Keohane on Deval and the DNC

1218035834Two months ago, if I’d sat down to watch Deval Patrick address the DNC, I would have had my trusty Morse code book out, and I’d be studying his blinking patterns to see if he was going to use the airtime to send a message to the nation about the appalling conditions he’s stuck in back in Massachusetts. While he nattered about Chicago, dreams and Barack, he’d also, I figured, be blinking out the phrase:

G-E-T M-E O-U-T O-F H-E-R-E D-I-M-A-S-I I-S A-N I-N-H-U-M-A-N M-O-N-S-T-E-R.

I, in turn, would rat him out, a la Jane Fonda.

But today’s Deval is different from the Deval of a couple months ago, and fears that he would use his DNC appearance to signal to DC rescue squads are lower than they’ve been in quite some time. As he himself told a gaggle of reporters yesterday in Denver, “I’m not going, I’m not going … I am not going to Washington.”

Deval had a primo slot last night. He followed former Virginia governor Mark Warner, who spoke lengthily and tediously (through what appears to be a square foot of gleaming white cartoon chompers), and Ohio governor Ted Stickland, whose outright refusal to get off my TV had me bouncing between CSPAN and Bravo’s sublimely odious Million Dollar Listing. Deval could only top those two.

And that he did, with a mercifully brief, well-turned, dignified, and understated performance, focusing chiefly on the American Dream, or, as it’s being called at the DNC, the American Story.

I can’t think of a time when I didn’t enjoy reading, but I don’t remember actually ever owning a book as a child. I got my break in 1970 when I came to Massachusetts on a scholarship to boarding school. For me, that was like landing on a different planet. Our daughter Katherine, by contrast, has always had her own room. By the time she got to high school, she had already traveled on four continents, and had shaken hands in the White House with the President of the United States. One generation and the circumstances of my life and family were profoundly transformed.

After taking some mild shots at John McCain and George Bush, Patrick went on to echo Barack’s call for the black community to get its house in order and rebuild a shattered sense of community. OK, he didn’t specifically say he was talking about the black community, but he was.

This approach is how Obama is hoping to gain crossover appeal with people who are perhaps only mildly racist. Less Sister Souljah, and more Bill Cosby on a light flow day. A veiled call for accountability.

When I was growing up on the South Side of Chicago in the ‘50s and ‘60s, everything was broken. Playgrounds, schools, families and lives—all broken. But we had a community. Those were days when every child was under the jurisdiction of every single adult on the block. So if you messed up in front of Ms. Jones’ stoop, she would straighten you out as if you were hers and then call home, so you would get it twice. What those adults were trying to get across to us was that they had a stake in us. They wanted us to understand that membership in a community is seeing the stake that each of us has in our neighbor’s dreams and struggles, as well as our own.

All told, he did quite well. It was a good speech. And I particularly liked his line about how “Democrats don’t deserve to win just because Republicans deserve to lose.” We could have used that sort of thinking four years ago.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten the whole thing seconds later, when a bolo-tie clad madman named Brian Schweitzer, governor of Montana, stole the show. He was absolutely fantastic, happily tossing bombs, charming the crowd and basically bouncing all over the stage. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. It gets especially good about halfway through, particularly the crack about McCain’s innumerable backyards. The man was pure fun.

Hilary did very well, too, and it was entertaining to watch the endless Hilary rock-doc the DNC put together as penance for not objecting vociferously enough when everyone started characterizing her as America’s Ex-Wife.

Bring on Day Three.