Aperture magazine at the Democratic National Convention
August 25, 2008. Democratic National Convention. Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado.
Photo by Jon Winet
David Levi Strauss, Aperture magazine contributing editor, noted writer, and current Chair of MFA Art Criticism and Writing Department, School of Visual Arts, shares his unique perspective via daily dispatches from the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Isn’t She Lovely?
For a mere voter, it was frustrating to watch the overdetermined and utterly predictable Spectacle that is the party’s nominating convention lumber to life tonight in Denver. Our excitement at Barack Obama’s rise, from his incandescent keynote speech at this convention four years ago, to his unlikely early victories and impossible triumph in the primary, led us to believe that something, everything, had changed, and that perhaps even this hapless ritual might be transformed into a better version of itself. But it was not to be, at least not yet. Just as the opening ceremonies of the Bejing Olympics went all North Korea on us despite extraordinary individual feats, the first night of the Democratic National Convention insisted on Ken Burns without realizing that it had everything it needed in Malia and Sasha Obama.
Something felt wrong from the beginning; not just the self-conscious mawkishness, but something deeper, lurking under the deadend of identity politics. It was as if the worst tendencies of 1980s had come out to make one last attempt to stifle the future. Race vs. gender. And the hall was haunted by other spectres of past failures: Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Howard Dean. I’m sure we’ll see Al Gore soon. There is something inside American liberalism that forgives too much and gives up too soon. A compensatory, defensive liberalism that refuses to win. Is the Obama campaign a real political movement, or just another empty promise? Having gotten our attention, will Obama Democrats, like their predecessors over the last 30 years, find a way to lose?
This time, the stakes are just too high. Barack and Michelle Obama realize this. They are real leaders, not empty vessels that must be filled up with platitudes, and tonight showed that the Democratic establishment hasn’t yet figured that out. Watching Michelle Obama give that speech was like watching a great miler run through tapioca. I think she came through anyway, but why put your best through that?
If American voters again decide that they want someone in the White House who appeals to their worst selves, who they can feel “comfortable” with, the Obamas will lose. But if they agree with Michelle Obama that “the world as it is just won’t do,” then this spectacle is just a distraction. In his speech at the convention in 2004, Barack Obama invoked “the true genius of America” without irony or cant. If that genius survives, it needs to rise now, and push aside the party faithful. “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”
Filed Monday, August 25, 2008, after the first night of the Democratic National Convention.