Bill Clinton

JFK Boulevard, centre of Philly, Wednesday morning. The floating Occupy DNC/Bernie or Bust protests, swarming around a large ’70s concrete office building, a thousand or so people. Banners, drums, Bernie-print onesies, Uncle Sams in “Amerikkka” signs, and a few Hillary For Prison T-shirts. A few altered Bernie or Bust T-shirts: Jill [Stein] or Bust, Revolution or Bust, Sweet Meteor of Death or Bust.

An open mic, people lining up to speak. Some ragged old hippie, pre-hippie, beat maybe.

“People, what we’re talking about is …”

Drowned out by suggestions: “selling out”, “believing Bernie”, “black lives”, “being in it for the long haul …”

“Marijuana!” the speaker yells. General groans.

Outside, for the last 10 minutes, the Avakianites, in their Revolutionary Communist black T-shrts with flame lettering, have been drilling, yes, drilling. About 40 of them, marching in place, in unison, “left, left, left, right, left”, they stomp to megaphone directions.

Baking heat. There are “mist stations” everywhere, huge machines that spray water into the air, managing to both waste water and chew up fossil fuel power. Amerikkka.

The Rev Coms march in: “Stop being fooled by Hillary Trump or Donald Clinton! The US is not a great, is not a victim, is the source of all serious oppression everywhere!”

The heat. The searing megaphone voice. The baking concrete. This is hardcore.

The “Hillary or Prison” people take a while to twig then: “Hey, are you Communists?”

“Communism is evil, man — capitalism is the best system that’s ever been.”

“Marijuana!”

“Drugs are not the answer …”

Dear oh dear. I didn’t come to the plaza to take the piss out of the protests, but it was a little hard not to. With Bernie as a focus, the movement was united. Now that he has committed to the Democrats — as he was never not going to — the movement around him is fraying a little. A lot.

[Rundle: day one for the Dems — and don’t mention the working class]

The night before, as Hillary was nominated to huge acclaim, about 200-300 Bernie delegates staged a walkout of the arena, and marched to the media centre — a grim and joyless vast tent where not even a vending machine relieves the vast tedium of rumpled, tired local newspaper reporters filing identical copy — and occupied it for a while.

They were angry about the way Bernie had been reported all the way through. But they were sticking with the party. The folks outside, in JFK Boulevard were going with the Green Party, or the Libertarians or Trump. Or marijuana.

Can’t say I blame them. After your correspondent filed on the somewhat moving and powerful first part of the evening last night, the second part hared off wildly into a bizarre personality-cult celebration of Hillary, which made previous efforts look like a “get well” card from the folks at the office.

There was a roll-call of encomia about the sort of person that Hillary was — how she kept in touch with the people she’d helped: the disabled, children in care, now adults, women fighting for the basics. And it was all moving, and intended to fill out the picture of Hillary as generous and a fighter, not a sinister client of big power.

But my god they laid it on. Quadriplegics who Hillary called before every operation, a man with dwarfism who she checked back in on from childhood, and on it went. I have no problem in believing that she is genuinely engaged with such people, that she combines political and personal passion.

But, eh, this was turning into a Fellini movie.

A Fellini movie about female Jesus.

The worst and best tendencies of the contemporary Democratic Party were on display, its willingness to continually rethink its notion of “the people”, to extend the “circle of demand” for rights ever wider. And in complement, its straying from any notion of real universality, its mirroring of a fragmented society in a fragmented politics.

To be unified by … guess who?

That took a bizarre turn when Bill Clinton came out to speak. The Big Dog! Among us! What would he say? Folks chattered about his 2012 speech at Charlotte, an 80-minute explainer, which took apart Mitt Romney’s entire program.

This time, he was charged with giving a personal and political account of Hillary, fit for the year 2016.

Bill, ah, he’s an old dog now. And he thought it would be cute to tell us all how they met. In his wheezy southern accent:

“Well, uh, I saw this beautiful girl in these round glasses and so I started following her round campus … she was signing up for her classes and so I got in line too, and the registrar said ‘why you here Bill — you signed up this morning!'”

The audience tried to like it, but … well the husband of the possible first woman President of the United States was saying how he basically stalked, doxxed and gamed her on campus, in 2016 terms. You could see the millennials frowning, vetting the speech in their heads. “He followed her?” “Why didn’t she go to a safe space? Wasn’t this triggering?”

Mind you, the speech would have sounded archaic 40 years ago. Can’t help but think it was ripped off from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair. Looking at the Shaggy’n’Janis photo of Bill’n’Hill, I’m pretty sure their first exchange was “Hey, wanna ball?”

Anyway, Bill turned it round as he does, into the feisty young woman I met becoming the real strength behind his political career and coming into her own as a campaigner for children, etc, etc, and it filled her out in a way … but, eh, it was no 2012.

That wasn’t a huge problem, because the next day, Wednesday morning, Donald Trump swept all before him in a long presser from Florida, in which he resumed the Mussolini act, the strutting chin, the “we have the best x, y, z …”, the journalist baiting, and then said on the Hillary emails: “We don’t even know what’s in them, there’s 33,000 missing, she destroyed 33,000 emails under subpoena.”

“Hey Russia, I hope you find those 33,000 emails, there’s a lot of US press would be really interested to see them!”

That sounded … odd, until you thought about it for a while. Then it sounded treasonous. To everyone, across the political spectrum. Even Trumpistas were at a loss to spin it, and they can spin anything (“the slaves who built the White House were well-fed and housed,” Bill O’Reilly of Fox News had said, in reaction to Michelle Obama’s Monday night speech. Go in hard, or go home).

By then, however, Wednesday noon, politics on the ground was happening fast. Trump, having endured days, whole days, of being presidential, was off the leash again. But team Clinton was returning to form. It was announced with fanfare by current Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, prime Clintonista, who screwed up camp Clinton’s message on the TPP trade deal. Clinton now “opposes” the TPP — despite having worked for it for years — as part of a deal with Bernie on the party program. McAuliffe, about the TPP’s greatest proponent in the Democrats, went on to say:

McAuliffe: Well President Obama sees the TPP as part of his legacy.
Int: So will he push it through in the lame duck session? (the three months after the election, and before the next President’s inauguration)
McAuliffe: Well it is part of his legacy
Int: And will Hillary Clinton oppose that?
McAuliffe: Well she’s said she opposes the TPP
Int: Wll she oppose it passing in the lame duck session?
McAuliffe: Yes, but President Obama sees it as part of his legacy.

This went on for some time.

In other words, Hillary will oppose it, but it will go through anyway with support from “free”-market Dems and Republicans. Should the Clinton camp allow that to persist undealt with, it will create a major rip in the thinly stitched party unity, which currently obtains.

But I can’t say the “extra-Democratic” left are in much of a position to take up any sort of decisive action. The fringe sounds like it’s always sounded in US politics: the invidious choice between a useless — and perhaps spoiler — independent political party, or allowing yourself to be subsumed into the cynical and laughing Democratic machine.

The “Democratic Socialist” caucus I attended in a sweltering upper room in South Philly today didn’t suggest that. Less of the usual malarkey of the American left — the endless ability to out-intersectionalise the previous speaker (“I, too, am a Latina, an undocumented, an ex-felon, and …”) — but the same impasse. When there is no political leverage, no possibility of threatening to jack out of a party and render it damaged, then talking about the possibilities sounds — and looks — like Kramer and Newman playing Risk on the New York subway, two men who can’t run their own lives, trying to take over the world …

The temptations to go straight from Bernie to Trump are substantial, and some, here, are availing themselves of the opportunity.

Now here we are back in the Wells Fargo arena, with another roll-call of Hillary testimonies. I can see what they’re doing: creating an anti-Trump, so that the election becomes a battle between two titans, but there is something pitiful about it.

That’s especially so for the progressive movement, which needs to emphasise collective struggle. But everything appears to have been drawn into the great Hillary maw. And still, by night three, there are no middle-middle-middle people, no one to say “I got a job from the stimulus program”, “I got insurance because of Obamacare”, “I got the finance company off my back because of the consumer credit act”.

Well, maybe that’s wise, given how little has been done, in many ways. And the people the Democratic Party can roll out put on a hell of a show, broad and deep: closed out by Alicia Keys last night, survivors of the Charleston black church shooting, standing tall in church lady outfits: “I have already forgiven the boy who killed nine of my friends.” And I believed it, too — people hewn out of oak.

And then, now, a medley of Broadway stars, singing “what the world needs now” … “as a tribute to the victims of gun violence”. Kitsch follows tragedy, follows … but gahhh, man, what a show.

Magnificent, relentless spectacle, and tonight the VP and Prez will endorse her — Obama giving the last really big political speech of his career. That will be a barnburner, past deadline.

And maybe enough to take the sting out of last night’s (pre-Alicia) closer: when, at the end of Bill’s speech, there was a fast screen montage of all previous presidents: 43 men*, 42 white, one black, all in black and white stills and then — the screen shatters! And Hillary in full-colour video, speaking directly from wherever she is. This is exhausting. It’s like being in fucking Star Wars. Marijuana? That’s just a gateway drug to Hillary.

As the drums of the “Bernie/Jill/Nobodaddy or Bust” protesters outside the wire fence, begin in the twilight …

The Democrats better hope to hell this all works.

*do not even think of writing in about this. Grover Cleveland, with two separate terms, counts two of the 44 presidents.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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