On the day before the official kickoff to the Democratic convention, Denver seems dominated by two, oddly mismatched groups: protesters and preachers. All day long, cotton-candy-colored Code Pink women, anti-war veterans outfitted in camo, anti-capitalism activists with bandannas drawn across their faces, guys in handlebar mustaches and turn-of-the-century outfits protesting (it would appear) modernity, and people carrying "No Empire For War" signs and singing "Give Peace a Chance" have been streaming up and down 16th Street, Denver's main drag. But in spite of their finery -- probably their once-a-year protest best -- nobody, not even the press, is paying them much mind. The columns of police in full riot gear who've been deployed to control them are peeling off of their formations and meandering into Starbucks for frappucinos.
Meanwhile, all across the city, more official Democrats have been paying frenzied homage to faith at a massive interfaith service at the Colorado Convention Center, a brunch for a blind rabbi running for Congress, a briefing for Colorado Jews, a reception celebrating Jewish lawmakers, and myriad other faith-themed happenings. The Democratic Party may have lost the spirit of '68, but it found religion.
At the Colorado Jews meeting in a sprawling suburban Hyatt hotel, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz -- a former top Hillary surrogate bucking the conventional wisdom that dictates she ought to be wandering grief-stricken through the Pepsi Center clutching photos of her scorned commandress -- keynoted in support of Obama. But the more interesting speech came from Eric Lynn, Obama's Jewish liaison. He barely mentioned Obama's Israel policy. Instead, he told stories from Obama's recent trip to the Middle East, ones meant to reassure the crowd not that Obama will take into account what they believe, nor even that he believes what they believe, but that he feels the same emotions that they feel.
There was the time on the trip that an Orthodox Jew traveling with the group "told an anecdote Senator Obama really appreciated" about having to bring his own kosher-friendly plates to Cairo. There was the woman in rocket-besieged Sderot who told of the fear she felt for her children when the city's air-raid siren went off, a story "that was obviously very emotional for Obama. He was moved ... The resolve the Israelis showed [is] something that moved Senator Obama." And there was the moment Israeli security insisted Obama cancel his trip to the Western Wall for safety concerns -- but Obama refused, snapping, "Absolutely not. I'm in Jerusalem. I want to see the Western Wall." "I think it shows the resolve of Senator Obama," Lynn said -- an Israeli sort of resolve, was the implication. When in Jerusalem, even Jerusalem's omnipresent dangers can neither diminish a Jew's nor Obama's desire to see the Temple.
Lynn's speech took a sillier turn around the time he chirped, "There's a recent poll that came out that showed Israeli soldiers prefer Obama to John McCain 55% to 35%!" But the anecdotes from the Middle East trip were a powerful technique. Even though Obama's confessional autobiography was a bestseller, one of his biggest problems is that he's still seen as a cipher: What does he really believe? Merely delineating what he thinks in policy terms has limited persuasive power, since, after all, he could just be telling crowds what they want to hear. Revealing his emotional responses -- we're used to assuming those come from the heart -- is better. Now, I can't imagine many of the people in the crowd were truly on the fence (they're at the DNC, for God's sake!) but these kinds of anecdotes also travel well, from friend to friend.