Writing in The Wall Street Journal recently, Publishers Weekly news editor Steven Zeitchik neatly coined the term flockumentary to describe such films as Michael Moores Fahrenheit 9/11 and Robert Greenwalds Outfoxed. These are movies, he said, that people attend en masse, to nestle together in easy confirmation of their most cherished beliefs, an act of reaffirmation and self-validation rather than enlightenment or education.
Now the same flock is about to get fleeced by that biggest of made-for-TV extravaganza productions, the mother of all schlockumentaries this coming weeks Democratic National Convention. The twist is that the faithful will bah and bray approval, this time of a script they dont really agree with very much at all, if they even know it. No easy confirmation here of their more prized values and priorities. But the show must go on anyway.
In this years Democratic campaign, nearly all the energy, the political pop and electoral effervescence, has come from the partys left: from the Deaniacs, the Moore worshipers, the anti-war protesters and the Orthodox legions of MoveOn.org. While Presumed Nominee Kerry was mumbling as usual these past months about staying the course, the folks really bringing it on campaignwise were all these lefties. Take them out of the mix, and this years Democratic campaign falls as flat as . . . well . . . your average Kerry stump speech.
But the sad irony of this Democratic left is that it arrives at the Boston convention utterly powerless and mostly ignored. Check out Micah Sifry and Nancy Watzmans piece in these same pages this week to see just who among banks, telecommunication companies, Big Pharma and, yes, even Big Tobacco has coughed up $39 million to finance Democratic Convention doings and to buy the meatiest slabs of insider influence.
For months lefty standard-bearer Congressman Dennis Kucinich sustained his lonely campaign (I think it is still going on!) and, when asked by many including yours truly what the point of it was, he and his supporters answered that they were patiently building up forces to take to the convention. You know, peasants with pitchforks progressives with clove cigarettes, ready to lay siege to the centrist establishment and make the voice of the movement mightily heard.
But when the party platform committee met last week, Kucinich immediately surrendered his fight to include a plank for immediate American troop withdrawal from Iraq. Not because Kucinich sold out as some of his more knuckleheaded acolytes now whine. But rather because Kucinich made a cool-headed appraisal of the real balance of forces inside his own party and rightfully concluded he didnt have a prayer (which, by the way, re-floats the question of what his campaign was about anyway).
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So, as the curtain rises next week in Boston, the simple operational principle will be, as always, money talks dissidents, walk quietly to your seats and applaud the show. The assigned role of the assembled will be to serve merely as compliant props for the TV show. The biggest of American and staunchly pro-Democratic labor unions the SEIU and AFSCME have passed resolutions calling for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. And though they have given millions to the party, there will be no convention-floor debate on those resolutions, or on anything else, except if you want chicken or salmon for dinner that night. Stand up and cheer on cue, wave your signs up and down when the candidate appears, march around the floor a couple of times for the spontaneous floor demonstrations. If, however, you have something uncomfortable to say, step outside, please, and climb into one of those designated protest areas where you will be permitted to chant under the open sky to your hearts content.
Or you can stay inside, or even watch at home on TV, and, with pen and paper in hand, keep score to see how many of your highest hopes are addressed. We already know theres no difference between Kerrys and Bushs positions on Iraq. But listening closely to the proceedings (which promise us an Oprah-like intimate view into the persona and soul of John Kerry), maybe you can fish out what Kerrys position is on national health care. Or whats that big sweeping anti-poverty program hes introducing? Whats his inspirational national-youth-service program that will tap into the post-9/11 cooperative mood he says Bush has squandered? Or maybe you can discern his position on free trade? His take on the Middle East? His plans regarding the Cuban embargo? When you do, just for the hell of it, note it down and let the rest of us know.
Theres plenty of blame to go around for why Democrats, and progressives in particular, find themselves in such a precarious pickle at precisely the moment they are so determined to defeat the GOP. That zeal, of course, is part of the explanation. All of those months spent hissing and fulminating about how evil George W. Bush is might have been better spent figuring out how to move the Democrats instead of the Republicans. Maybe all those massive demonstrations planned for the GOPs New York convention a month from now, which will be blithely ignored by the delegates, would have been more effectively aimed at the Democratic elite coming to Boston who would have had the bejesus scared out of them.
No matter, too late now to shift strategy. If youre going to Boston, pull up your seat, sit down and shut up. And dont worry. If you get too frustrated, on Tuesday night The Nation, The American Prospect and Mother Jones magazines are sponsoring a convention-week screening of Outfoxed. You can always go there and cheer up with your friends.