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Biden Gets Heckled and Other Highlights From Netroots


Eager progressives gathered at Cobo Center for the official Wednesday AM opening of Netroots. I was among them with my pal, Dr. (as in Ph.D) Jim. There were about 3,000 other like-minded ladies and gentlemen keeping us company. Jim and I had registered early and went to a couple of pre-opening parties where we met two very sharp young ladies, destined to make their political mark as committed Democrats. Gretchen Whitmer, the head of the Michigan State Senate Democrats, is already on her way. She’s bright, telegenic and a great retail politician. We talked for a time about ALEC and she didn’t feel the same threat that I do. I think I started to change her mind toward the end of our visit.

The other young woman to keep an eye on is Shenna Bellows. She’s got a tough assignment in taking on Maine’s venerable Senator Susan Collins. But, if anybody can unseat Collins, it’s Bellows. You can find her at

When Netroots finally got down to the business of pumping up progressive causes, there was no shortage of expert advice to give the crowd the impetus to take their new knowledge back home and start applying it.

There were panels on every conceivable subject of vital importance for liberal activists. The first panel I sat in on addressed the issue of organizing the South. Race was seen as the core issue and blacks, whites, Latinos and other minorities were urged to stick together and present a united front. It was also emphasized that Southern states needed progressive coalitions such as women’s and worker’s rights working together.

Unions were strongly represented with a panel member and a number of audience members. Progressives I’ve talked to seem surprisingly optimistic about the future of unions as the Koch brothers, ALEC and other push relentlessly for 50 right to work states.

A second fascinating panel was titled “Inside the secret plan to defeat GOP gerrymandering. It was felt that in addition to winning control of the legislatures and drawing smarter maps, basic issue appeals could overcome manipulated redistricting. It was pointed out that Democrats garnered 1.7 million votes than Republicans, but the right still won more seats. A Georgia State Senate panelist strongly believed in running races in racially diverse areas and targeting certain districts, no matter how heavily gerrymandered.

President Obama won a substantial majority of Electoral College votes last time around, now seven states want to decide the electoral count by the majority vote in each congressional district, not the current winner take all system.

Before attending my last panel, I squeezed into the Cobo ballroom to hear Vice President Joe Biden. Just about every seat was taken. Friendly audience though it obviously was, security was very tight and personal searches were thorough. Biden was a half-hour late. As it turned out, he had been on the phone with the Ukrainian president, trying to develop a strategy to respond to the deadly Malaysian plane crash, apparently taken down by a missile.

Biden does not deliver speeches, he delivers soliloquies. He would have been perfectly comfortable as a Shakespearian actor. He softens his tone, then bellows into the microphone. He’s mysterious, he’s giddy, he’s always entertaining. About mid-speech, he was loudly interrupted by a protest group crying, “Stop deporting our families!” Biden allowed as to how he agreed with their plea and that immigrants built America and how he had great respect for all immigrants.

The group was not consoled. They must have screamed the same line about 20 times before they were hustled out of the venue. The disruption seemed to take a little starch out of the Vice President’s speech. He was still Biden, but you could tell his tone was much more restrained. Interestingly enough, he was talking like one talks when seeking his or her party’s nomination for president. He spent much of the speech bragging on himself and his accomplishments. He barely mentioned the president, and when he did, it was with little enthusiasm. He also said Friday’s speaker, Elizabeth Warren was a good woman or words to that effect and that was it.

So, maybe we should keep an eye on Joe after all.

I then attended my last panel and thereafter heard some great additional speeches including North Carolina’s Reverend Barber (fantastic) and New York Senator, Chuck Schumer. I then went back to the maze that is the Marriott Renaissance hotel possessed of such a complicated layout that only Mensa convention members could find their way around the structure comfortably.

Beginning at 10AM Friday morning, Cobo is going to be up for grabs as Elizabeth Warren makes her highly anticipated appearance. It’ll give me a chance to gauge the support of her most ardent backers; progressives. After her 45 minute speech, the audience should have a pretty good idea whether this revered progressive is truly out of the presidential picture.

The Netroots progressive beat goes on through Saturday.

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