Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#101, August 22, 2000


by Marylaine Block

I've spent this past week listening to Democratic speeches to see what stories they would weave to lend warmth, concreteness, and human drama to their issues.

The Republicans had one or two big stories, one of a party changing from the meanness and division of the past, the other of America as the princess, for eight years under the spell cast by a wicked wizard, waiting to be awakened by the kiss of the gallant true heir to the throne.

The Democrats had several stories. One big one was about barriers broken down. In THEIR party, they said, minorities and women made policy, not window dressing. Chris Dodd said that forty years ago, a Jewish senator from Connecticut nominated America's first Catholic president, and now he, a Catholic senator from Connecticut, was nominating America's first Jewish vice-president. Vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, who registered black voters in the sixties, said "Every time we break down one barrier, the doors open wider for all of us."

The message was: when one of us is lifted up, we all are better off and our country is stronger, because every one of us is necessary to make the idea that is America work.

The next story was about stewardship -- you gave us a weakened country in 1992, and this is what we did with it. They turned Reagan's words back on the Republicans: "Are you better off now than you were eight years ago?" Democrats, they said, took us "from the largest deficits in history to the largest surpluses in American history."

Of course then they had to explain why we still need them, Al Gore saying, "but for all the good times, I am not satisfied." The surplus, he said, must not be squandered, turned over to the people who need it least when we need it to rebuild crumbling schools, save social security and Medicare, pay down the national debt, and provide prescription drug benefits to seniors.

Another story was about the Republican hijacking of Democratic rhetoric. Joe Lieberman said, "You notice how much our Republican friends tried to sound like us? Not since Tom Hanks won an Oscar has there been that much acting in Philadelphia."

They thought it was wonderful that the Republicans were at last talking about Democratic issues, but as Bill Bradley said, "Don't just read their lips, watch what they DO." In short, don't take any wooden nickels, and don't take fake Democrats when you can get the real thing.

Finally, the convention told the story of Al Gore, a man born to be solid, unexciting Clark Kent, now stepping out of the phone booth as the Democrats' designated Superman. Not an easy trick, that, and Gore admitted up front that his stiffness and seriousness was not appealing. But, he said, serious counted for something.

It's what made him do the right thing, volunteering for a war he believed wrong, because he knew the other boys in his small town who, lacking influential parents, would serve, and maybe die, in his place. It's what made him hold town hall meetings to listen to people, to find out what they needed and how government affected their lives. It's what made him act on his belief that "every hard working family deserves to open the door to our dreams."

It wasn't anywhere near as slick a show as the Republicans put on, since organizing Democrats is a lot like herding cats. The ragged, non-unison cheering dispelled forever any notion that Democrats have natural rhythm - by the time they finally got into unison chanting "Go, Joe, go," Joe had gone. And with as many stories as there were delegates, they proved again that Will Rogers was right when he said, "I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat."

But that disorganization, that cacaphony of different, noisy voices, may be the real story of this party: that E pluribus unum, turning many into one, is a messy job, but somebody's got to do it. And that it's the reason the American dream survives. If the Republicans are serious about making a stab at it, more power to them. If not, this Democratic herd of cats is what we've got.

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