Today's citydesk column


Below is this week's citydesk column that runs in the actual Boise Weekly... Last night I saw the woman who wrote, or helped write, Michelle Obama's speech (can't these people write their own speeches anymore?) at a post-Hillary speech party. After writing this I thought it unseemly to ask her about the speech... this morning I regret not asking her why all the cliches....

Pomp and cowboy hats
This week, citydesk is brought to you from a Denver coffee shop, as the pomp and circumstance of the Democratic National Convention swirls about the not-so-gritty downtown streets.
With Barack Obama at the top of the ticket and with the convention in a decent Western city, we didn't expect so much pomp and cliche. But they planned this thing before Obama emerged as the leader, before he'd even developed his change thing, so who knew a year ago that Americans didn't really want more of the same old same old.

There is a major disconnect between the thoughtful way that Obama speaks about American politics and the shallow, partisan spin that has exhibited itself at the beginning of the convention in Denver.

Of course, he's not here yet, but some 24 hours into this Denver racket, we do not get the feeling that this is Obama's convention. At least not yet.

On the campaign trail, Obama has increasingly dipped into cliches and bald political rhetoric of his own. He uses some tired techniques like watching the convention on some average American's sofa and then introducing them to the entire country in a video chat.

But then he talks about himself and his experience and the American experience and it sounds pretty authentic.

The convention's first night, on the other hand, was all about political cliche, from the actors—Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, maybe Joe Biden who showed up but did not speak—to the bad music, transparent attacks on John McCain and identity politics.

Not to mention the extravagance of the venue and the excesses of the security apparatus.

Even Michelle Obama fell into the cliche trap in her kicker speech on opening night, trying too hard to make herself into some pollster's demographic. The Obamas do not have to keep saying they are just a working class girl from the South Side and a skinny Hawaiian kid with a funny name raised by a single mom. They are running for president of the United States now, which puts them in a demographic of their own.

Though her speech bored us with its sentimentality, Michelle did look and sound sincere about how much she loves Barack and all the personal stuff. If she did not have anything new or earth-shattering to say, she could have just waved to the crowd, like Jimmy Carter did, and it would have been enough.

But we ain't gonna lie. When Michelle walked out on stage in that mint dress and smiled at America, we got a little teary eyed. We couldn't see if Wolf Blitzer was having the same private moment we were, but Michelle did not even have to open her mouth to make a huge statement.

Making statements

Earlier that day, two white boys tried to make a statement at the Democratic National Committee’s Black Caucus meeting. About 15 minutes into the discussion, one of them stood up and started shouting something about a black holocaust. It took us a minute to realize he was talking about abortion.

The room full of former civil rights workers, black members of Congress and black Democratic activists from all 50 states, happily shouted him down with an Obama chant as cops escorted the man from the room.
Some 20 minutes later, another white guy stood up and did the same thing, only to be hauled off by the same bored police.

We mention their race because after these two incidents, this citydesk writer was the only white boy left in that part of the room and were getting some interesting looks.

A man in front with whom we’d held hands during the invocation, turned and asked what was going on, and a big woman right behind us actually took off her high heal shoe and waved it, anticipating another white boy rant.
Wellington Webb, a black man and former Denver mayor, remarked that in 2008, when black people have a meeting the cops are there to make sure it does not get interrupted, not to break it up.

A palpable feeling is among the delegations—including the Idaho delegation—that this is the change Obama is talking about. A change in the power structure in America that the Obama family embodies and that many, many Americans relate to.

That’s why we shed a tear when Michelle Obama appeared on stage Monday night.

But the convention funders and many of the political hacks who marched up on stage that first night do not necessarily get this. Hillary Clinton never got it and Nancy Pelosi did not give any indication that she gets it in her opening speech. But the millions of otherwise-uninterested voters Obama has politicized get it. That’s why nearly a quarter of the delegates are black and this is the most diverse political convention ever.

Too much Jesus
Another indication that Obama’s change thing is being co-opted is the amount of Jesus talk in Denver. Perhaps Obama is bringing more religious people into the Democratic tent or making it more kosher for Democrats to talk about religion, but since when do Democrats pray in Jesus’ name on national television?

There are big interfaith services, which are fine, but every meeting we attended Monday started with prayer, half the speeches end with the old God bless America thing and some delegates openly talk about making the Democratic Party more overtly religious.

While Republicans don’t own religious voters, there must be one party in this big country that does not try to push the notion of America as a Christian nation. If not, it puts our entire democratic system at risk. You’d think you were back in the Idaho Legislature.

Former Denver Mayor Wellington put it well, if a bit out of context: in Denver you are a mile closer to heaven than you are ever going to be.

Back on the ranch

Now for a few updates on the home front. Army deserter Robin Long, a Boise native, was sentenced to 15 months in jail, after being kicked out of Canada and returned to his unit at Fort Carson, Colo. He will also get a dishonorable discharge.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is back to parking on the street like us normal people after the City of Boise agreed to provide two spots on Eighth Street for the black Suburban the Idaho State Police uses to transport him. Otter’s security vehicle had been parked on the sidewalk since his office was moved across the street to the Borah Building last year.

And an accountant’s review of the state tax commission cleared tax commissioners of any wrongdoing, but called for more scrutiny of their work in settling tax disputes with large out-of-state corporations. Whistle-blowing auditors within the tax office are still crying foul and it remains to be seen if the Legislature will take any action.

More news from Denver at, and news from Iraq below:
U.S. CASUALTIES: As of Tuesday, August 26, 2008, 4,149 U.S. service members (including 31 Idahoans) have died since the war in Iraq began in March 2003: 3,371 in combat and 778 from non-combat-related incidents and accidents. Injured service members total 30,561. In the last week, two U.S. soldiers died.
Since President George W. Bush declared “mission accomplished” aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, 3,997 soldiers have died.
Source: U.S. Dept. of Defense
IRAQI CIVILIAN DEATHS: Estimated between 86,664 and 94,561.
COST OF IRAQ WAR: $548,655,347,680