August 25, 2008
Tears and Bookends
By Mary Lyon
What a great opening night! And what an historic journey the Democratic National Convention highlighted in its kickoff. It was a night of Great Democratic Bookends.
The evening began with America's little girl, Caroline Kennedy, the embodiment of what many of us remember as the best of times. She's all we have left of the proverbial Camelot era, that First Family named Kennedy, and the youth, vigor, hope, and sense of renewal it represented. The mature and sophisticated Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg already impacted this convention by vetting its selection for Vice President. Then, she introduced her ailing and beloved "Uncle Teddy". And everyone cried.
The evening ended with America's TWO little girls. Sasha and Malia, the two little Obama daughters, the younger child only slightly older than Caroline was Back Then. And they were as genuinely adorable as little Caroline and John-John were, spontaneous and loving and precious with their chirping "Hi Daddy!" to the live image of their dad beamed in on big screen from Kansas City, Missouri. It reminded us of what we had Back Then, and what we can recapture yet again. And again, everyone cried.
I must say I was impressed. Full disclosure here, I expected to be. But I didn't expect to have my heart grabbed, and then squeezed the way you do when you hold hands - hard. The last seven-and-some years, and the campaign season so far have done little to relieve me of my cynicism. But this night might just have made a good start.
It helped hugely to be reminded of what true, vintage Democratic Party greatness can be, when the ill but still energetic Ted Kennedy appeared. It was good to see him, looking as well and acting as enthusiastic as he did, even while a large chunk of his thick white hair was visibly missing, after many radiation and chemotherapy treatments. It was good to hear him press the case for Democratic values specifically including an end to the war and affordable health care for all. It was encouraging and reaffirming to watch him bravely vow to be there on the floor of the Senate in January to cast votes, and thunder his endorsement of Barack Obama for President. And everyone cried.
Congressman Patrick Kennedy later pointed out that people vote based on a feeling of connectedness. And that's what we got on this first night of the Democrats in Denver. There was a tangible sense of connectedness - from our past to our future, between men and women (dads and moms), and across all racial and social lines. The talk was of the needs, hopes, heartbreaks, and yearnings we all share. The demonstrations and illustrations were of family affectionately remembered and family presently cherished. It will be curious in the weeks ahead to observe how the Republicans try to stir up our fears about these refreshing new figures who they'll still insist are purportedly somehow "not like us."
What I saw was a proud niece and uncle, a brother proud-to-bursting of his sister and her ground-breaking husband, and two cute and irrepressible little daughters. I saw a college-educated professional black woman, already noted for being outspoken, describe a story that could be my neighbor's a couple of houses down the street, or even my own. We all have struggled with elders who become ill and suffer and die. We have all struggled with work demands and what we have to juggle if we have small children to care for at the same time. We have all aimed high and been disappointed. We've all had to fight our way forward with empty wallets and thin bank accounts. We've all had to press ahead when we feel like some big invisible hand is shoving us backwards. And we've all seen little kids being little kids, especially if somebody hands them a microphone. And everyone cried.
I appreciated the crowd shots. There were many images of women, especially, wiping their eyes throughout the evening. I'm guessing many of them were heartened and encouraged when she praised Hillary Clinton. The roar of the crowd was tangible all the way from Denver. There was a similar response to her referencing Joe Biden. And when she declared "I LOVE this country," and her voice cracked ever so slightly, perhaps that silenced some of the naysayers who still don't want to let go of Michelle Obama's famous quote about when she did or didn't feel proud of her country. Let's hope so. There are many in the aftermath who sniff that this night did nothing to show you why Barack Obama and not John McCain should get your vote. But maybe it wasn't meant to go there. Rather, it was to introduce us to a future First Lady in the most positive sense, and her personal story - which she characterized as an "improbable journey." It's something we all can uniquely claim as Americans. This wasn't meant to be the red meat night. I suspect that's still to come.
Michelle Obama humanized herself as what she really is - a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a strong, brilliant, and compassionate woman. This was sorely needed. There will certainly be those people who will never warm up to her for reasons of their own, and maybe they just can't be reached, period. But I suspect others' hearts were captured, or at least opened. Ted Kennedy's appearance at the evening's kick-off was a unifying and validating moment, reminding us of what really counts as one faces the life-threatening illness he's fighting. He's still here! Lucky for us! And his heirs appear to be firmly in place and ready to carry the baton in this next leg of the race. Two others in our extended Democratic family, Bill and Hillary Clinton, will be appearing, and undoubtedly wowing us and further unifying us, in the nights ahead, as the brains of the party that they are. But one thing, I think, was brought home on this convention launch, as many of us watched and blinked through our tears. It was a night of historic bookends.
For Democrats, the Kennedys are the heart, and the Obamas are the soul.