the creditor's interest to announce publicly that she or he would be willing to accept less. But if the creditor is friendly and wealthy, often that creditor will end up accepting less to make it possible for all involved to move ahead.

I have no reason to think that Mark Penn is hostile to Senator Clinton or her campaign; and I know that his firm can afford to absorb some losses related to expenditures it made and services for which it billed the campaign. From a business perspective, it is understandable that Mr. Penn is not now stating what he and his company might be willing to absorb, because he would presumably like to see as much money as possible raised to pay him as much as possible. That's a perfectly legitimate business position.

Yes, it would be helpful to rank and file Democrats who want to contribute specifically to retiring Senator Clinton's debt to know exactly how much Mr. Penn and his company can and will forgive, if anything, but Mr. Penn is not a politician or DNC official and he is under no obligation to rank and file Democrats.

But, if he were entirely opposed to forgiving some or all of the amount he and his company have claimed from Senator Clinton's primary campaign, I assume that Mr. Penn would have made a public statement to that effect. This is because quite often creditors unwilling to compromise want to make that perfectly clear; in this case that would be sensible of Mr. Penn if he wanted rank and file Democrats to figure out how much to donate to retire Senator Clinton's debt using his full claim as a target figure.

In this context, then, Mr. Penn's silence speaks volumes. It indicates that he would probably like to be paid as much as can be raised to pay him but it also indicates that he would accept less than the amount billed to date. How much less, I have no idea. Nor do I know that my interpretation of Mr. Penn's silence on the point is correct. I do know that my interpretation is charitable toward Mr. Penn, because it assumes that he is indeed willing make a financial sacrifice as a matter of, if nothing else, professional courtesy toward Senator Clinton and her campaign. That would be a usual business practice and I have no reason to think that Mr. Penn departs from usual business practices.

Dr. Dean, Senator Obama, Senator Clinton and many other Democrats will be thrilled when resources from donors related to retiring the debt are freed up for other purposes. If Mr. Penn decides to make public any willingness about forgiving some or all of that debt, he would make all these folks very happy. But as I said before Mr. Penn is under no obligation, in my opinion, to make Dr. Dean, Senator Obama, Senator Clinton or any other Democrat happy.

If he decides to make folks happy by explicitly specifying how much, if any debt, he is willing to forgive, then Mr. Penn will be going above and beyond the standards of normal business practice. I have no reason to think that Mr. Penn is not willing to exceed these standards.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Why being "on the ballot" is not enough

Sometimes something worth saying has to be said again.

I hope those who already understand what I write here will bear with me as I try to clarify for others who are trying to learn so much so quickly about the ways and wiles of the DNC, its rules, its use of its rules, and most significantly the difference between having a roll call vote with Senator Clinton on the ballot and having Senator Clinton in nomination for the candidacy before that roll call happens.

Let's start with an analogy. Baseball games often begin with some person designated to throw out the first pitch - indeed, George W. Bush did this for the first game of the Washington Nationals' first season in their new stadium. But throwing that "first pitch" did not make Bush a true pitcher, it added him to no team roster. That is is because the entire episode iwas completely symbolic, a ritual that had no consequences for the outcome of the particular game itself.

Similarly a person's name can be put on a roll call ballot at the Convention for purely symbolic reasons. Indeed from the time of the adoption of the McGovern Commission's proposed rules for electing a Democratic presidential nominee until this year, all such roll call ballots including candidates other than the eventual nominee were only symbolic.

Why were these past episodes only symbolic, with nothing at stake for choosing a Party nominee? Because in each past case the eventual nominee had arrived at the Convention already in possession of a sufficient number of pledged delegates to make the vote at the Convention irrelevant.

This year the Democratic National Party faces a situation it has never faced before. No candidate comes into the Convention with enough votes from the primary/caucus events to qualify automatically as the nominee. The McGovern Commission rules, which are in effect, technically turn choice of the nominee to the superdelegates.

But there are two steps to making sure that superdelegates have the opportunity to exercise the responsibility the rules grant them.
  • It is not sufficient for Senator Clinton's name to simply be listed on a ballot on which a roll call vote is taken.
  • It is necessary that Senator Clinton's name be put into nomination as nonsymbolic contender in the convention roll call voting process.
To return to the baseball field, for just a moment, it is not enough that Senator Clinton to throw out the first pitch (say by making a speech); she must be designated for the roster.

There are different ways for a candidate's name to be put in nomination. And a candidate offered nomination may decline it. He or she may also accept nomination but decline candidacy. It is not my place to judge whether Senator Clinton or Senator Obama should be willing to have their names placed in nomination or whether either should be willing to accept a candidacy determined by uncoerced, unpressured superdelegates.

As a rank and file Democrat, it is my place to to demand that the DNC provide Senator Clinton and Senator Obama equal opportunitees to decide to be nominees and to accept nomination if voted it at the Convention.

I do demand that - if you do too, you might want to help The Denver Group, a political action group formed specifically to make this demand heard loud and clear from Washington, DC, to Chicago, IL, to Denver, CO and to every single state where anybody cast a vote for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton with faith that her own Party would act according to its own rules and according to basic democratic principles which have for decades been championed by Democrats of all types.

That does not seem like too much to ask; indeed it seems ridiculous that a request must be made in the first place.


The Denver Group: A NEW MATCH OFFER EXTENDED TO THE DENVER GROUP: "Two supporters of The Denver Group have contacted us and told us that if we raise our next $2000 by midnight on July 25, they will match that accomplishment by donating $2000 as a match."

RETIRE THE DEBT: A brief explanation of the current state of Senator Clinton's campaign finances

A number of people have asked about the news that Senator Clinton's 2008 presidential primary campaign remains $25.2 million in debt. That figure bears close scrutiny.

First, it includes the 13.2 million dollars Senator Clinton lent her own campaign and which she has stated she is not seeking repayment for. So the actual amount left to be raised to pay debt to vendors is is approximately $12 million as of June 30. (Note that in a show of good faith, Senator Clinton lent her campaign an addition $1 million during June, to help insure that vendors will be paid and proving that she is not expecting her supporters to fund repayment of her own loans to her campaign._

Second, note that the FEC filing and Clinton campaign reports includes only money raised through June 30 at the latest, not money raised during July which is when many people gained awareness of the significance of retiring the debt, so although I am sure it is still vital to contribute to retire the debt, the actual amount needed by Senator Clinton is less than $12 million.

Third, of the $12 million owed to vendors, $5.3 million is owed to Marc Penn, who Senator Clinton says will take a backseat to other, smaller vendors. That means that Senator Clinton needs most crucially $6.7 million.

$6.7 million dollars isn't nothing. But over the course of her presidential campaign so far Senator Clinton has raised over $230 million dollars. So, I am quite confident that we can manage to contribute another $6.7 million.

Meanwhile, Marc Penn has never said whether he will press Senator Clinton for any or all the money he claims he is owed by her campaign. Since I, for one, have asked him about this specifically repeatedly, and since Mr. Penn has not replied, I assume he will willingly forgive most if not all of the $5.3 million he is currently claiming.

Finally, if you care to show that Senator Clinton still packs fundraising might but you are maxxed out to the primary, you might want to consider a donation to her 2012 reelection campaign. That money does not go to retire the debt but it will play a a critical role in strengthening Senator Clinton's political position both now and in 2012. You can donate to the 2012 campaign fund here on Act Blue.

Bottom line: $6.7 million. No problem. Let's do it now.

N.B. AS MENTIONED ABOVE THESE FIGURES REPRESENT A SNAPSHOT BASED ON FEC FILINGS AND THE CLINTON CAMPAIGN'S ANNOUNCEMENTS. THIS MEANS THAT THESE FIGURES DO NOT REFLECT FUNDS RAISED IN JULY. Having prepared FEC reports and filings myself, I understand entirely why the campaign cannot now release figures related to July - the month is not even over yet. So we have to be patient until we find out what remains to be raised after July, assuming the campaign releases figures for July. In the meantime, if you prefer to wait before donating further to Senator Clinton's campaign, consider a donation to any of the other politicians or causes listed here, including Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Sheila Jackson Lee, and The Denver Group.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The political and legal pedigree of the petition - a time honored democratic tool

Petitions have a special place in the history of the United States of America. As a last-ditch effort to avert a war with England, in July of 1775 The Second Continental Congress made a final effort to seek reconciliation with Britain. The chief advocate of this effort was John Dickinson, a conservative delegate from Pennsylvania, who authored the Olive Branch Petition. King George III refused to receive the petition when it reached him in August of 1775. [source][source]

One year later, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and on July 4, 1776, many of those who had signed the petition George III ignored, signed the Declaration of Independence.[source]

The founders of this country relied on events in English history when they created these documents. Over one hundred years before the American Revolution, members of the British parliament were trying to get the crown to acknowledge legal rights they believed the laws of Britain already granted to free male Britons.[source] In 1628, the upper and lower houses of the British Parliament agreed on the Petition of Right and presented it to King Charles I.[source] Charles was forced to accept the Petition of Right by the fact that he needed money, and Parliament would not agree to subsidize Charles' expenditures unless he accepted the Petition.[source]

As readers of this space may recall, one of the major motivations for the American Revolution was the problem of taxation without representation. That is, American colonists refused to subsidize the later British monarch George III, just as the the British Parliament refused to subsidize Charles I. In both cases, the petitioners of their time sought to hold the relevant executive power to democratic principles and processes as they were understood in the 17th and 18th centuries; moreover, they used their petitions to make it clear that without appropriate response from the recipient they would withhold funds needed and requested by the recipient.

Today, people committed to democracy continue to use petitions to hold leaders accountable. My own favorite example of the moment can be found here.

The Denver Group: The Denver Group: Open Letter Update/more

The Denver Group: The Denver Group: Open Letter Update/more: "The Denver Group: Open Letter Update/more"

Women's rights are human rights - and smart men, as well as women, get that

As the 16oth anniversary of the First Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls winds down, I wanted to note that both 160 years ago and today, men as well as women understand that women's rights are human rights. At the First Women's Rights Convention a number of men played key roles. The most famous, perhaps, is Frederick Douglass. Douglass lived in Rochester at the time, where he began publishing abolitionist newspapers, moving on to cover the women's suffrage movement. The other man pictured above is a friend who participated in a Seneca 160 event in Asheville, North Carolina. He is reading a modern day update of the original Declaration of Sentiments to a crowd who assembled in support of the activities in Seneca Falls related to women's rights and Senator Clinton's presidential campaign.

Past and present, there were and are men as well as women who understand the political power of women; of course there are men and women today who still do not. The work goes on.

The Denver Group: Sign the open letter to Dr. Dean

Saturday, July 19, 2008


The power of place ... and the power of process

"The power of place" is a phrase used by Mayor Diana Smith about Seneca Falls. "The power of process" is a phrase one of the audience members at the breakfast event used to sum up the theme of my remarks. I had explained that in some states where I volunteered during the primaries I had done voter protection; I had explained that people who said the Party has its nominee are ignoring the processes set up by the Party itself to determine the nominee. The thread that ran through my remarks is that the entire point of setting up governance processes is to rely upon them when there is a real dispute, not kick them aside in an effort to produce some predetermined result. The power of process.

Not only did I learn phrases from the men and women in attendance, I learned anew just how angry rank and file Democrats are with the DNC, Dr. Dean, and Speaker Pelosi, to name a few. The people at that breakfast are the people who must go to the polls if a Democrat is to take the Presidency this November. Right now, they do not seem to be willing to go. They do not want to vote for Senator McCain. But they do not want to be party to a Party that has eroded their trust because of processes that the Party has already used, especially in caucuses and at the RBC meeting where Florida and Michigan voters were denied full enfranchisement.

These Democrats want to see the Democratic Party run an authentically democratic convention, where the votes for the nominee really count. When I said that I thought it would be easier for people to vote for the eventual nominee as opposed to just sitting out this election were a genuine and meaningful nomination process to occur, everybody in that room nodded. I've said it before and I'll say it again: faux unity is no unity.

The sooner the DNC, Senator Obama, and, yes, Senator Clinton step up together and announce that the Democratic Party does not yet have a presumptive nominee because superdelegates will not be pressured to vote for either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton; and that no candidate will be pressured to agree in advance to refuse nomination, the sooner the DNC will begin to earn back the legitimacy so many of its tactics have cost it this election cycle.

All roads lead to ... Seneca Falls - at least this weekend

Today I had the privilege - and fun - of addressing a group of Senator Clinton's supporters at an event organized by Seneca 160 and co-sponsors. People arrived early for a breakfast event, and we heard from the Mayor Diana Smith, Seneca Falls' first woman mayor. She gave a wonderful address, demonstrating many of the same qualities that make Senator Clinton such an effective politician: intelligence, humor, confidence without arrogance, rapport with the audience. Next up was Christine Moulton, executive director of The National Women's Hall of Fame.
She spoke eloquently about the mission of The National Women's Hall of Fame and made a great case for supporting that organization.

Finally, the patient and fun crowd listened to some remarks I had prepared (I will try to summarize this in a later post) and then we shifted to questions-and-answers. We did not have much time - many events going on in Seneca Falls today and tomorrow in commemoration of the 160th anniversary of the First Women's Rights Convention held there in 1848 - but I particularly enjoyed the questions asked about the purpose of The Denver Group, because that gave me a chance to discuss the difference between a symbolic roll call vote and and an actual nominee election, where the superdelegates take responsibility for deciding the candidate who they believe more likely to win in November. Furthermore, I was able to to explain that whoever the superdelegate bloc ended up going for, the DNC could do a lot to restore its credibility with rank and file Democrats if the Party were seen to be conducting a fair, open, and authentically democratic process.

People lingered after the main event, and I was absolutely moved not only by the enthusiastic support in the room for Senator Clinton's political future but also for the activities of The Denver Group. Many people were kind enough to give me their cards with offers of help and requests for more information. One woman had come with one The Denver Group's ads printed out and she plans to pepper Seneca Falls with copies.

I will add more to this preliminary update soon. In the meantime, it seems fitting to conclude with two of my favorite Elizabeth Cady Stanton quotations. Read these and see if they do not make you want to donate to retire the debt, The Denver Group, or - if you are feeling able and generous - both.
The best protection any woman can have... is courage.
The more complete the despotism, the more smoothly all things move on the surface.
Congratulations on a successful event and my thanks to Seneca 160 for inviting me to speak.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Denver Group: An Open Letter To Howard Dean from The Denver Group

In her own words: Elizabeth Cady Stanton on The 1st Women's Rights Convention

When I finished reading the chapter below, I thought about the many wonderful speeches I have heard Senator Clinton give about women who work and who raise children.

In honor of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's record of her life, let's use the upcoming 160th anniversary celebration of the First Women's Rights Convention as an occasion to assist Senator Clinton while she works to retire her debt.

Celebration of the 160th anniversary of the First Women's Rights Convention occurs this weekend. For more information on that and related activities go here.

Below appears a chapter from: Eighty Years And More: Reminiscences 1815-1897 by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) New York: T. Fisher Unwin, 1898. I have made some cuts and highlighted with color the parts I found especially fun, interesting, or both.



IN the spring of 1847 we moved to Seneca Falls. Here we spent sixteen years of our married life, and here our other children–two sons and two daughters–were born.

Just as we were ready to leave Boston, Mr. and Mrs. Eaton and their two children arrived from Europe, and we decided to go together to Johnstown, Mr. Eaton being obliged to hurry to New York on business, and Mr. Stanton to remain still in Boston a few months. At the last moment my nurse decided she could not leave her friends and go so far away. Accordingly my sister and I started, by rail, with five children and seventeen trunks, for Albany, where we rested over night and part of the next day. We had a very fatiguing journey, looking after so many trunks and children, for my sister's children persisted in standing on the platform at every opportunity, and the younger ones would follow their example. This kept us constantly on the watch. We were thankful when safely landed once more in the old homestead in Johnstown, where we arrived at midnight. As our beloved parents had received no warning of our coming, the whole household was aroused to dispose of us. But now in safe harbor, 'mid familiar scenes and pleasant memories, our slumbers were indeed refreshing. How rapidly one throws off all care and anxiety under the parental roof, and how at sea one feels, no matter what the age may be, when the loved ones are gone forever and the home of childhood is but a dream of the past.

After a few days of rest I started, alone, for my new home, quite happy with the responsibility of repairing a house and putting all things in order. I was already acquainted with many of the people and the surroundings in Seneca Falls, as my sister, Mrs. Bayard, had lived there several years, and I had frequently made her long visits. We had quite a magnetic circle of reformers, too, in central New York. At Rochester were William Henry Channing, Frederick Douglass, the Anthonys, Posts, Hallowells, Stebbins,–some grand old Quaker families at Farmington,–the Sedgwicks, Mays, Mills, and Matilda Joslyn Gage at Syracuse; Gerrit Smith at Peterboro, and Beriah Green at Whitesboro.

The house we were to occupy had been closed for some years and needed many repairs, and the grounds, comprising five acres, were overgrown with weeds. My father gave me a check and said, with a smile, "You believe in woman's capacity to do and dare; now go ahead and put your place in order." After a minute survey of the premises and due consultation with one or two sons of Adam, I set the carpenters, painters, paperhangers, and gardeners at work, built a new kitchen and woodhouse, and in one month took possession. Having left my children with my mother, there were no impediments to a full display of my executive ability. In the purchase of brick, timber, paint, etc., and in making bargains with workmen, I was in frequent consultation with Judge Sackett and Mr. Bascom The latter was a member of the Constitutional Convention, then in session in Albany, and as he used to walk down whenever he was at home, to see how my work progressed, we had long talks, sitting on boxes in the midst of tools and shavings, on the status of women. I urged him to propose an amendment to Article II, Section 3, of the State Constitution, striking out the word "male," which limits the suffrage to men. But, while he fully agreed with all I had to say on the political equality of women, he had not the courage to make himself the laughing-stock of the convention. Whenever I cornered him on this point, manlike he turned the conversation to the painters and carpenters. However, these conversations had the effect of bringing him into the first woman's convention, where he did us good service.

In Seneca Falls my life was comparatively solitary, and the change from Boston was somewhat depressing. There, all my immediate friends were reformers, I had near neighbors, a new home with all the modern conveniences, and well-trained servants. Here our residence was on the outskirts of the town, roads very often muddy and no sidewalks most of the way, Mr. Stanton was frequently from home, I had poor servants, and an increasing number of children. To keep a house and grounds in good order, purchase every article for daily use, keep the wardrobes of half a dozen human beings in proper trim, take the children to dentists, shoemakers, and different schools, or find teachers at home, altogether made sufficient work to keep one brain busy, as well as all the hands I could impress into the service. Then, too, the novelty of housekeeping had passed away, and much that was once attractive in domestic life was now irksome. I had so many cares that the company I needed for intellectual stimulus was a trial rather than a pleasure.


Up to this time life had glided by with comparative ease, but now the real struggle was upon me. My duties were too numerous and varied, and none sufficiently exhilarating or intellectual to bring into play my higher faculties. I suffered with mental hunger, which, like an empty stomach, is very depressing. I had books, but no stimulating companionship. To add to my general dissatisfaction at the change from Boston, I found that Seneca Falls was a malarial region, and in due time all the children were attacked with chills and fever which, under homeopathic treatment in those days, lasted three months. The servants were afflicted in the same way. Cleanliness, order, the love of the beautiful and artistic, all faded away in the struggle to accomplish what was absolutely necessary from hour to hour. ....

I now fully understood the practical difficulties most women had to contend with in the isolated household, and the impossibility of woman's best development if in contact, the chief part of her life, with servants and children. Fourier's phalansterie community life and co-operative households had a new significance for me. Emerson says, "A healthy discontent is the first step to progress." The general discontent I felt with woman's portion as wife, mother, housekeeper, physician, and spiritual guide, the chaotic conditions into which everything fell without her constant supervision, and the wearied, anxious look of the majority of women impressed me with a strong feeling that some active measures should be taken to remedy the wrongs of society in general, and of women in particular. My experience at the World's Anti-slavery Convention, all I had read of the legal status of women, and the oppression I saw everywhere, together swept across my soul, intensified now by many personal experiences. It seemed as if all the elements had conspired to impel me to some onward step. I could not see what to do or where to begin–my only thought was a public meeting for protest and discussion.

In this tempest-tossed condition of mind I received an invitation to spend the day with Lucretia Mott, at Richard Hunt's, in Waterloo. There I met several members of different families of Friends, earnest, thoughtful women. I poured out, that day, the torrent of my long-accumulating discontent, with such vehemence and indignation that I stirred myself, as well as the rest of the party, to do and dare anything. My discontent, according to Emerson, must have been healthy, for it moved us all to prompt action, and we decided, then and there, to call a "Woman's Rights Convention." We wrote the call that evening and published it in the Seneca County Courier the next day, the 14th of July, 1848, giving only five days' notice, as the convention was to be held on the 19th and 20th. The call was inserted without signatures,–in fact it was a mere announcement of a meeting,–but the chief movers and managers were Lucretia Mott, Mary Ann McClintock, Jane Hunt, Martha C. Wright, and myself. The convention, which was held two days in the Methodist Church, was in every way a grand success. The house was crowded at every session, the speaking good, and a religious earnestness dignified all the proceedings.

These were the hasty initiative steps of "the most momentous reform that had yet been launched on the world–the first organized protest against the injustice which had brooded for ages over the character and destiny of one-half the race." No words could express our astonishment on finding, a few days afterward, that what seemed to us so timely, so rational, and so sacred, should be a subject for sarcasm and ridicule to the entire press of the nation. With our Declaration of Rights and Resolutions for a text, it seemed as if every man who could wield a pen prepared a homily on "woman's sphere." All the journals from Maine to Texas seemed to strive with each other to see which could make our movement appear the most ridiculous. The anti-slavery papers stood by us manfully and so did Frederick Douglass, both in the convention and in his paper, The North Star, but so pronounced was the popular voice against us, in the parlor, press, and pulpit, that most of the ladies who had attended the convention and signed the declaration, one by one, withdrew their names and influence and joined our persecutors. Our friends gave us the cold shoulder and felt themselves disgraced by the whole proceeding.

If I had had the slightest premonition of all that was to follow that convention, I fear I should not have had the courage to risk it, and I must confess that it was with fear and trembling that I consented to attend another, one month afterward, in Rochester. Fortunately, the first one seemed to have drawn all the fire, and of the second but little was said. But we had set the ball in motion, and now, in quick succession, conventions were held in Ohio, Indiana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and in the City of New York, and have been kept up nearly every year since.

The most noteworthy of the early conventions were those held in Massachusetts, in which such men as Garrison, Phillips, Channing, Parker, and Emerson took part. It was one of these that first attracted the attention of Mrs. John Stuart Mill, and drew from her pen that able article on "The Enfranchisement of Woman," in the Westminster Review of October, 1852.

The same year of the convention, the Married Woman's Property Bill, which had given rise to some discussion on woman's rights in New York, had passed the legislature. This encouraged action on the part of women, as the reflection naturally arose that, if the men who make the laws were ready for some onward step, surely the women themselves should express some interest in the legislation. Ernestine L. Rose, Paulina Wright (Davis), and I had spoken before committees of the legislature years before, demanding equal property rights for women. We had circulated petitions for the Married Woman's Property Bill for many years, and so also had the leaders of the Dutch aristocracy, who desired to see their life-long accumulations descend to their daughters and grandchildren rather than pass into the hands of dissipated, thriftless sons-in-law. Judge Hertell, Judge Fine, and Mr. Geddes of Syracuse prepared and championed the several bills, at different times, before the legislature. Hence the demands made in the convention were not entirely new to the reading and thinking public of New York–the first State to take any action on the question. As New York was the first State to put the word "male" in her constitution in 1778, it was fitting that she should be first in more liberal legislation. The effect of the convention on my own mind was most salutary. The discussions had cleared my ideas as to the primal steps to be taken for women's enfranchisement, and the opportunity of expressing myself fully and freely on a subject I felt so deeply about was a great relief. I think all women who attended the convention felt better for the statement of their wrongs, believing that the first step had been taken to right them.

Soon after this I was invited to speak at several points in the neighborhood. One night, in the Quaker Meeting House at Farmington, I invited, as usual, discussion and questions when I had finished. We all waited in silence for a long time; at length a middle-aged man, with a broad-brimmed hat, arose and responded in a sing-song tone: "All I have to say is, if a hen can crow, let her crow," emphasizing "crow" with an upward inflection on several notes of the gamut. The meeting adjourned with mingled feelings of surprise and merriment. I confess that I felt somewhat chagrined in having what I considered my unanswerable arguments so summarily disposed of, and the serious impression I had made on the audience so speedily dissipated. The good man intended no disrespect, as he told me afterward. He simply put the whole argument in a nutshell: "Let a woman do whatever she can."

With these new duties and interests, and a broader outlook on human life, my petty domestic annoyances gradually took a subordinate place. Now I began to write articles for the press, letters to conventions held in other States, and private letters to friends, to arouse them to thought on this question.

The pastor of the Presbyterian Church, Mr. Bogue, preached several sermons on Woman's Sphere, criticising the action of the conventions in Seneca Falls and Rochester. Elizabeth McClintock and I took notes and answered him in the county papers. Gradually we extended our labors and attacked our opponents in the New York Tribune, whose columns were open to us in the early days, Mr. Greeley being, at that time, one of our most faithful champions.

In answering all the attacks, we were compelled to study canon and civil law, constitutions, Bibles, science, philosophy, and history, sacred and profane. Now my mind, as well as my hands, was fully occupied, and instead of mourning, as I had done, over what I had lost in leaving Boston, I tried in every way to make the most of life in Seneca Falls. Seeing that elaborate refreshments prevented many social gatherings, I often gave an evening entertainment without any. I told the young people, whenever they wanted a little dance or a merry time, to make our house their rallying point, and I would light up and give them a glass of water and some cake. In that way we had many pleasant informal gatherings. Then, in imitation of Margaret Fuller's Conversationals, we started one which lasted several years. We selected a subject each week on which we all read and thought; each, in turn, preparing an essay ten minutes in length.

These were held, at different homes, Saturday of each week. On coming together we chose a presiding officer for the evening, who called the meeting to order, and introduced the essayist. That finished, he asked each member, in turn, what he or she had read or thought on the subject, and if any had criticisms to make on the essay. Everyone was expected to contribute something. Much information was thus gained, and many spicy discussions followed. All the ladies, as well as the gentlemen, presided in turn, and so became familiar with parliamentary rules. The evening ended with music, dancing, and a general chat. In this way we read and thought over a wide range of subjects and brought together the best minds in the community. ....


My nearest neighbors were a very agreeable, intelligent family of sons and daughters. But I always felt that the men of that household were given to domineering. As the mother was very amiable and self-sacrificing, the daughters found it difficult to rebel. One summer, after general house-cleaning, when fresh paint and paper had made even the kitchen look too dainty for the summer invasion of flies, the queens of the household decided to move the sombre cookstove into a spacious woodhouse, where it maintained its dignity one week, in the absence of the head of the home. The mother and daughters were delighted with the change, and wondered why they had not made it before during the summer months. But their pleasure was shortlived. Father and sons rose early the first morning after his return and moved the stove back to its old place. When the wife and daughters came down to get their breakfast (for they did all their own work) they were filled with grief and disappointment. The breakfast was eaten in silence, the women humbled with a sense of their helplessness, and the men gratified with a sense of their power. These men would probably all have said "home is woman's sphere," though they took the liberty of regulating everything in her sphere.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Senator Clinton wrote us a letter - see for yourself

Click on the image to enlarge. Senator Clinton, by the way, was the keynote speaker at the 150th Celebration of the first Women's Rights Convention.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Abigail Adams, Washington DC, and Seneca Falls

Today I head north, to end up in Seneca Falls on the weekend. In 1800, on the other hand, the new First Lady Abigail Adams arrived in the then new city of Washington DC. Abigail Adams was a serious patriot and thinker herself: here are some of her reactions to her new home town.

As for me, the trip to Seneca Falls is to participate in events celebrating the 160th anniversary of the First Women's Rights Convention, which happened in Seneca Falls. For information about events being sponsored by all sorts of folks, including the official events at the Seneca Falls National Park, check here (there you can also find a link to the remarks Senator Clinton gave at the 15oth anniversary of the day.)

Although I go primarily to take in the scene, I find it fitting (and an honor) that I have been asked to deliver some remarks at a breakfast event to be held at Abigail's Restaurant.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

And now for some satire from the present...

Just Say No Deal
has been tireless in coordinating its very diverse coalition's efforts on behalf of retiring Senator Clinton's primary campaign debt. I think this bit of delightful satire from recent months will remind people to find another five dollars to donate to RETIRE THE DEBT.

More satire from the American Revolutionary era

A British political cartoon from the American Revolutionary period, with some explication provided below. [source]


Print shows Lord Bute aiming a blunderbuss at a man representing colonial America; a member of Parliament, pointing at the American, tells Bute "I give you that man's money for my use", to which the American responds by saying, "I will not be robbed". On the right, blindfolded, Britannia is about to stumble into "The pit prepared for others" while behind her, in the background, "The English Protestant town of Boston" is in flames. On the left kneels a monk holding a gibbet and a cross, behind him stands a Frenchman with sword raised; perched on a cliff and forming the backdrop to Bute, the monk, and the Frenchman, is the city of Quebec.

Published: April 1. 1775

Political satire: a historical perspective

First in an occasional series.

Political satire has a long history, in the U.S. and elsewhere. It has always been a controversial genre, because the politics and satire mix is a spicy one. It seems apropos just now to take a look at some famous satirists.

First up:
Freneau, Philip [Morin] (1752-1832). Philip Freneau fulfilled the dream of his wine merchant father, Pierre Fresneau (old spelling) when he entered the Class of 1771 to prepare for the ministry. Well versed in the classics in Monmouth County under the tutelage of William Tennent, Philip entered Princeton as a sophomore in 1768, but the joy of the occasion was marred by his father's financial losses and death the year before. In spite of financial hardships, Philip's Scottish mother believed that her oldest of five children would graduate and join the clergy. Though he was a serious student of theology and a stern moralist all his life, Freneau found his true calling in literature. As his roommate and close friend James Madison recognized early, Freneau's wit and verbal skills would make him a powerful wielder of the pen and a formidable adversary on the battlefields of print. Freneau soon became the unrivaled ``poet of the Revolution'' and is still widely regarded as the ``Father of American Literature.'[source]

Freneau's satire often took the form of poetry, and like much political satire tends to require explication for people today to "get it."