Saturday, May 23, 2009

On good faith

2008 and John Kerry's speech. 2006 and Gabrieli gets 15.0004% (well, just about) of the delegates' votes. 2005 and the PDA scorecard charter amendment. This is the history of the party leadership screwing over the party faithful at recent state party conventions.

Activists had grown used to state party chair Phil Johnston hearing something different than anyone else in the hall on convention voice votes. A 2005 amendment pushing for a "report card" comparing legislators' votes to the party platform was deemed "failed" to the surprise of those in the hall who could hear or count. How exactly Chris Gabrieli got to just a leeetle bit over 15% in 2006 is another question.*

Hope sprang that after a campaign built on trust and optimism, John Walsh and Deval Patrick would veer from tradition and manage the party conventions in good faith. This hope suffered a sharp kick in the nuts last year when John Kerry approached the podium with a speech that went well over the agreed-upon time limits. He then delivered every word of it against the rules of the convention. Why Kerry was so confident that the rules wouldn't apply to him will never truly be known. Why he thought he had the explicit or implicit permission of the state party to ignore the rules -- and how correct he was in thinking that -- depends on who you ask.

That's why the 2009 convention may be so crucial. People are riled up over this so-called "platform" that is being offered in place of the real thing, and people have grown used to expecting that the state party will screw them over, as it has so many times before.

First the good news. The party, from John Walsh down, has been surprisingly clear on the rules for the amendment process. They are promising fair play and a fair hearing. Questions to the state party on signatures, language, et cetera actually elicit much prompter answers this time around. Excepting the glaring and still unanswered mystery of why none of the platform testimony made it to the actual platform, this process has been...rather open for the MDP. More often than not, we're seeing good faith on the part of the party so far. (I will point out that this toothless and bland draft platform is more or less what John Walsh promised us when the process started.)

Second the bad news. It's going to be tough to keep that up the appearance of good faith. In all honesty, given the dynamics of this convention, two conflicts are arising that will leave somebod(ies) pissed off -- conflicts over David Plouffe and resolutions.

Before the platform fight developed, the big draw to the convention was to be hearing Barack Obama's chief organizer David Plouffe speak. So quite a few Obama-heads signed up. Now a decision may likely have to be made by delegates in the late morning whether to interrupt platform debate for a couple hours to hear Plouffe speak. The choices are pissing off old party activists uninterested in hearing Plouffe say things that Joe Trippi first said six years ago, or give Plouffe the shaft, shutting down the glamor part of the convention an pissing off new party activists in favor of crusaders debating arcana.

Also, after the platform is hashed out, amendments are usually offered to the party's rules of operation (the charter) as well as "sense of the hall" resolutions wherein delegates can declare their opinions on issues such as torture. Again, somebody will be pissed off -- exhausted delegates who don't see the point in announcing that Massachusetts Democrats believe or don't believe something -- or devoted activists who figure that a 10-hour convention is worthwhile if it gets this resolution done.

All this is against the background of a state party that has managed to tick off legions of progressive activists a year before a gubernatorial election. This machine/activist split was a big factor in Governors Celucci, Weld, and Romney, and only a good-faith convention can keep it papered over through another election campaign. The presiders are running a high-wire act this time around, and lots of people are hoping that they fall. I'm not one of them, but I'd rather they fall from the line than cheat to stay on it.

*I wanted Gabrieli on the ballot, but boy oh boy did things just barely work out for him. They also worked out for a state party which would have been humiliated by having a high-profile (and rich) candidate kept off the ballot by "party insiders" at some convention thing or other.

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