Well, NUBO — never underestimate Barack Obama — may be a thing, and largely my own, but the Democrats remain the party that can snatch defeat from the esophagus of victory. Today, after a stonking evening, in which San Antonio mayor Julian Castro and first lady Michelle Obama blew away any striking memory of the Republican convention — well, the Democrats managed to screw it all up.

Last night, speaker after speaker outlined the progressive vision, and spoke of their struggles with indifferent healthcare, of coming back from injury, of fighting for equal pay, each with their own story, but hitting on the core themes — bin Laden dead, GM alive, a President for women, a President for equality — with drilled precision. And today they were scrambling to get off the defensive.

The cause — stasis in Afghanistan? An unemployment rate higher than when he came into office? No it was the location of the capital city. Of Israel. The capital city of another country. Y’see the Democratic Party platform, the short document that suggests general policy guidelines for how the largest economy and military in the world will be governed, contains — the horror — no mention of whether the US should locate its embassy in Israel, in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Currently, it’s in the former, as is the embassy of practically every other country (save Italy and Greece for some reason).

But it has always been one of those symbolic always-promised-never-honoured pledges that the embassy will be moved to Jerusalem, thus sanctifying it as the entire and indivisible capital of Israel. The city isn’t internationally recognised as such, but in the mid-’90s the Republicans put a bill through Congress demanding the US embassy be moved there. It was a first skirmish in the current, psychotic phase of American Zionism, a move by the Republicans to try and carve off a slice of the Jewish vote, which usually goes about 80% to the Democrats.

The aim, then as now, was to recapture the Holy Land of Miami Beach, which might in turn deliver Florida and the country. The bill passed both houses with Democrats either willing, or too terrified, not  to sign it into law. But Clinton, hoping for a Middle East peace agreement, refused to give it presidential assent. Weirdly, the 2000 election bore out south-east Florida’s importance, though it does not appear that the Jewish vote there shifted much.

Barack Obama, in typical Obamanian style, has committed that the embassy will be moved there, when a two-state solution is in place, i.e. has committed that the embassy won’t be moved there. But the vague pledge has been included in the Democratic platform in some form through the past four elections. Not this time, for reasons that remain mysterious — the provision was removed, and more general language inserted. Some even claim that AIPAC had vetted and approved the document — a process we’re not supposed to be concerned about apparently.

Leaving the promise out is plain commonsense, but this is America. So as soon as the document hit the streets, the Right was all over it — especially FAUX/FOX/FUX/NEWS/NOISE/NAUSEA, which has been hitting it relentlessly. Since a lot of older Jews watch Fox and then still vote Democrat, party heavies — who had never wanted the promise removed — stepped in and had it changed. This was achieved through a brazenly strong-armed floor vote, which required a two thirds majority to make the change. Anyone who witnessed the voice vote could see that there was no certainty of a two-thirds “aye” vote — indeed the chair took the vote three times, before waving it through. Those opposed to the change said that there was no certainty that there was even a quorum on the floor to make the vote.

Nevertheless, it was passed, to booing from those who thought they were cheated. And since the change was entwined with a more general commitment to return the word “God”, it then appeared as if the convention was booing the deity, like some Paris anarchist gathering of the 1890s. It was grimly funny really — if it turns out that the GOP has managed to smuggle someone into the drafting committee, I will not be at all surprised. The footage of the final moments of the vote is a GOP ad for South Virginia, mid-state Pennsylvania and North Carolina, without addition or amendment.

Whosoever did draft the damn thing, should the spy thesis turn out to be incorrect, had a dose of the old Democratic Party, of the ’84-’04 period — a liberalism desperate to fight symbolic battles and forgo the chance to do everything to seize power. It’s the tentative hesitant voice you hear when so many inner-party members pop up to give their three minutes, interspersed with the concerted roar of the Lilly Ledbetters, for whom the Equal Pay Act is named, or Stacy Lihn, who told of the small daughter who would lose her life-saving coverage if it wasn’t for Obamacare. They breathed fire, their time was now. Hard not to believe that others in the party are, as ever, playing a longer game.

Tonight, we’re continuing, with a huge focus on the car industry at the moment, as a concrete symbol for working America. And as a treat, three workers sacked by Bain Capital under Romney’s reign. Then we’ll have Elizabeth Warren, fighting to regain the Massachusetts Senate seat lost when Ted Kennedy died.

And then Bubba Elvis, Big Bill Clinton is on, and God knows what he’ll say. Tune in this afternoon. Tonight in Charlotte, next year in Jerusalem.

*Missed Guy Rundle’s take on Michelle Obama yesterday? Catch up with all his dispatches online

Peter Fray

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