It’s an exaggeration to say that liberals ever controlled the Democratic Party, but by any measure, holding them down to a single hour’s speechifying has to mark a new low….

This convention’s liberal hour, a Tuesday night entr’acte, featured Jesse, Teddy and Bill (Bradley, not Clinton). It was gloriously off-message. For an hour, there was not a single reference to retiring the debt. The Clinton-Gore paroxysms of prosperity received their due mention, but it was mainly the negative that was accentuated. This was the moment for delegates to hear about those 44 million Americans without health care, 13 million of them children; those people who mop the floors for the minimum wage; those seniors who can’t afford to fill their prescriptions. This was the moment for a cry of justice, reduced, of course, to a brief yelp. This was, in short, the moment for a real Democratic speech….

The hour began with its climax…. Shortly before 6 p.m., Jesse Jackson came to the podium…. A Jackson speech begins in fits and starts, a dozen little streams burbling along; it ends, invariably, as a verbal-emotional Niagara…. He veered way off-message by calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, and immediately the delegates responded with cheers that rocked the hall. The line had come like water to a parched desert wanderer: These were people who had surrendered all hope of ever again hearing a controversial moral position — let alone one they shared — at a national convention. Anyone watching would conclude that while the party’s leaders may have moved rightward, the party’s base was still a bunch of unreconstructed bleeding-heart pinkos. Which is precisely why Jackson came on one hour before the networks’ coverage began….

Then Harold Ford Jr., a sprightly 30-year-old congressman from Tennessee, came to the mike to deliver the keynote address. “Imagine a debt-free economy so strong that everyone shares in the American Dream,” he said. No one applauded. The chatter among delegates rose to a roar. The liberal hour was over