Ready to rumble

"Ready to rumble" Continued...

Issue: "Wildfire," June 24, 2006

As Sen. Clinton, who spoke first, exited the stage, one bold soul belted, "Bring 'em home, Hillary!" This novelty quickly caught on; soon, many of the 2,000 in attendance were chanting either "Bring troops home!" or "Now!"

Rep. Pelosi pleased the crowd more, especially when she noted that she had called for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld: This received roughly 30 seconds of sustained applause, indicating that the easiest way to unite progressives at this conference was to attack their enemies.

Many conference attendees even wondered why organizers had invited Sen. Clinton and Sen. Kerry: To hardcore progressives, these two represented the Democratic establishment par excellence. Their argument against Sen. Clinton was particularly strong, since Jonathan Tasini, who is running against her in November on a solidly leftist ticket, was not even invited to attend the conference.

Later that afternoon came more panel discussions and more anti--Bush administration vitriol. For "Eruption: Challenging a Lawless President," House Minority Whip John Conyers, who has sponsored a bill to look into impeachment, joined Steve Cobble, who runs a website advocating impeachment. Mr. Cobble began with a survey: "Raise your hand if you think that President Bush has committed impeachable offenses." Of the nearly 150 gathered in the room, including Rep. Conyers, the other panelists, and media, this reporter was the only person without a hand raised.

Arms were still up when the rear doors suddenly flew open and the "Chain Gang" entered. The "Chain Gang" was an elaborate contrivance: four people dressed in caricatured Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld costumes with enormous heads, all shackled together in prison uniforms and paraded around like bobble-head dolls by a phony prison guard. The surprise appearance sent attendees into a frenzy.

On Wednesday, the final day of the conference, the rollercoaster car was slower. Much of Monday's buoyancy-with John Sweeney roaring, "Now is when we take back the country"-seemed lost in weariness. Even the music turned, with Frank Sinatra's "I've Got the World on a String" on Monday wilting into mellow Kenny G tunes.

A veteran attendee named Pamela Schwartz, outreach director for a group called National Priorities Project that monitors government spending, says this happened after the 2004 conference as well-and will there be staying power for a campaign when negativism emerges on day three?

But Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, billed as a progressive lawmaker and strategically placed during the luncheon as the final speaker of the conference, brought the conference back to life. The only speaker introduced as "a rock star" and "one of us," he had only to say eight words-"The time is now; let's take back America"-for the progressives to leap up in riotous applause, forgetting their tired feet.

For the moment, conference attendees were back on top again. They ate their mixed-berry shortcake desserts excitedly: After all, it was their time.


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