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A tale of two parties

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Post-convention, progressive Democrats are entitled to feel that the four-day coronation of John Kerry in Boston was either the start of something great--or a failure to really address the issues that matter. Because, as our delegate-correspondents make clear, it was both.

The convention itself, says Cary's Aimee Schmidt, "was a $90 million sham." Elected as delegates for antiwar candidate Dennis Kucinich, Schmidt and Tim Liszewski of Raleigh chafed under the Kerry-Edwards yoke of "party unity" uber alles.

Liszewski writes in a post-convention note: "I watched John Kerry's acceptance speech at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. ... The sound and the picture, for some reason, were out of sync on the big screen--Kerry's mouth and arms moved, but there was a 10-second lag before the words came to us at the Kucinich supporters' party. Was it because the candidates' words were being scrubbed even then? It seemed an appropriate analogy for the entire convention. Only approved signs could enter the Fleet Center. Kerry staffers edited speeches. Certain subjects were not discussed--the war in Iraq, gay and lesbian concerns, the 'PATRIOT' Act."

Adds Schmidt: "I was left wondering why the DNC didn't simply hire extras from Central Casting instead of going through the extensive delegate selection process they did. This convention had absolutely nothing to do with grassroots politics. ... There was a constant drumbeat for unity and sending a message about how qualified John Kerry was to lead our nation in war. There was no mention of our desire for peace, except for some of Dennis' comments and a few unscripted remarks by Al Sharpton. It was the most undemocratic, nonpolitical process I've ever witnessed."

But as Schmidt goes on to note, there was another "convention" going on in Boston, held by progressive issues groups like the Boston Social Forum and the Campaign for America's Future, where "gifted speakers poured their heart and soul into a discussion of the real issues of peace, jobs, health care and healing."

That's how Nina Szlosberg, president of the Conservation Council of North Carolina (CCNC) and a John Edwards delegate now absolutely committed to Kerry's election, spent most of her time, too--at issues forums sponsored by the various environmental groups that make up an important part of the Democratic apparatus.

At one, she heard Robert Kennedy Jr., national president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, speak. It brought her to tears. "He stood before us, the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up over his elbows, like the black-and-white photos we'd seen of his father visiting families in the hollers of Appalachia. He spoke of the asthma his children suffer from--and his own struggle, gasping for air--something previous generations of Kennedys never faced."

Pediatric asthma is an epidemic, Szlosberg notes, due to the more than 1,100 old coal-burning plants still allowed to pollute the air 40 years after enactment of the federal Clean Air Act. The Bush administration has rolled back Clinton-era efforts to make them install modern soot-control equipment. It's also pushing for industry-friendly measures that would look the other way as mercury emissions get worse and worse.

"He spoke of nature being our infrastructure," Szlosberg says of Kennedy. "He said the Bush administration was treating the Earth as if it were a business liquidation sale, turning our natural assets into cash, bankrupting future generations. He spoke of the free market and how when implemented honestly, it's the best friend of the environment, because the free-market seeks to eliminate waste. ... However, government subsidizes polluters, allowing them to dump into the water and air and spoil the land without ever having to pay the real costs--rather, the American public is bearing those costs in the form of cleanups, health costs and worse."

Kennedy, Szlosberg says, did a great job of tying Bush policies to Bush contributors. "He so beautifully tied our personal experiences to the big picture: Politics. Money. Corruption."

The good news for progressives, she adds, is this: Kerry's 97 percent lifetime voting record in the Senate on environmental issues, as measured by the League of Conservation Voters, is the highest ever recorded. "Help is on the way," she says.

Last week, as the convention opened, Liszewski and Schmidt told us they were uncertain whether they'd be allowed to vote for Kucinich and, if they did, whether their votes would be announced as part of the North Carolina delegation's total. Long story short, the state's Kerry floor leaders didn't make it easy and tried hard to talk them out of it, but finally all four were announced for Kucinich, out of 107 state delegates. Overall, 43 of the 67 delegates elected nationally for Kucinich stuck with him through the vote, even though the candidate himself had withdrawn.

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