By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
DENVER, Aug. 25 Most political conventions begin with the fall of the gavel. The 2008 Democratic convention began in the "downward dog" position.
"On an exhale from the belly body, downward dog . . . using the entire breath to get there," a woman in tights coached a group of Democrats and liberal activists assembled for a pre-convention yoga session at 7 o'clock Monday morning. "Reverse swan dive all the way to stand tall . . . make the body long, make the body traverse the space between Earth and stars."
It was the start of a veritable carnival of new-age healing and spiritual harmony as Democrats opened their convention here. And this is a party in need of some healing and harmony.
To those watching the convention on television Monday night, the message was all about unity -- "one nation" was the opening theme. But off the floor, the bitterness of the primary season lingered. Hillary Clinton backers groused about the poor treatment their candidate has received. News reports claimed that Bill Clinton was piqued about his role in the convention, while a new CNN poll found 27 percent of Clinton backers vowing to vote for Republican John McCain.
Away from the convention proceedings, Denver became a parade ground for the full panoply of liberal interest-group politics. Planned Parenthood hosted a dance party called "Sex, Politics and Cocktails." Code Pink put on a "Make Out Not War" concert. Near the entrance to the convention grounds, representatives of Trojan condoms handed out samples and invited delegates to see how long it would take them to put a prophylactic on a banana.
The Stonewall Democrats held a "tea party" to celebrate gay delegates. The Feminist Majority celebrated women. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice had a "Strike for Your Rights" bowling night, and the Arab American Institute had a "Comedy Kabob" improv. During a four-hour period yesterday, no fewer than 16 Democratic caucuses held meetings, among them the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Caucus; the Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus; the Senior Council; the Rural Caucus; and the Ethnic Coordinated Caucus.
With so many voices threatening to turn Obama's amen choir into a cacophony, the party sought the harmonizing force of nature: It turned the convention into a display of politically correct exercises in planet saving.
Democrats urged vendors to make sure 70 percent of the food served at convention events was organic or local and included "at least three of the following five colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white (Garnishes not included)." They arranged for biodegradable cutlery and, instead of providing trash bins, set up manned "resource recovery stations" complete with compost boxes.
To hold their credentials around their necks, convention-goers received lanyards announcing: "I used to be a soda bottle." They were offered free loaner bicycles and "carbon-free parking" for their two wheels. They bought Coca-Cola from Energy Star machines proclaiming: "Every empty bottle is full of potential." And many conventioneers got locked out of their hotel rooms because their electronic keys were made from "sustainably harvested wood."
A short ride from the convention center on a carbon-free loaner bike, a group calling itself Meditate '08 set up an all-day "place for quiet contemplation" at the Democratic National Convention. "There's a huge amount of stress" at the convention, said Meditate '08 organizer Don Morreale. Morreale, an Obama supporter, said he hoped the mass meditation would create "harmonic resonance" and help heal the Clinton-Obama rift. "Meditation helps us to transcend our ego," he explained. "Hopefully, people will put aside their own narrow self-concern."
Good luck. Near the meditation session, Andy Colón, a Democrat from Colorado Springs, was filling a public park with "Hillary for President" yard signs. "I am not voting for Obama, period!" he said angrily. "No matter what the Democratic Party does, we're not coming on board, period!" Colón said he was part of a group called "Rise, Hillary, Rise" and plans to unite his group's demonstrations later this week with similar ones by a group called PUMA -- "Party Unity My Ass."
Officials from the Clinton and Obama campaigns were only slightly more discreet. They supplied reporters with murderous anonymous quotes about each other -- one Obama partisan told Politico.com that aides to Clinton, who will address the convention Tuesday night, were acting like "Japanese soldiers in the South Pacific still fighting after the war is over." Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Clinton backer, complained that Obama "basically got a free pass" from the press. Trying to exploit the rift, the Republican National Committee held a "Happy Hour for Hillary" party in Denver on Monday night.
Luckily for the fractious Democrats, however, there was something they could all agree on: the healing power of Mother Nature. They were bathed in green from the moment they picked up their made-from-recycled-fabric convention tote bags. The bag announced on the outside that recycling is "the act of helping a bottle re-fulfill its destiny." It contained an Escape Hybrid key chain, a pen made from recycled material, an "eco-friendly" notebook, a plantable card "made from 100% recycled paper and wildflower seeds," and a "BPA-free" water bottle refillable at tap-water stations on the convention grounds.
At one with the planet, delegates were then invited to heal themselves. There was a choir performance to "tap into the healing power of choral music," a meeting of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and at least four yoga events. The Huffington Post Web site offered delegates a "HuffPost Oasis" with Thai massages and mini-facials.
But would a massage and some time in the downward-dog pose be enough to heal the Obama-Clinton rift? It is something on which to meditate.