Schweitzer Steals the Show; Hillary Calls for Unity

by Paul Hogarth on August 27, 2008

Of course Hillary Clinton’s speech last night at the Convention was emphatic and inspiring – as she urged all her supporters to get behind Barack Obama. But Hillary has made this plea before, and the more important speech at “healing the rift” will happen tonight when ex-President Bill Clinton addresses the Convention. The big hit from last night, however, was Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer – who gave a passionate stem-winder about the energy crisis that literally brought delegates to their feet. Unlike Mark Warner, a wannabe future President whose Keynote Address simply did not live up to its hype, most people at the Pepsi Center had never even heard of Brian Schweitzer. But after giving what everyone agreed was a home run, I now understand what my friends Bob Brigham and Markos Moulitsas have been raving about for years.

In 2004, Democrats made a mistake at their Convention to refrain from attacking George Bush – because they were afraid of looking “angry.” But this year, speakers are willing to take on John McCain – reminding the crowd that he’s just another four years of a failed Administration. And with last night’s theme being about economic security and “Renewing America’s Promise,” there were plenty of opportunities to talk about workers getting laid off in the Bush economy – along with the potential of green collar jobs. And of course, it was just too easy to talk about John McCain and his seven homes.

For example, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius said the following in her speech: “I’m sure you remember a girl from Kansas who said there’s no place like home. Well, in John McCain’s version, there’s no place like home. And a home. And a home. And a home.”

But everyone was waiting for Hillary Clinton to forcefully urge her supporters to back Barack Obama – and she did not disappoint. “I ran for President to renew the promise of America,” she said. “I ran to stand up for all those who have been invisible. This is why I ran for President, and why I now support Barack Obama. I ask those who supported me: were you in this campaign just for me? Or were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids? Were you in it for that boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage? Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?”

In other words, Hillary’s message was that the stakes were too high in this election – and if her supporters stayed bitter and voted for John McCain out of spite, they were literally undermining everything that her campaign stood for.

But the practical effect of Hillary’s speech won’t be much. Most of her supporters – especially women and Latinos – already support Obama by wide margins. Only a tiny minority of her supporters are talking about supporting McCain – despite the media’s obsession with this “Democrats are divided” myth. And as Eric Alterman reported, many of these people cannot be persuaded by rational arguments.

Frankly, as a participant at this Convention, I’m furious at the media coverage over the past week. First, they focused on a fringe group of protesters and magnified their importance. Then, they wouldn’t stop talking about Clinton supporters reluctant to support Obama – which is categorically false. All of this, of course, fits the traditional meida’s narrative that Democrats are “divided” – regardless of whether that’s true.

And as Randy Shaw predicts, any resentments should be gone by tonight – after Bill Clinton addresses the Convention. That’s because Hillary already rejected efforts by some renegade supporters not to get behind Obama. But if Bubba urges unity, the “divided” story is effectively over.

History was made last night when Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer addressed the Convention. Most people at the Pepsi Center had never heard of this alfalfa rancher, but he started off slow – and built up to a populist fire that brought the crowd to their feet. “President Kennedy’s idealism inspired my parents – who never finished high school – to send all six of their kids to college,” he said, as he recounted his humble origins.

But it was when Schweitzer talked about our breaking our “addiction to foreign oil” that his speech turned into a stem-winder. “John McCain offers more of the same,” he said. “Four billion dollars in tax breaks for big oil – that’s a lot of change, but it’s not the change you need.” The crowd laughed at the clever sound-bite, but there was more …

“We simply can’t drill our way to energy independence,” he thundered. “Even if you drilled in all of John McCain’s backyards, including the ones he can’t even remember.” Schweitzer then talked about how our dependence on foreign oil was feeding foreign dictators – but that renewable energy was the patriotic thing to do. “The petro-dictators will never own America’s wind and sunshine,” he said.

By the time Schweitzer urged the crowd to stand up – which was good, because my legs were getting sore in the tiny cramped seats – the whole energy at the Pepsi Center was palpable. The people sitting next to me had never heard of Brian Schweitzer, but it was now clear to me that they wanted to learn more.

Of course, Schweitzer has long been a darling of the Netroots. “Now do you guys see why I champion Schweitzer so much,” asked Markos Moulitsas at Daily Kos. “Before Obama spoke in 2004, I told people to watch, because he would one day be the first black president. He didn’t disappoint. Now, I’m feeling the same sense of anticipation with Schweitzer. The man will be president one day.”

I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that Schweitzer’s speech rivaled Barack Obama’s speech four years ago in Boston – which I was also fortunate to watch live from the Convention. They were both rising stars who were “discovered” that night, but time will tell if Schweitzer gets a similar boost.

But I will state an obvious point: ex-Virginia Governor Mark Warner (who almost ran for President this year and is likely to win a Senate seat in November) gave the Keynote Address earlier last night. It was anticipated to be a knock-out punch to boost his future ambitions. Although I took notes, I really don’t remember much from his speech.

Filed under: Archive

Translate »