Friday, October 21, 2016 -
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DNC eyewitness


I came.
I saw.
I was conquered.
By Denver.
Name it:
He, she, they, were conquered by Denver. Impressed by the mountains.

By the friendliness.
The beauty of Pepsi Center.
The drama of Invesco.
The efficiency.
The spirit.
The energy.
The safety.
Very impressed.
Whoever wins the election, Denver has already won.
Its term will be a lot longer than four years.
A turning point.
That’s the watershed in the history of Denver.
Meaning: the history of how the world sees Denver.
Yes, the world.
Not just the country.
Beijing had its Olympics.
Denver had its convention.
Except that here, no fake images and no human rights abuses soiled the picture.
A glorious moment for our city.
Actually, for our way of life.
In touch with nature.
Got it together.


Water bottle
If the Democrats win in November, I’ll tell you why.
A water bottle.
It comes down to that.
Here’s the scene.
Long lines outside Invesco Field.
I mean, this is nine hours before Obama is scheduled to speak.
Snaking lines.
Very distant lines.
I mean, Invesco Field is hardly even visible.
Hot sun.
You’re in the middle of Auraria.
Can’t even see where you’re going.
Like the Exodus.
People in front of you as far as the eye can see.
People in back of you.
As far as the eye can see.
Hot sun.
No shade.
15 minutes: you haven’t moved.
An hour: you’ve moved around that building over there, somewhere.
A pile of water bottles.
A huge container.
Filled with ice.
“Here, take one,” the guy says.
“Need water? It’s yours.”
They thought this out down to that level of detail.
Invesco Field — 80,000 people.
And it wasn’t even in the plans.
Invesco was a last minute decision.
It turns out an orchestrated masterpiece.
Complex beyond belief.
With all that, somebody thought of the water.
Got it there.
Someone up in the sky saw the total picture.
Down to this level of detail.
They’ll need it.
They got it.
Just take it.
Whether you like these guys’ policies or not, they know how to get things done.


That’s the good news: technical competence.
A machine.
Scripts that are thought out, and followed.
A very smooth-running machine, like a government should be.
Here’s the potential bad news:
That are thought out, too thought out.
What was said at Invesco, the climax of the convention, that was not predictable?
When John Kerry says what Barack Obama says what Al Gore says what Bill Richardson says what everybody else says, and says more than once, about Bush and McCain, you wonder: Is there anything besides the script?
Any original thinking?
Anything beyond the mantra?
Any experience at coping with unscripted reality?
A hint gave away the store.
I sat in Invesco field seven hours.
I listened to 31 speeches.
Only a single one was not scripted.
It was by John Lewis, the veteran civil rights leader.
He spoke before prime time.
He spoke from the gut.
With anguish.
He did not play to the crowd.
Did not follow a script.
For him, the 45th anniversary of MLK’s “I had a dream” speech was not an “anniversary.”
For him, the civil rights movement was not some abstraction.
He still feels the struggle.
He suffered.
He knew the people who suffered.
His memory is studded with the names of the people he knew who suffered.
He tried to bring this to those too young to know what it meant to suffer jail, or beatings, or indignities.
For John Lewis, the positive results of the civil rights movement leave him not only exhilarated, but exhausted.
Wary of the unpredictable.
He said something unpredictable: “The road to victory will not be easy.”
He knows, because the pain on his face marked his anguish for those who died in the struggle.
For those who did not live to see an African American nominated for president.
John Lewis was not riding the wave.
Was not scripted.
He stood in stark contrast to the other speeches: many compelling, clever, heartfelt. But scripted. Often, down to the same phrases.
Is a mantra — “change” — powerful enough to sell to the American voter?
Time will tell.


If anyone thinks rhetoric has disappeared from American life, think again.
This convention shot forth brilliant lines.
A line is not a sound bite.
A line is better than and beyond a sound bite.
It is rhetoric in the best sense.
Summing up a complex argument.
Or piercing in a different way.
In a final evening punctuated by highlight after highlight, Marty Smith’s line brought down the house.
Or was it Barney Smith?
Not sure. Amid the energy filling Invesco, I couldn’t always distinguish every word.
This is how it sounded to me:
Barney Smith lost his job when his plant closed.
He worked there 31 years.
Got 90 days of severance.
Was out of work 13 months.
All on George Bush’s watch.
All because of George Bush’s failed policies.
Barney closed:
“We need a president that puts Barney Smith before Smith Barney!”
The stadium erupted in a deafening roar.
Howard Dean’s great line, the first words out of his mouth:
“I’m Howard Dean. I’m chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and I know how many houses I own.”
The night before, from Bill Clinton:
“People have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.”
Also the night before, Bo Biden recounted his father’s thinking not to be sworn in as senator after his election — and after his mother was killed:
“Delaware can get another senator, but my boys can’t get another father.”
Also from Bo Biden:
“Four years later, my brother and I and my Dad married my mother Jill.”
Two nights before, from Hillary Clinton:
“George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities. Because these days they’re awfully hard to tell apart.”
Al Gore, after assuring us that John McCain’s polices will be the same as George Bush’s:
“I believe in recycling, but that’s ridiculous.”
“Big oil and coal have a 50-year lease on the Republican Party.”
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson:
“John McCain may pay hundreds of dollars for shoes, but we will pay hundreds of millions of dollars for his flip flops.”
The most effective rhetorical device was John Kerry’s “let’s compare Candidate McCain with Senator McCain.” Kerry listed contradictions (“Candidate McCain says X, Senator McCain said Y”), and concluded:
“Before he enters a debate with Barack Obama, McCain should finish the debate with himself.”


Ray Rivera
Trick question:
Who was the most important speaker at the closing night of the Democratic National Convention?
Put it this way:
Who spoke the most times on stage at Invesco?
A nobody.
Ray Rivera.
That’s not a mistake.
Yes, Ray Rivera was the most important speaker.
Never heard of him?
The first time, early in the afternoon, Rivera’s appearance seemed like a courtesy.
He is the state director of the Obama campaign, and he said hello.
A lot of people were put up on stage to — more or less — say hello.
Some got three minutes.
Some got five or ten.
I felt sorry for them.
It was noisy.
The stadium was maybe half full.
People were milling around, chomping on hot dogs.
Some paid attention to the party faithful.
Most waited for more music.
Some of the party faithful did a credible job.
But it was almost an embarrassment.
You felt sorry for people who were told that this was the “biggest speech of their life,” but the people were hardly listening.
Things picked up very slowly.
Rabbi David Saperstein gave a decent invocation.
City Councilwoman Elbra Edgeworth spoke — then some others.
On came Gov. Bill Ritter (doubly burdened by laryngitis).
Followed by Reps. Ed Perlmutter. John Salazar. Diana DeGette.
Now a video.
Pictures of Howard Dean building up the Democratic Party.
The audience began to focus.
Then came John Lewis.
He was moving.
Now, evocative clips of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Then, two children of MLK speak.
The 45th anniversary.
The tempo quickened.
Suddenly: “Please welcome, a second time, Ray Rivera.”
What’s this? He already said hello.
A nobody speaking twice?
Rivera is totally relaxed.
He says: “Last week we announced Joe Biden by text message.
“Take out your phone and send a text message to six other states. Colorado has a home state advantage today.
“Here’s the number: DNC 622-62 — and we’ll get you information on volunteering.”
Rivera explains this a second time.
Then disappears.
It is now 6:05 p.m. Democratic candidate for US senator from Colorado Mark Udall steps up to speak.
Then Virginia Gov. Tim Kane.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson delivers a rousing hoot-and-hollering speech.
This convention is coming to a climax.
Sheryl Crow.
Al Gore.
You know where this is heading.
Stevie Wonder.
Susan Eisenhower (“I speak not as a Democratic or a Republican, but as an American”).
A slew of generals and admirals say why they support Obama.
Now Joe Biden — and his six Americans, like Barney Smith, telling their stories on script, “the failed policies of George Bush.”
Suddenly: I look up. What’s this?
Text messages flow across the Invesco scoreboard.
“Kevin — When the mass shares a common hope, we can change the world.”
Suddenly: Ray Rivera.
Up on stage.
A third time!
It’s 7:45 p.m.
“In the last hour, we’ve had over 34,000 text message sign-ups.”
That’s Ray Rivera speaking.
“This is the largest nomination speech in United States history.”
It’s now clear: Ray Rivera is running this thing.
Ray Rivera embodies the technology which grew the Obama campaign.
By his repeat appearances, Ray Rivera is saying: Obama is master of the new technology.
Which means: master of the young generation.
Which means: this campaign machine is unlike any seen before.
Trick question?
A nobody?
Only if you don’t get the new technology.
If you don’t, rest assured: Millions do.
Millions who are voting for Barack Obama.
When Obama finally appears, he is where he is due to his understanding that Ray Rivera is not a nobody.
Just the opposite.
He’s running the whole thing.
Is he overconfident?
Time will tell.



The Jewish thing.
Jews wove their way through this convention.
Start with the way it began.
With Steve Farber.
Of Denver.
Start with the historic Jewish Democratic vote.
Of decades.
Continue with phone calls.
Jews work this convention, and work each other.
It’s a network within a network.
The pro-Israel lobby is a site to behold.
It sponsored a breakfast for Jewish Democratic members of Congress.
Every one of them could not say fast enough, firmly enough, and could not repeat enough, how he (or she) supports Israel.
The impressive part is that you know that exactly the same meeting will take place again, the next week, with Jewish members of Congress who are Republicans.
Not to mention, a separate meeting has already been held for the Jewish US senators.
Not to mention, it’s not only the Jewish members of the House and Senate whom the pro-Israel lobby cultivates.
Classic modus vivendi: the venue is classy, the food is good, the food is kosher.
The atmosphere is “mishpocha.”
No ducking.
No shame.
No hedging.
I’m Jewish.
I represent America.
I stand for Israel.
That’s the level to which Jews and their Jewish elected officials, at the highest level in the land, have come.
Bragging rights.
Who can be the most pro-Israel?
That’s the spirit today.


The Jewish thing.
Come to Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi.
Phone rings.
“Can we be in your office in 45 minutes?”
Jennifer speaks the way she moves.
She founded “The Israel Project.”
The old story.
If you want it done, do it yourself.
She went to AIPAC.
Other organizations.
They all told her: Great idea. Just . . . it’s not on our agenda. If you do it, you have our blessing.
Translation: Raise the money.
Do it yourself.
Here’s the point: Israel gets hacked in the media because journalists aren’t educated on Israel.
And because no one tests scientifically how readers and viewers view Israel.
Twofold goal.
Translation — education: Take journalists on a helicopter ride over all of Israel.
Show them how small it is.
How vulnerable it is.
Give them facts.
Not opinions.
Don’t preach.
Just inform.
Translation — research: Find out what Americans really think of Israel through focus groups.
The Israel Project learns, for example, “Don’t say, Palestinian terrorist.
“Say, Iran-backed terrorist.”
People don’t “get” Palestinian terrorists.
They do get Iran.
A slight shift in phrase.
A big shift in impact.
That’s the research of The Israel Project, supplied to Israeli diplomats and Jewish organizations.
Another example: the relationship between Iran and Venezuela.
Venezuela’s Chavez has been to Iran 13 times.
Iran’s Ahmadinejad has been to Venezuela fives times.
There’s actually an organization: “Hezbollah, Venezuela.”
That say a lot.
And video.
The Israel Project gets its fact and research into TV ads.
The project provides the media savvy Israel has long needed.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, mother of two, came to Denver to get facts and research to journalists and politicians who swarmed the city.


Come to the National Jewish Democratic Committee.
Specifically, its panel on ethics.
Another panel.
More pontificating.
Not this time.
Ira Forman, head of NJDC, gathered Jewish politicians and activists.
They had a lot to say.
First, who they were was impressive.
That is, Jews play the political process from many angles.
To be elected, yes.
Also, to manage elections.
Or, to support specific candidates.
To support, not candidates, but specific issues.
Or, to run a program that introduces teens to the political process.
Or, to teach what the Torah says about politics.
Jews are in politics in many ways.
To run for office — and lose. That, too, provides a potential Jewish perspective on politics and ethics.
Some 15 people sit around the table, including Denver’s Joyce Foster.
Among the comments:
“Jews are hardwired for justice.”
The stranger, the widow, the orphan — the Torah tells us to seek justice for them.
“Jews value reasoned argument.”
The Talmud preserves the minority opinion.
“The Torah values truth telling.”
“But it’s not a Kantian imperative. There are exceptions.
“When you look for a leader, don’t look for perfection.”
Look for someone who can admit a mistake. That’s why Judah, not Joseph, was chosen for royalty.
“The Republican Jewish Coalition should be ashamed of itself.”
I’m pleased to see the RJC attack Joe Biden on Israel — because it’s so uncredible. Whereupon Ira Forman interjects: The NJDC may also have committed ethical lapses.
“The most important commandment: A Jewish politician has to behave in a way not to bring disrespect to G-d.”
“Do not profane the name of G-d” (Leviticus).
“Negative advertising is OK.”
Provided it’s truthful, proportionate and relevant.
“I’m in the tikkun olam business.”
I show up every day and try to make the world a better place.
“Joyce, would you want them next to you?”
The lowest moment of my career on City Council was trying to place a Group Home in my district. My father would be here today if there were such a place.
“You need to answer every question on the questionnaire.”
The nurses lobby wanted a lower nurse-patient ratio. But there’s a shortage of nurses. A lower ratio could make things worse. So, how do you answer the nurse lobby’s questionnaire?
“You don’t oppose a policy because you don’t like the person who proposes it.”
Hillary got criticized because she supported Bush’s idea to declare Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.
“When I told my friends I’d be sitting on a panel on Jewish ethics, they wondered whether I’d be representing the opposing view.”
Next to the command not to say leshon ha-ra (slander) is the command not to stand idly by the spilling of your friend’s blood. Barack Obama’s blood is being spilled politically. We must respond to those attacks. We can be aggressive as campaigners and not feel we are violating Jewish values.
“It’s difficult to be a Jew. It’s extremely difficult to be a Jewish political operative.”
It’s very difficult to obey Jewish imperatives and still win.
“How far can a 501 3c group go to speak up, say, the truth about Obama?”
A rabbi can’t take a political stance on the pulpit if he hasn’t done so consistently.
“There are lies about Obama.”
But it’s also a lie to say that McCain is Bush redux. See both sides. We shouldn’t do what defamers of Obama do.


Come to The Cell.
“Center for Empowered Living and Learning.”
Next to Denver’s new art museum are the museum residences.
On their first floor is The Cell.
An exhibit on terrorism.
“Anyone, anytime, anywhere.”
That’s the motto.
The exhibit is multi-media.
Video feeds of terrorism.
And of experts on terrorism.
Questions and answers about terrorism.
Bloody scenes.
Difficult scenes.
Muslim terrorists.
Airline bombers.
“All ethnicities.”
“Terrorism doesn’t discriminate.”
Very powerful presentation.
And sad.
The Cell opened in time for the convention.
It’s Larry Mizel’s brainchild.
And his daughter Courtney Green’s handiwork.
Five years in the making.
The Mizel Museum of Judaica was going to move from BMH to the JCC, but as things turned out there’s now a Mizel arts center at the JCC, a Mizel museum on South Kearney — plus, The Cell.
A lunch followed the first tours.
Mayor Hickenlooper spoke.
Ditto, Rep. Perlmutter.
Steve Farber came.
Lots of volunteers.
The speaker, Brian Jenkins (the same expert who’s broadcast in The Cell’s exhibit), was learned, dispassionate, articulate, frightening.
Clearly, the topic strikes a cord.
I wondered why a model (real?) suicide-bomber vest was on display — could this supply knowledge, or motivation, to a potential terrorist?
The Cell is sure to be a focus of attention and comment.
And evidence, if evidence were needed, that one cannot be in more than one place at one time. While the tour of The Cell was underway, Jewish political operatives and Democratic political operatives fanned out about the city.
North Dakota’s two senators landed two houses down from mine.
The American Jewish Committee hosted the diplomatic corps.
Protesters rallied against a divided Jerusalem.
Rabbis hobnobbed with priests and imams.
Delegates shopped.
The weather cooperated.
Police stopped trouble before it started.
The mountains sparkled, visible, as always, in the distance.
Denver shone.
As it never shone before.

For the IJN’s full coverage of the DNC, see our special section, part of our 2008 election coverage.

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor |

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