While the view from outside the Pepsi Center in Denver Colorado is one of a party trying desperately to heal, the convention inside is a very different matter. Professional commentary has brilliantly highlighted the importance of unity for the Democratic Party and the long and gleaming lenses of the world's major media outlets have captured the imposing monolith of the Democratic podium in crystal clarity, but there is a third and largely unreported aspect of this convention that defies both succinct explanation and video capture.
Behind the walls of the convention hall is another convention – an informal one – taking place between delegates and DNC representatives, members of the press, financiers, pundits, comedians, and the political heavyweights of the Democratic party. It is a convention that reveals a party united... but not in lockstep, a party with diverse goals, objectives, and priorities often in conflict with each other; a party fighting for its soul.
A quick survey of delegates and officials in the convention hall reveals a wide range of motivations. Susan Rolland, a member of the Virginia Delegation and an ardent Warner supporter commented on the problem of sexism, both in the party and in the nation as a whole. Bedecked in campaign paraphernalia for the Tuesday night keynote speaker, she expressed frustration with the inequality of opportunity for women and voiced her enthusiastic support of Hillary Clinton – and then Barack Obama. Though pledged as a delegate for Clinton, Rolland was quick to endorse Obama as well.
Christina (Christa) Darlington, an Obama delegate from California's 4th district, expressed very different views. To her it was the issue of ethics and the revolving door in federal contracting that most concerned her. For James P. Mettrey, a North Carolinian and member of the DNC Rules Committee, it was Howard Dean's meddling in the nomination process and the problems with the caucus system that were most important. Phillip Cooper of North Carolina's 4th district cited the inherent bias of the federal contracting system towards large corporations as a major problem while Rep. Linda Valentino, a delegate from Maine's 1st Congressional District, found campaign finance and the presence of corporate money in elections to be the most pressing institutional barrier to change.
And they are, all of them, Obama supporters.
Conversations about these issues and thousands of others like them are taking place on the aisles of the convention floor, in the fast food lines, on elevators and light rail; they are where the Democratic Party is truly healing its rifts. While Senator Clinton's speech was met with vociferous enthusiasm and deafening cheers, she was, in a very real sense, preaching to the choir.
The choir, but not necessarily the converted.
To many older members of the Democratic Party the nomination of Barack Obama is an opportunity to pass the torch to the next generation. Linda Wyatt, a Clinton delegate from Virginia's 6th district commented
The rejuvenation of young people gives me hope. I'm 60 and I look around the party... and I'm one of the babies, one of the young ones. If we don't nurture some of [this enthusiasm] it's gonna die.
Thomas Mall, another Virginia Delegate agrees
I'd go through the voter registration list and you'd see more people in their 80s and 90s than in [their] 20s. It's not that I don't trust the younger generation but I want to see them vote and do something. [In reference to the general election in November:] they better get their asses out there.
This generation gap within the Democratic Party is at the root of much of the tension between Clinton and Obama supporters. Obama, whose youth appeal has been likened to that of John and Robert Kennedy, cuts a charismatic figure, but low voter turnout in the 18-25 demographic has lead voters of the Kennedy generation to question his supporters' ability to deliver the election.
Mall, like many of the Kennedy Generation, characterized the "Recreate 68" and PUMA protestors as
you're always gonna have an element that gonna protest [but the] things that are important to them are not important to me. I'm not here to disrupt the convention, but I'm not one of the happy campers.
As one walks the halls of the Pepsi Center and stands in the shadow of Mile High Stadium it becomes clear that these unhappy campers are watching and waiting. To them, it seems, this is the last best chance for the next generation of Democrats. As Steve McGraw, a Clinton alternate said,
Obama captures the same spirit we had 45 years ago... but will they come out [like we did] on election day?