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The Retreads of L.A.
Old Liberals' Night at the Staples Center.


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Jonah Goldberg

John Simon once said, “I don’t like people who use good-looking young women in such a way that they end up at the bottom of rivers or lakes. Nor do I particularly care for people who cheat on their exams at Harvard. Nor do I particularly like obesity, but other than that I have no special feelings one way or another about Teddy Kennedy.”

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You couldn’t possibly say the same thing about the delegates last night at the Staples Center. When Teddy Kennedy came on stage the crowd lit up like so many hookers in lockup waiting for their sugar daddy to arrive with the bail money. Indeed, last night’s parade of retreads, also-rans, woulda-couldas, and if-onlys was precisely the reminder of why, until Bill Clinton, the Democrats were unable to hold the White House for two terms in a row for all the years between 1968 and 1992. The Democrats have not won a majority of the presidential vote in the United States in the last 24 years, and it could be because for the last 24 years the party has kept decanting from its formaldehyde containers the same collection of lab-specimen liberals.

After watching Bill Clinton put the “me” in “messiah” the other night — saying how he delivered America to a better place and how Republicans want to “take us back” — I was reminded of Dwight Eisenhower’s boast that “Things are more like they are now than they ever have been.” Well, last night, with their endless bleating about the Kennedy magic and Camelot, the Democratic party tried to make the case that things are more like they were then than they ever have been.

As Ramesh Ponnuru and I left the convention hall last night, he exclaimed: “And the Republicans are criticized for being too nostalgic about Reagan?” Recall that during the Republican convention The New Republic ran a smarmy cover story about how the GOP was too addled by Reagan’s long shadow. Well, good Lord: The Democrats’ keynote speaker, Harold Ford, was pushed out of prime time by a cast of characters that could have been on the C-Span highlight film from the 1988 or even 1976 conventions. The themes were the same, the rhetoric the same. Even Bill Bradley just gave the same stump speech he’s been giving for a year.

When “Caroline Kennedy” (she’s dropped the “Schlossberg”; apparently, after Lieberman, the Dems need to pare back a bit on the Hebrew surnames) walked onto the stage they blared the theme to Camelot (see Jay Nordlinger’s They’d Walk A Mile for A Camelot). She introduced her uncle with stories about her father.

Then her uncle got up and talked about his brother (who as president was more conservative than Bill Clinton, and cut taxes in a way that would have Al Gore reaching for a box of adult diapers, it would terrify him so). Ted droned on — in a fog of Irish Whiskey, no doubt — about expanding federal programs and other grand traditions of this presumably nostalgia-free party. While I sat in the bleachers fending off people who wanted me to wave signs declaring “Working Families for Socialized Medicine” or whatever it was they said, Kennedy slogged on in his barroom-storyteller way: “In my first term in the Senate, I was proud to support Al Gore’s father, Senator Albert Gore, Sr. of Tennessee, when he …” At this point Kennedy fumbled and paused, and I turned to a friend sitting next to me and finished Kennedy’s sentence, “he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964?” But no, when Kennedy recovered he instead waxed romantic about the good old days and the first Medicare bill. Ah yes, the days when new entitlements were handed out like penicillin to sailors during fleet week (or a Kennedy on shore leave).

Jesse Jackson was certainly entertaining and he was treated like a Vegas act that old-timers always come back to see. He busted a couple of rhymes, bemoaning the “inclusion illusion” in Philadelphia.

But ultimately, his was the same old calcified nonsense that makes the Democratic party the bulwark of entrenched liberal interests its been for decades. After denouncing the Philly “inclusion illusion,” he rattled off the hard numbers of blacks, women, and Latinos in attendance before him, as if he were reading a manifest at a supply depot and he’d hit his numbers for the quarter. “A thousand African Americans, 1,000 Latinos and Asian Americans. As many women as men,” he boasted. To him, this is inclusion, because inclusion means quotas at any price. Of course the media agrees, never mentioning that the diversity of delegates is mandated by the party. Philadelphia was no more of an illusion than L.A., it’s just that the Democrats took their illusion all the way to its ludicrous yet perversely logical conclusion.

Of course, I don’t mind that the delegates are not chosen for “merit,” as there is nothing of any consequence that they’re expected to do here. They come here every four years to vote for whom they’re told, and cheer the same old geriatrics.



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