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The Other Convention: Scrubbed Speeches, Excluded Voices and the Crackdown on 'Peace Delegates'

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The issue of who speaks at the Democratic National Convention and what they can and cannot say is a highly politicized one. We asked John Nichols of The Nation magazine how this process works. [includes rush transcipt]

  • John Nichols, The Nation magazine.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of who speaks at the convention and who doesn’t is a highly politicized one. We asked John Nichols of “The Nation” magazine and the “Madison Capital Times” to explain just how the process works. Tell us how do people get to speak during this Democratic National Convention? Who gets chosen, who gets left off the list?

JOHN NICHOLS: You are chosen basically if you answer in the affirmative to one question, which is I will essentially say what the Kerry campaign and DNC want said. And so, many people don’t have to be asked, you know. It’s just your tenor or your style answers that question. But aside from a handful of folks, Ted Kennedy and a couple of others, Jimmy Carter, who really are essentially free to say what they want, most people who speak are selected with the purpose of delivering some aspect of the Kerry or DNC message. And so you really fit into a slot. And — so that’s the basic concept. And amazingly enough, even the upper-level folks, the Kennedys and the Carters, seem to have fit into their slots pretty effectively.

AMY GOODMAN: What about someone like Tammy Baldwin? She spoke, she has strong positions. We didn’t quite hear them up there.

JOHN NICHOLS: No. Tammy Baldwin is probably the most consistent advocate for single-parent health care in the House of Representatives, she delivered an almost 10-minute speech on the subject of health care and never mentioned single-payer. She said she thought Senator Kerry was going to do a great thing as president, and here are all the things he will do. Now I interviewed her about it. I asked are you going to bring up single pairs? She said — no, it isn’t about Tammy Baldwin, it’s about John Kerry. And that about sums it up. We’ve really lost the notion of political parties in this country. And in a presidential year, almost everybody becomes kind of a lieutenant for the presidential campaign rather than a free floating individual within the party. I think it’s actually very troubling.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Russ Feingold, the senator from your state, Wisconsin?

JOHN NICHOLS: Well you’ll note that Russ isn’t speaking at this convention. And he did speak four years ago at the convention in Los Angeles, at about 4:00 in the afternoon to roughly five people in the hall. And I think that was the end of Russ’ invitation to speak, because even then he insisted on saying what he wanted to say, which was that the Democratic Party had done a horrible job on the issue of campaign finance reform and had not made the level of commitment to cleaning up politics that it should. And he even spoke about all of the corporate parties at the convention. Now there was an interesting thing because I thought it was a pretty good speech and I wanted to write about it and I took notes. But at these sessions, they distribute the copy of every speech. You know, they have all the written out speeches and they are just everywhere in the pressrooms, so you can find them everywhere. But I couldn’t find Russ’ four years ago. And I went all over because I really wanted the thing and I asked everybody, went to the office, and I said do you have Russ Feingold’s speech? Because they had the Lieutenant Governor of Guam’s speech was out, but not Russ Feingold. They said oh, we are working on it. I’m sure it’s going to come soon. Never came that night. Went the next day to get Russ Feingold’s. It never, ever became physically available.

AMY GOODMAN: So four years ago, you couldn’t find the speech that he had given, now we can’t find Russ Feingold.

JOHN NICHOLS: I don’t think he’s even trying any more. And let’s be honest. Why don’t they want Russ Feingold to speak? Well, he was the one senator that voted against the Patriot Act. And I suspect that he would still insist on saying something real about the Patriot Act at this convention. And that would be wonderful. The delegates would go wild, because remember 90% of these delegates are opposed to the war. 75% support gay marriage. It’s estimated that, depending on some of the polling you see, 70-80% oppose the Patriot Act. This is a very progressive group of people. On the floor, you aren’t hearing that many progressive messages from the podium.

AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols, journalist for “The Nation” magazine and the “Madison Capital Times.”

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