America loves a show, the bigger the better. As the streets of Denver, Colorado are choked by people adorned in Obama pins and badges and DNC accreditation lanyards that look like sandwich boards advertising cheap jewellery, you can’t help but feel that you’ve landed in the middle of a 3D episode of The West Wing.
It’s as if everyone has landed a part in a big production. And it’s true. Everyone has a role to play at The Democratic National Convention. Because at these things, even the brightest political star is nothing without an audience, a constituency, a base, the requisite number of Electoral College votes and the right sound bites to get the big poll bump they’re all praying for when this thing ends in a week’s time.
All of America is here — or at least, all of liberal America. The demand for a piece of the action is so great that even Hollywood royalty is riding coach class on the flights into town. Hollywood star Halle Berry was on my flight sitting just two rows in front of me (I could smell her perfume) sharing a conversation with a bunch of over excited Berkeley students who couldn’t believe she didn’t have her own Hollywood magic carpet to fly her here.
And the locals are chuffed to have them here as well. As hard as it is for Australians to believe, playing host to a big political talkfest like this is a source of pride rather than a reason to cringe (2020 summit anyone?).
Phil, the guy who drove me in from the airport, told me just as much. He made the point that when Denver last hosted the DNC in 1908, The Democratic Party was the party with the racist impulse. Now, a hundred years on, the Party returns with an African American as its standard bearer. For those like Phillip who make a virtue of knowing his country’s history, this is nothing short of astounding.
For African Americans everywhere, the pride is palpable. It’s almost impossible for an Australian to comprehend the sense of achievement. Hell, we have hardly seen an indigenous face in our national parliament let alone one who might be Prime Minister.
Think about that for a moment. Obviously there are significant differences in the two cases, but that’s how far we haven’t come.
It’s why Obama’s face adorns T-Shirts and badges and sidewalk stalls everywhere at the moment. He’s the new Che’, albeit for a brief moment when aspiration can breathe without the burden of responsibility.
None of this empties America’s jails over crowded with young black men. It doesn’t make homeless disappear or the war end tomorrow. But in time it might do something. In a country where the freedom to dream out loud is a God given right, that’s a very powerful drug.