OK, so I’ll begin by thanking everyone for being kind to me. I think it’s fair to say that I royally messed up yesterday’s post.
So I pooh-poohed the idea that the editing of “God” and “Jerusalem” out of the Democratic National Convention platform was a big story. I wasn’t denying that the story of how religion and religious adherents are treated in the party was big — in fact, I stressed that I’d like to see more coverage of that. But I was wrong. It turned out that awkward efforts to tweak the platform — restoring “God” and “Jerusalem” — became one of the biggest news stories of the day.
Partly it became a big story because the story changed. On Tuesday, when folks were asked about the absence of the words, they said it was intentional and no big deal, and so on and so forth. But yesterday, the party announced that it was going to seek to change the wording and said that the removal of the words had been a mistake or oversight or was “unfortunate.” And that’s only where it begins to get interesting. When the leadership tried to get the delegates to approve the change — for which a 2/3 majority was needed — they didn’t get the votes. But they asserted that they had and delegates in the hall reacted unfavorably to the assertion. They booed loudly (you can watch the thing go down here). (A similar thing happened at the Republican convention, for what it’s worth.)
There’s a lot to unpack here. But my biggest complaint about the coverage is that we don’t really know why the delegates were booing. Certainly a lot of reporters had fun with the idea that the Democrats were booing God (e.g. Drudge had the headline “THEY BOOED PUTTING GOD BACK!”). But without talking to any of the people who were booing, it’s hard to know precisely what they were booing. My own assumption is that they were booing the incorrect ruling of the chairman. And if they were booing the contents of the amendment, I’d suspect they were booing the Jerusalem provision more than the God provision, but I’m just pulling that out of thin air. I’m not in Charlotte and I don’t know. But is it so much to find out why various delegates were booing? Like, really find out?
Again, I was wrong in my post yesterday. Obviously the mention of God and/or Jerusalem are huge issues for Democratic delegates. We need some quality background on why that is. Horse-race stuff is fun, but there were perhaps too many stories about DNC spokeswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s capacity to lie about the situation rather than what the situation itself signifies (see above for an example of that). Wouldn’t it be nice to find out more about what Democratic delegates believe? There couldn’t be a more interesting story there — that there is far less controversy in the party over abortion provides interesting contrast, too.
Anyway, a few notes on media coverage. I thought it interesting that the New York Times played down the “God” issue and highlighted the “Jerusalem” one. CNN tweeted out about secular opposition to the change. The Associated Press has a source saying that Obama “intervened directly” to get the platform changed and Politico notes that he had seen the language prior to the convention but only moved to change it yesterday.
The Associated Press was the most helpful report of all. It explained the context of the Jerusalem situation, why it’s a contentious topic, about the discord on the floor and Schultz’s denial of the discord on the floor. But it did so with actual interviews and sources that helped explain the whole situation:
Needled by Mitt Romney and other Republicans, Democrats hurriedly rewrote their convention platform Wednesday to add a mention of God and declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel after President Barack Obama intervened to order the changes.
The embarrassing reversal was compounded by chaos and uncertainty on the convention floor. Three times Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the convention chairman, called for a voice vote on the changes and each time the yes and no votes seemed to balance each other out. On the third attempt, Villaraigosa ruled the amendments were approved — triggering boos from many in the audience.
The episode exposed tensions on Israel within the party, put Democrats on the defensive and created a public relations spectacle as Obama arrived in the convention city to claim his party’s nomination for a second term.
“There was no discussion. We didn’t even see it coming. We were blindsided by it,” said Noor Ul-Hasan, a Muslim delegate from Salt Lake City, who questioned whether the convention had enough of a quorum to even amend the platform.
“The majority spoke last night,” said Angela Urrea, a delegate from Roy, Utah. “We shouldn’t be declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
ABC News put some focus on the “God” mention, including some curious graphs suggesting a majority of Americans don’t want politicians to rely on their religious views when making policy decisions but do like bland civil religion mentions of “God” at times.
I still want to say that the early reports were phrased hyperbolically, but I have to admit that I just called this one wrong. It was a big story and one with lots of drama. I hope, though, that I’m allowed to call for a balanced approach to covering this even after the drama of Wednesday night. And maybe some carefully crafted explanation of how civil religion works in this country, with critical voices from multiple perspectives.