LOS ANGELES — On the televised surface, the Democratic National Convention exuded plenty of sweetness and generosity. One speaker after another explained that America's working people have a wondrous friend in a party that is committed to fighting for their interests. It was great theater — of the absurd.
Behind the carefully crafted media facade, however, advocates for big business had ample reason to celebrate. For them, the two-party system was functioning just fine. No need to worry about the two teams of horses in the presidential race when they're both running in the same general direction.
Past sources of irritation or challenge inside the Democratic Party were, so to speak, subdued. Jesse Jackson was often moving yet also restrained when he spoke to the convention on Tuesday evening. "Old-line liberals had their night," USA Today reported the next day, under a headline that used the derogatory term "old guard" to describe speakers strongly critical of corporate priorities.
Maybe someday the mass media will widely describe the New Democrats — in control of the party and the White House for about eight years now — as the highly effective tools of capital that they are. But don't hold your breath.
When the Clinton-Gore duo romped through the 1992 convention at Madison Square Garden, there was palpable satisfaction among reporters and pundits. Today, most of the same journalists —after reflexively labeling as "special interests" such political constituencies as low-income people, workers and seniors — accept the assumption that outfits like huge military contractors and other conglomerates are part of the "national interest." Corporate America is us!
At a press briefing inside the convention center, I asked a media liaison from the Democratic National Committee to provide some examples of when vice-presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman took positions contrary to Wall Street's desires. She said that she couldn't think of any.
A former labor secretary in the Clinton administration has provided some clarity. In a targeted opinion article that appeared in The Financial Times on July 14, Robert Reich inadvertently supplied context helping to explain why some protesters would arrive in Los Angeles four weeks later wearing mock Gore buttons that simply said: "Whore 2000."
Although he didn't use such imagery, Reich made a convincing case that Clinton and Gore have excelled at prostituting themselves and their party to some very high bidders. "If they were true profit-maximizers, textbook illustrations of rational self-interest, U.S. corporations and their senior executives would be flooding Al Gore's campaign with money," Reich wrote. Of course, they already are — and with good reason, as Reich went on to attest.
"Rather than gamble on the unknown George W. Bush, they would be betting on the proven Mr. Gore," the ex-secretary of labor asserted. "No administration in modern history has been as good for American business as the Clinton-Gore team. None has been as solicitous of the concerns of business leaders, none has generated as much profit for business..."
I thought of those words when standing in the convention hall while President Clinton bade farewell to grateful delegates, whose enthusiasm had been stoked by an adulatory intro film about him. (The production was similar to the flick about George W. Bush screened for similar purposes at the GOP convention just before Bush's speech.) Since it is no longer enough to merely present oratory, bunting, confetti and red-white-and-blue balloons, Hollywood's most modern artifice techniques must be utilized. For the good of the cause.
"Remember, keep putting people first," Clinton said at the close of his speech. "Keep building those bridges. And don't stop thinking about tomorrow."
But beyond the well-cooked fantasies served up in medialand, such a tomorrow — truly putting people first in national priorities — never comes. And how could it, when the conventional rhetoric is so disingenuous and so disconnected from human realities?
Unless we've been unduly credulous about dominant media messages, we shouldn't be surprised to learn that Reich, in his recent narrow-cast missive to moneyed interests, declared: "In short, Al Gore is the ideal candidate for American business, with a record to show it."