I went today to the Democratic National Committee's Winter Meeting 2007 at the Washington Hilton. The format was a bunch of speakers at the big stage, followed by a meet & greet in smaller rooms.
I got there at about 7.30am to be sure to get a seat (most were reserved for official members, the press, etc.). I wandered around, picked up a free Wes Clark for President t-shirt, got some buttons, talked to a few people, got a few business cards, etc.
The speechifying began a little after 9am, with Howard Dean saying a few things, basically "I'm only talking right now because Harry Reid called and told me to stall for him because he'd be late," then handed it off to Harry Reid when he showed up. Then Dean gave a speech of his own. Of the two, Dean is definitely the better public speaker. It was also nice to see Reid and a lot of other Democrats give Dean the respect and credit he deserves for the recent midterm election victories. Then all the candidates gave seven-minute speeches, although Biden, Richardson, Gavel (Alaskan Senator, I had never heard of him before today) and Vilsack are speaking tomorrow.
The first presidential contender to speak was Chris Dodd. I honestly hadn't given him a second thought, but he is a good public speaker. He basically said "The Bush administration has screwed up by doing A, B, and C. I will do X, Y, and Z." He got the crowd riled up and had a lot of supporters waving Chris Dodd signs as well. You can watch the video here.
After Dodd was Barack Obama. He got multiple standing ovations for showing up and giving his standard "The other side aren't bad people, let's not be cynical and all work together" speech. I started out skeptical, not being a fan of the way Obama defines himself against the Democratic Party ("Democrats are this negative stereotype, but I am different!"), and remain so. His speech was long on rhetoric about being a great nation and not being cynical and this and that. He had a great line, something like "Now some have said that you need specific policy proposals. Well I say we need hope!" That didn't exactly cure me of my skepticism as to how he would actually govern ("Well Mr. Director of National Intelligence, you just need to hope the North Koreans don't sell nuclear weapons!") You can watch the video here. He also had a large number of fans waving posters.
Clark came after Obama. Frankly Clark is nowhere near as good a public speaker as Obama or Edwards, however his seven minutes had a lot of meat. After he introduced himself and gave a brief personal history, the first half of his speech was basically "I stopped a war in Korea, ended a war in Bosnia and won a war in Kosovo, with zero combat fatalities. I will know what I'm doing as President." He then transitioned to talking about domestic policy, and how he thought we needed to return to the values of justice, fair play, etc. His first line on domestic policy was "where is then justice when a woman still makes seventy-seven cents on the dollar compared to men?" That drew some surprised applause - I don't think anybody thought they would hear a professional soldier from Arkansas say that. He also talked about poverty, etc. Because Clark is the only candidate who hasn't actually declared yet (other than Gore if he runs, but he's not scheduled for this winter meeting thing) Clark didn't have the standard imported 100 people waving signs - me and a couple other people were the only ones wearing Clark t-shirts. Clark's video isn't up yet, but you can check out videos of him speaking at www.securingamerica.com.
After Clark, Edwards spoke. He is, along with Obama, a fantastic public speaker. He quoted Martin Luther King, saying that silence is betrayal, and then used that over and over about Iraq, health care, Darfur, and poverty. He kept asking "will you stand with me?" as a cue for a standing ovation and for his 100 supporters to wave their Edwards signs. There were also a bunch of Code Pink people there who generally came off as rude and mentally unbalanced. I generally think movements like that are stupid and egotistical, as they focus your attention on the people themselves ("Look! We're wearing pink! We're against the war and we're WOMEN!") rather than the actual issue of the war itself (Mahablog talks about this really well).
After Edwards, it was Kucinich. He came off as a bit of a joke. He talked about how he visited Lebanon and saw some of the villages that Israel destroyed in the recent war. He then started talking about how all we need is peace, and how that he has the perfect plan for Iraq that will lead to immediate withdrawal and stability and peace in the entire Middle East. I almost choked when he said that.
Hillary Clinton was the last speech of the day. Another good public speaker, but I still am not voting for her in the primary. Her basic gist was that she's been a winner her whole life and she will win the Presidency. Hillary had the largest group of imported cheerleaders waving signs. She had one great line, "If I was President in October of 2002, we would not have gone to war in Iraq!" That was a stunner, considering that she voted for the war and as recently as February of 2005 was saying "It's going great, clap louder!"
After Clinton's speech I left immediately to try to get to the meet & greet part of the day. Somebody up at the mic as I was leaving the big chamber said that the first hour was only for DNC members. I asked one of the people staffing the Clark table outside the auditorium if this was true, and she said "Pssh. I doubt Wes would stand for that." I took that as my signal to act like I belonged and just walk into the room where Clark was hanging out. Operation Infiltration proved a success, and I got free hot dogs and soda as my reward. I waited around to talk to Clark, shook his hand, talked to him for 10 seconds "I'm a student at Georgetown and my professor is [So & So]" "Oh, [So & So]! He's my favorite person in Washington, tell him I said hello!" Then I saw one of the guys I had met before the speechifying had a camera, so I went to Clark again and got my picture taken with him - hopefully it'll be on facebook shortly. Then I ate another hot dog (free food!) and left. 'Twas a good morning.
Update: Here's the video of Wes Clark's speech.