On Saturday, I attended the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee, and posted updates and analysis about the proceedings on Daily Kos. It was one of those great moments where you get to compare your perceptions of an event with the characterizations you read, hear and watch in the traditional media. While I won't say the reports read as if they were at a completely different event than the one I attended, I will say that most of them emphasized conflict and conveyed a level of raucousness greater than I witnessed.
Using the Clinton and Obama partisans in that crowd as an indication of how deep the divides are within the Democratic party is moronic, because the partisans in attendance are among the most zealous you could find in either camp. Even if they were valid measures of deep divides within the Democratic party, I didn't find their actions at the meeting all that extreme. As is usual, most reporters just mindlessly lapsed in to the simplistic "Democrats divided" trope that they so love, because it doesn't require them to think or put much care in to their analysis.
The issues were contentious, and the debate on the committee was often raw. And yes, the crowd was engaged in what was going on, and I didn't like the clapping by partisans every time someone said something members of the crowd thought supported their side. But the room, with the exception of only a couple dozen people at most, did not descend in to chaos. Unlike what you may have inferred from the reports in much of the press, the RBC didn't turn in to a food fight.
I will admit, I may have a higher threshold than most for protest chaos. I've been on picket lines with union strikers that turned very violent when we were attacked by paramilitary goons. I've been at anti-war and community protests where we had to deal with loony left provocateurs who claimed to be Trotskyites or Sparticists but who were really just troublemakers who were trying to provoke a police reaction by throwing rocks at the cops, burning flags and the like.
So maybe I just have a higher tolerance for a bit of anarchy at an event. But walking through the line of several hundred or maybe a thousand Clinton supporters protesting down Connecticut Avenue before passing by the Marriott Wardman Park hotel and eventually down in to Rock Creek Park, I only saw a bunch of calm, well-behaved people. The people walking around with signs didn't come across as particularly angry; I even suspected many of them were probably public employees who were members of AFSCME who were urged by their union reps to join the march. I can't prove that, but that's what I thought of when I saw the crowd.
The worst thing I encountered outside the hotel was overheard hyperbole.
Inside the meeting, sure, there was booing. The Obama people weren't perfect, but for the most part they seemed to have honored the wishes of Obama and his campaign team and acted in a restrained manner within the meeting. And though many of the Clinton people booed at several points, that was about the worst behavior one could witness from probably 95% of the Clinton partisans in the room.
Now, yes, there were in fact some people who shouted out "Den-ver! Den-ver!" when the final votes were taken to seat Michigan's delegation at a ratio far different than that sought by Clinton. But the disrupters probably didn't exceed two dozen people. One of the loudest had sat next to me during the morning session—somehow she scammed some press credentials, though I don't think she was either press or a blogger—and frankly, she seemed a bit off. She was the only person in the balcony with the press and bloggers who was cheering, clapping, booing and muttering throughout the session. She seemed a bit crazed, to Hillary Clinton supporters what the worst of Free Republic loonies are to John McCain supporters.
Toward the end, when Clinton supporter and committee member Alice Huffman was booed for supporting the Florida compromise, she admonished the Clinton supporters by telling them their conduct wasn't helping their candidate. Most of the Clinton people seemed to recognize that Huffman was correct. In the end, the disturbances came mostly from a couple guys heckling from the audience, and maybe a dozen or so women in the back of the room making a bunch of noise and chanting about taking the fight all the way to Denver.
For much of the media, what happens with a couple dozen rabid partisans points to huge conflicts within the Democratic party. How they extrapolate from those couple dozen to the entire Democratic coalition, who knows.
About the time he became the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain was booed by the crowd at the convention of the Conservative Political Action Committee, despite the organizers of the event imploring their crowd to not boo McCain. He's seldom gotten over 75% in any primary since he's become the nominee; fully one quarter of the people who bother to cast a vote in an already decided race are casting protest votes. But what doe we get from much of the traditional media? More talk about how it's the Democrats who are divided.
By the way, one other observation from Saturday's meeting: I spent much of the afternoon sitting behind a reporter or producer from one of the networks who all afternoon looked at this website. Too bad more of her colleagues weren't doing the same.