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You can see a radical coming from a mile away, and there's none in sight. I'm standing in line on the second floor of the downtown Minneapolis Hilton, waiting to stand in line on the third floor of the downtown Minneapolis Hilton.  Four second floor conference rooms are set aside for the four presidential nominees who are to speak in the third floor conference hall. Secret Service, presumably, awaits us upstairs.  I look around and fail to see anyone that appears remotely close to a political assassin or disgruntled constituent or like Robert de Niro in Taxi Driver.  Even the rabble-rousers, the campaign volunteers who are going to try to turn the third floor conference hall into a pep rally, are pretty courteous in their attempts to put the party in Democratic Party. These Minneapolitans are good people, and kind. They are patiently waiting, chatting about education and not complaining. They are discussing. They are listening to each other. They are the minority at this event. They are politically interested "guests," raising their arms and pirouetting for the metal detecting wans, emptying their pockets.

The bulk of individuals at the Democratic National Committee are gear turners: campaign event organizers and their legions of volunteers. They populate the halls and look surprisingly less busy than they must actually be. Physically speaking, national delegates of the Democratic party compose the core audience in the conference hall. They put the "guests" in the back. Peppered among us are rabble rousers and the occasional dipping head of a constituent not quite awake. But behind us, of course, is the real audience: The Media. Their battalion of cameras towers above all. If you look closely, before any of the four candidates takes the podium, you can catch the photographers slouching, balding, sneaking in front of the stage like troll people. They look as busy as they really are: infinitely.  I'm seated next to some well-dressed young people who are just checking out the event before attending their cousin's wedding at the Hilton. Their disinterest permits jovial behavior, and they take pictures of the dauntingly indifferent cameramen and stretching table of journalists. How meta.

Finally, after the introductory invocation performed by rabbi Michael Adam Latz who receives the first-ever standing ovation after a DNC invocation and reminds us that today (August 28, 2015) is the 60th anniversary of Emmett Till's murder and frames mass incarceration alongside Jim Crow laws and calls for a "waking from apathetic and privileged slumber" and gets the day's first interruption-by-applause when joking that his daughter rolled her eyes and said, "Another speech daddy? {Pauses for laughter.} Well can you at least get me Hillary Clinton's autograph?" and everyone cheers, the committee begins officially. Madam Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida's 23rd district, bangs gavel, lays out the rules. There are four candidates to speak. Two before lunch, two after, ordered alphabetically. She gives them seven minutes, wait no, she corrects after lunch, fifteen minutes to speak. She says Jim Webb, senator from Virginia, is unable to attend today, busy taking his daughter to college, a prospect that makes makes Madam Chair choke up a little, believably so.


Presidential candidate Lincoln Chaffee, like the real President Lincoln, was a Republican. Chaffee has that diseased look of a politician that never under any circumstances stops smiling. He lists the good votes on his record-- an anti-Iraq vote, a pro-climate change vote, etc. etc. --but brings too little genuine enthusiasm to appear remotely qualified. To be cynical, his intention appears to be having "presidential candidate" on his resume, a real booster for speaking fees. He literally says, "Let me tell you a little bit about myself," as if that wasn't the understood context of this whole event. I spot a man across the aisle literally falling asleep during this speech. He plays to the party's most useless source of strength: the belief that it is right. Indeed, he ends his speech by saying, "We are right," and garners enough applause for people not to ask, "Then why must we rally so hard just to earn 51%?" or, "But how we will rally hard enough to earn 51%" or "So what?"

And to be really bleak, Chaffee sours the whole afternoon just by being there. His radical lack of thought-provocation and blatant political blandness reinforces the negative stereotype of politicians as soulless, self-interested sociopaths (as opposed to national leaders or proud figureheads.) After the first two candidates speak and we break for lunch, I am able to find some solace to negate Chaffee's distasteful presence. Of the four candidates' conference rooms, one of them is completely devoid of people, enthusiasm, or party and left only with a table on which Lincoln Chaffee remains alone, smiling eternally, upon neatly stacked leaflets.

Next door to Chaffee's mortuary is Martin O'Malley's, and the governor will be showing up in just a few minutes, a volunteer informs the casual crowd. During this lunch break people are munching on Ben & Jerry's ice cream, supplied by Bernie Sanders' team. Secret Service is long gone. I'm hanging around O'Malley's conference room because I know literally nothing about Martin O'Malley and because his volunteers keep stocked tiny bags of potato chips and pretzels and I skipped breakfast in lieu of feigning political journalism. The room's conversation volume is mild, and remains so even as O'Malley enters to greet us.

In the Iowa polls, the man himself tells us beaming, O'Malley has risen from 1% to 3% to 8%! There's not a crowd in this room, per se, but everyone here offers polite enthusiasm by clapping. The former Maryland governor seems like more of the same political cutout. All smiles and no heart. Rhetoric sans thought. There's so few potential voters in the conference room that O'Malley is able to shake hands and pose photogenically with every single one of them. As we're leaving, heading back upstairs for Round 2 of officious candidate speeches, one of his campaign staffers notices me and sidles up happily.

"Did you get to meet the Governor?"

"Naw," I say.

"Do you want to?" And with the combination of this staffer's enthusiasm and O'Malley's low-polling accessibility, I understand completely that such a meet-and-greet is more than possible. I consider the team's poorly marketable hashtag #weneeddebate and lukewarm number of supporters and decide against having "photo op w/ presidential candidate" added to my own resume. This guy is minutes away from giving a speech to DNC delegates. All I can think to possibly say is, "Give 'em hell!" But soon such advice proves absolutely unnecessary.


Due to the dearth of audience following Clinton's pre-lunch speech, I am able to get closer than the back of the room. I am seated among a table of DNC delegates, men formidable enough to request some space between themselves and us laymen. I can see the committee's top rankers, former mayors and prominent fundraisers, seated upon the dais. There's the mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and she seems to be scowling at Martin O'Malley, former mayor of Baltimore. For the first time today, I feel lively.

O'Malley pretty much bashes the very platform upon which he stands. The Democrats are morally superior, but weak and unenthused and they know it.  O'Malley calls out this "appalling silence of the good," which allows for such a sadly undemocratic Democratic committee to take place. "Think about it," he says, and I am awed by the image of a politician encouraging any crowd to think. The Democrats have scheduled four, as in only four, national debates, one of which set for the December holidays, a notoriously apathetic time for politics. Contrast: Fox News' 24 million viewer Republican Primary Debate, which throws Mexican walls and defunding Planned Parenthood into the media debate.

Suddenly O'Malley's jumbled hashtag makes sense. He's not after some abstract national conversation. He literally wants a platform to widen and dissect (and thus bring more attention/engagement to) differences within the Democratic party. Or as the Tennessee DNC delegate four folded chairs down from me murmurs, "He's turning against the party." I am riveted. O'Malley goes on to be the only person capable of addressing the elephant in the room. No, not the figurative Republican party, but the powerhouse in the back, The Media. He uses the c-word, not "conservative," but "circus," calling the 24-news-cycle-driven political process what it is, a big fat show that debases stratiated political debate into narratives and conflict-oriented television.

The applause is mild. This man who came off as distant and politically-career-motivated with his supporters proves himself relevant and thoughtfully abrasive in front of the people he actually needs support from. What a leader, I think. What a shame that no one has actually stuck around to see him. Everyone is waiting for the old guy.


Bernie Sanders is a socialist, unapologetically. He rides O'Malley's wave by lecturing the DNC on enthusiasm and momentum. Without such energy, he warns, the youth and the minorities will fail to show up on Election Day. Despite being on the right side of the issues and the ride side of history and all that crap that everyone in the room probably believes, without the enthusiasm Bernie himself seems to bring, the Democrats will fail to take the White House. It's not enough to be, as Chaffee simply put it, "right," the Democrats have to be awesome.

So Bernie's supporters take up a couple of rows in the far back and rise to their feet after every single policy proposal is thrown out. And Bernie's got plans, more than all the other candidates combined. Each policy proposal resonates fiercely as either "Wait a second, really?" or "It's about damn time!" with any progressive-thinking person in the audience. Here are the only ideas that come close to matching, say, the audacity of constructing a 1,954 mile wall as an immgration solution. Bernie wants: anti-establishmentarianism, no company to be too big to fail, $15/hr minimum wage, 12 weeks of paid medical leave for pregnancy, a federal jobs program in lieu of corporate infrastructure, a Supreme court order to overturn Citizens United, publically funded elections, clean energy, tuition free higher education, Wall Street speculation tax, reformation of institutional racism, reformation of the criminal justice system, and, in his words, political revolution.

But it doesn't really matter what Bernie wants because Bernie's not going to win, and worse, it seems like he knows it. This is why he lectures the DNC on their lack of forward thinking and they actually listen instead of getting defensive. They know Bernie has more supporters than any other candidate, numerically speaking, who donate on average a reasonable $35. In a word, his campaign support is democratic-- of the mob. But who can trust a man and his mobs-- especially one whose supporters parade his image with cardboard masks emphasizing his wild, white, balding hair?  I watch these supporters crowd the Senator as he wades through the Hilton's halls. Their love is not fanatical, but peculiar and varying in extremes. They crave radical solutions to our new-world problems, but seem to understand the solutions more than the new-world. Watching Bernie wade, shuffling and stopping every yard amongst such eager folk, I am not filled with awe but pity.

A man shouts, "Bernie! If you want my vote, you have to take a selfie with me!" So the Senator obliges, and the worst part is that this voter really sounds like he means it. The extent of this voter's political participation is so callously determined by Bernie's willingness to play celebrity. Here are the stakes: admiration and fame. Here's the job: A 24-hour spotlight on a platform of legitimacy and power, ever heating, never dimming-- a job impossible to be performed successfully by a human being. If this is the surface of the job that these candidates are competing for, it is no wonder than an already established modern celebrity, completely with serialized reality game show, leads the Republican polls. But Bernie, this 73-year-old man filled with revolutionary rhetoric, does his best merely to shuffle through a crowd of enthusiastic Minnesotans, kind people who are odorous at worst! So I pity the old guy. He's not giving that creepy ceaseless smile, a testament to his humane integrity, but his eyes don't seem to truly register the madness about, the circus that is our modern presidential election. And ultimately, as much as Bernie seems ill-fitted to handle the insanity of media attention, this nation will not tolerate regressing back to having an old white man as its figurehead. There's no going back.


In two words, it all comes down to death and debt. At least, this has been the takeaway my political science undergraduate degree has given me on presidential elections. The health of the economy and the state of war serve as the two most reliable variables for predicting whether or not the incumbent party will keep the White House. Peace and prosperity indicates the Democrats will keep it. But if the next 14 months bring an economic crisis or boots in a foreign land, expect a Republican to lead us anew. Plus, there's the well established Clinton campaign machine, the Trump card promising to split the Republican party, and the growing Latino demographic that lays witness to 17 conservative contenders fighting over how to keep Latinos out of America.

And while this line of thinking is statistically valid, it's not fun, nor personal, nor exciting or dramatic or at all inspiring. Enter Hillary Rodham Clinton. It hadn't yet seemed to me that she was really running for president, but instead slowly pacing herself on a path long since planned. There just seemed to been an expectation, an inevitability, that as long as this country would want a first female president she would fill that role. Why else are there so few viable Democratic contenders and even fewer scheduled debates? The momentum of her inevitability is discouraging, not just to me but also Senator Jim Webb. Later today, it's reported by Buzzfeed, the medium bearing the message, that Webb skipped the DNC meet not simply for his daughter's college move-in but out of a frustration at the allegiance between the DNC's fundraising wing and Mrs. Clinton's campaign. (He called it a parody of The Sopranos, a remark I would find righteous if it didn't mischaracterize The Sopranos.) Despite my tacit Democratic support for a candidate who seems to not need any, I am interested to hear her pitch.

It's unreal. There's enough rabble rousers on Hillary's team to make her speech seem successful, but their efforts are truly in vain. The professionalism is astounding. Every catchphrase is polished to perfection. She wants the Middle Class to "get ahead, and stay ahead," because "the basic bargin works," when they are given their "fair share, fair shot." She knows how significant it is to be able to say, "Black Lives Matter," and nearly the whole crowd screams the last word along with her. Her speech runs 25 minutes and it's clear she lives above the rules.  She knows when to get serious, when to flash a smile, and I swear she never even looks down at her notes, ever.

I try to remain detached, unrabbled. When she takes the stage, I jot a flippant note to myself about how her hair looks as fake as Trump's. I roll my eyes when she calls for "common sense" gun laws because such rhetoric as vague and universal as "common sense" is undefeatable and meaningless. But then, after hammering the negavitity presented by the Republican party on immigration, race, and guns, she transitions to political celebrity entertainer. She is the one who makes a joke comparing her own hair to Trump's. She says, "The hair is real, but the color isn't," and the room goes wild. She has foreseen the basest criticism in my commentary and worked it into her most successful, genuine moment. I am in awe, fearful but uninspired. How rigged is this game?

For all the thrill of putting a woman in the White House, I can't help deplore how bad nepotism looks for this country's figurehead. It looks bad to have only three last names filling that spot for 32 years. (Of course, not as bad as it looks having a Congress that threatens to invade Iran one week and then haggles over whether it can budget itself without shutting down the next, but still.) And for all her perfected rhetoric and political professionalism, Clinton could not better represent the establishment, the antithesis of all Bernie's democratic support. She speaks of a nation not populated by peoples but jobs. Any success is to be measured in dollars and cents. Even if this country was bought and sold long ago, must I accept a national leader who speaks such corporate rhetoric?

This primarily economic idealism used to be enough in itself to justify cynicism. Clinton's speech rounds the twenty minute mark as I grow dismal seeing the next 14 months unfold at a glacial pace. I am reminded of the film Killing Them Softly, which I will spoil with my selfsame disillusionment. The film ends in a bar, Barack Obama on the tv giving his 2008 election victory speech. To the optimistic cheers of "Yes we can!" Brad Pitt's character looks on scornfully. He says, "This guy wants to tell me we're living in a community? Don't make me laugh. I'm living in America, and in America you're on your own. America's not a country. It's just a business." And reflecting on that scene, within my own hyper-mediated reflection, I am brought some peace. Zen, if you will, despite the rabble, the rousing, the politics and the promises. It's easier to digest this bionic super-politician, our next president, whose speech and campaign and victory all seem so well planned and funded and rehearsed, when her campaign resonates with one great work of fiction.

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