Modern political conventions have become scripted events, so people take notice when something doesn’t go as planned. One prominent unscripted moment at last week’s Democratic National Convention led to what some could have construed as delegates booing God.
Let me explain.
Part of the convention process involves approving a platform that encompasses the core beliefs of the party. This year the Democrats approved their platform on the opening day of their convention with little discussion or opposition. But later they discovered two glaring omissions.
First, the platform draft contained no mention of God. This was a departure from the past. In 2008, the platform had language supporting a government that "gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential."
Second, the platform did not make mention of any support for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This potential hot-button issue in Middle East policy also is a major issue to Jewish Americans, who make up a sizable chuck of voters in the swing state of Florida.
Fearing both these omissions could cost them political points, the Democratic leadership decided to amend the already-approved platform at the opening of the second day of proceedings. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa chaired the convention that day and entertained a motion from former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.
Strickland, an ordained Methodist minister, proposed the changes as he said "our faith and belief in God is central to the American story and informs the values we have expressed in our platform." In addition, recognizing Jerusalem as capital of Israel is President Obama’s position and should also be included, he said.
But then Villaraigosa was surprised when he called for a voice vote to suspend the rules and add the two sections to the previously approved rules, which required a two-third vote of the delegates. The first vote clearly was not that of two-thirds of the delegates, and those opposing the changes actually sounded a bit louder.
A visibly stunned Villaraigosa tried again and got the same result. He then stammered until he finally called for the vote a third time, and those opposing the change sounded at least as loud as those voting for the change.
At that point, Villaraigosa ignored the clear will of the convention and declared that the change was approved. The ruling resulted in a loud chorus of boos from the convention floor.
It should be noted that while this was a horrendous unscripted moment, the delegates did not actually boo God. Instead, the boos were from delegates upset that they had been asked their opinion on an amendment to include a mention of God in the platform and then had the expression of their opinion ignored.
The problem for the Democrats, especially in Bible Belt states like Arkansas, is that the whole event plays into preconceived notions about their platform, which moved further left on social issues this year — continuing support for abortion on demand and including, for the first time, support for same-sex marriage.
Jay Barth of Little Rock has been an outspoken advocate for gay rights in Arkansas and was a delegate at this year’s Democratic convention. He was not in the convention hall during this unscripted moment but he tells me that overall he is pleased with the platform and its inclusion of marriage equality.
"While some in the party are not yet to that point in their views on the issue, it is now the mainstream view in the Democratic Party and, according to public opinion polling, increasingly the spot where most Americans are on the issue," Barth said. "Because of younger Americans’ overwhelming support of marriage equality, there’s simply no doubt where we are heading as a country on the issue. The Democratic Party has historically been the party of expanding rights and of the future and, on this issue, I think we’re achieving both at the same time."
While Barth might be right for the country as a whole, I am not so sure Arkansas is there yet. It’s clear the spectacle of booing an amendment to add God back to the platform is not going to play well in the state.
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com