July 26, 2016

Media Hype and a Divided Democratic National Convention

Illustration of the 1876 Democratic National C...
Illustration of the 1876 Democratic National Convention in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Did you watch any of the first day of the Democratic National Convention? Depending on what channel you were watching, it might have looked like there are some serious divisions in the party, or might have just looked like any other political convention. Most of the divisions you might have observed are not surprising in the least. Anyone who has been following politics anticipated them, and anyone who has a social media account certainly should have anticipated them.

I find myself wondering how much of these divisions are real and potentially detrimental to the party's success in November vs. how much are a combination of media hype and relatively harmless venting by people who are understandably upset over what they perceive as a flawed process and outcome of the Democratic primary. The possibility of media hype was not one that had occurred to me in a meaningful way until I compared how a couple networks were covering the convention. I now suspect there may be more hype taking place than some of us realized.

In a recent post about how I can relate to feelings of "political homelessness" written right after the conclusion of the 2016 Republican National Convention, I wrote:
Much has been made of how divided the Republican Party appeared during the convention. There were indeed many signs of division, but I do not think that surprised anyone. I suspect that the Democratic Party is at least as divided, if not more so. It remains to be seen whether they will do a better job of hiding it during their convention, but even a few minutes on social media reveals just how much division there is on the left.
If the first night of the 2016 Democratic National Convention is any indication, we have our answer. The Democratic Party appears to be rather divided, and they have not done any better in hiding it than the Republicans did.

In fairness to both parties, it is clear that our corporate-owned cable news media seem determined to make the divisions look far worse than they really are. The Republican Party really did seem to come together, and those protesting inside the Democratic convention seem to be a small but vocal minority. This point was hammered home in a vivid way when I switched from MSNBC's convention coverage to watching the actual convention on CSPAN. MSNBC's coverage was so distorted that it seemed like two entirely different conventions were taking place. Instead of broadcasting convention speeches, they offered pundits wringing their hands over the lack of party unity and close-ups of protestors. Needless to say, I will not be watching any more MSNBC.

Not surprisingly, the major divide appears to be between some of those who supported Bernie Sanders and are now reluctant to support Hillary Clinton and the majority of attendees who are there to support Clinton. This was the division everyone had been anticipating, and there were certainly some fireworks on the first day (e.g., booing some of the times Clinton and Kaine were mentioned from the podium, visible anti-TPP signs, and even booing Sanders when he asked a room full of his supporters to support Clinton). While I have to think that everyone saw this coming, it does seem that the DNC may have underestimated the degree to which some Sanders supporters would still be upset.

The combination of Clinton's selection of Tim Kaine and the release of what are reported to be hacked emails from DNC staffers re-ignited the anger many Sanders supporters have been feeling ever since it became clear that he would not be the nominee. Kaine was not the progressive they wanted, and some have taken his selection as a personal insult. They thought all along that the Democratic primary was "rigged," and the emails provide some evidence to support that perspective. The DNC was supposed to be neutral; it appears that at least a handful of their staff were not. I think it is understandable that some Sanders supporters would be upset even though I'm not sure what the delegates inside the convention are hoping to accomplish now.

One upside for disgruntled Sanders supporters is that they achieved some major concessions in terms of the party platform. Speaker after speaker, including Sanders himself, noted that this produced the most progressive platform the party has ever had. With all the energy Sanders has brought to the party, it seems likely that Democratic candidates in some states will shift to the left to some degree. Clinton herself has appeared to move to the left on many issues, embracing at least some of Sanders' positions. I realize that some supporters of Sanders do not believe that this is genuine. Given Clinton's history, it is hard to blame them for being skeptical. Still, it appears as if some real progress has been made.

Virtually everyone is predicting (and a recent poll seems to confirm) that the vast majority of Sanders supporters will end up voting for Clinton. Some will undoubtedly vote for Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, or even Donald Trump. And I suspect that many will not vote at all. But the point is that Clinton probably has far more support among the pro-Sanders crowd than our cable news media would like us to recognize. How much of what we are hearing is media hype vs. real division? It is hard to know now, but we might have a better sense of that by the end of the convention.