The real issue for the Dems in November


Lots of fun with convention democracy on Day Two, when the chair of the event, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, got caught up in the scam that happens almost every year, when the party rank-and-file doesn't want to do what leadership says, and the unruly hordes have to be tamed. I've seen this happen at the state level (where Art Torres pulled a classic years ago to cut off party reformers at the knees) and it happens at the national level, too -- typically not in prime time.

But this time around, the whole world got to see how it works.

It goes like this: When the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) decided that the party's official platform wasn't sufficiently radically pro-Israel, and President Obama started feeling the pressure, the party leaders realized that they had to make a last-minute change. Party platforms are drafted by a fairly broad group, and I suspect the majority of the party faithful are concerned that Israeli settlements are making any longterm peace agreement impossible and are getting a little impatient with the same old "Israel is always right" position. So the 2008 plank asserting that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel (a meaningless statement designed largely to appeal to the AIPAC crowd and infuriate Palestinian supporters, since at least three major religions consider Jerusalem a holy city and and both Israel and Palestine claim it as a political center) didn't make it in this time around.

Oh, but AIPAC howled and the Romney camp was going to use that against Obama (that and the again-meaningless use of the word "God"), the it had to be amended. On the convention floor. Which requires a two-thirds vote.

But the way Davey D described in on KPFA -- generally confirmed by video and other reports on the scene -- Villaraigosa had a bit of a problem, namely that he didn't have anywhere near two-thirds of the delegates behind him. He tried three times; every time, it appeared that the vote was, at best, even -- and if he'd actually done a roll call, he probably would have lost. And then the president would be in the embarassing position of having his own party reject his efforts -- and whoa, the Romney folks would have gone to town.

So Mr. Chair had no choice but to pretend he had the votes, to rule from on high that he'd heard two-thirds say Aye when everyone knew that was bogus, and just put the issue away. Gotta love it.

But that's all sideshow. The real problem the Democrats face this fall -- and it's only starting to get any real attention -- is the blatant efforts by Republicans to suppress the votes of African Americans, Latinos, seniors, and poor people. That's the core constituency that elected Obama four years ago, and since the swing-state votes are going to be super close, all Romney needs is a few percentage points to take the White House.

The tactic of choice this year is mandating voter ID -- that is, telling people they can't vote unless the present a government-issued identification card. Rep. Karen Bass, the former California Assembly Speaker, was on KPFA talking about the problem, and she noted that there are probably 25 million Americans who don't have a valid government-issued ID.

Granted, a lot of the states that have passed these laws (Texas, for example) were never going to go for Obama anyway. But there are voter-suppresion laws now on the books in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, two critical battlegrounds. And while the courts have tossed out some, others are still in effect -- and the ones that are on hold are also on appeal.

And even if the courts chuck the worst of the laws, the message will have gotten out: If you're on the margins, don't bother to try to vote.

Remember: It only takes a couple of percentage points, a few hundred thousand discouraged or disenfranchised voters, to swing the half-dozen states that will determine the direction of this country for the next four years. If I were Obama, I'd stop worrying about AIPAC and Jerusalem and God and put all of my efforts into making sure that my folks actually get to cast ballots. Because that could be the only issue that matters Nov. 6.