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Democratic National Convention
Reality Check
Americans Listen In

Small focus groups around the nation are meeting this week to listen to the speeches at the Democratic National Convention and offer their responses to NPR. The groups are comprised of students and seniors, small business owners and union workers.

Senior Citizens | College Students | PTA | Rotary/Small Business

Senior Citizens
At the Carol Woods Retirement Community in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, some of America's elders are keeping a close eye on the action in Los Angeles:

Tura Lipscomb: It has been an enormous relief to hear the issues not only mentioned, but actually discussed. The distinctions between the two parties are very clear - and I can only hope the right people are listening.

Lee Sloane: Kate Michelman - first to bring up the vital question of Supreme Court appointments - albeit indirectly, with reference to reproductive choice - the prospect of Supreme Court appointments is one of the most, if not THE most important issue involved in this election.

H. Slater: Once again we see that politics in a democracy is a messy business. Nevertheless, when people of good will gather together and speak frankly of the need to address the real daily problems, not only the most prestigious but the least of citizens demonstrate that our democracy is working. I feel that the Democratic Convention is doing a better job of identifying and prioritizing the country's fundamental deficiencies and they are actually proposing some solutions unlike the Republicans at their convention. I sensed a greater spontaneity and a less programmed approach to the issues tonight than we were shown a couple of weeks ago.

James O. Cansler: The opening night of the Democratic National Convention gave us speeches almost without exception, and from President Clinton especially, where full credit was claimed for the robust economy we now enjoy. The point was reinforced by warnings that made failure to elect candidate Gore would ensure a return to high unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, and overall hard times. Although not mentioned, Vice President Gore's earlier claim to the invention of the Internet is another example of this human/political failing. It seems to this writer that such a claim is a disconnect from the claims of honesty, truthfulness and integrity speakers also emphasized as characteristic of their leaders and their party.

Surely, credit is due the Clinton administration for a portion of the exhilerating economic changes we have enjoyed in the past eight years. I gladly give him that portion of credit he can honestly claim. However, MANY factors are beyond the control of either party. (Neither) can truthfully argue that he or it has accomplished that feat alone.

We know these are intelligent, observant and knowledgable leaders who know better. I believe politics and politicians in this country would be held in higher regard if readers and listeners were given greater respect by their not engaging in such gratuitously reckless handling of the truth.

Natalie Fiess: The Democratic Convention is more of a real civic event - not a carefully staged show minutely scheduled. The GOP probably counted the confetti and managed a performance worthy of the Rockettes! Tonite, real issues are being discussed, real people reflect the variety of our democratic society, and many civic and government leaders are forcefully reminding us of the enormous importance of the election in November.

Rev. Robert Seymour, Democrat: "I hope the American electorate will not be seduced by the prevalent opinion that since both parties have moved toward the middle, it doesn't matter who wins. This is an alarming opinion, for there are enormous differences: the use of the surplus, drugs for the elderly, gun control, patient's Bill of Rights, campaign finance reform and abortion! Democrats need to underscore the differences! Our nation's future is at stake."

Mary Turner Lane: The first night of the Democratic Convention was a great showcase for women in the Democratic Party and for the equity and responsibility they have been accorded by their peers in this Party. The women focused on Democratic programs that have helped women as home makers, as wage earners, as users of the Family Medical Leave Act. Women also spoke to the need for greater gun control and for women's right to choose. As the convention progressed, we learned more about Gore's proposals' specifics for education, social security,Medicare, use of the surplus and the budget, defense, gay rights and taxes.

Frances Selvidge: Here are the issues which are important to me, and I shall be following: Supreme Court Gun Control Reducing the deficit Fair estate taxes Education Health Care - accessible for all Women's right to choose Helping the less fortunate in this country AND around the world I hope the debates will bring out enough specifics to be able to make an informed choice.

Grant Dahlstrom: One of the most serious issues in this election is the power to nominate new Supreme Court Justices. Recent votes on the Court have come TOO close to reversing women's rights protections. Gore will work to assure the next Justices interpret the U.S. Constitution accurately.

Jean D. Cooke: 1. Boring! I've always enjoyed Democratic conventions but this time around it is not only boring but seems disorganized and poorly planned.

2. All of the elected officials have said the same thing over and over until it has blurred. In prime time only Diane Feinstein has said anything specific about issues. Issues concerning the elderly have been glossed over with emphasis only on prescription drugs that we'll all get, paid for the Federal Govt. with no cost to the individual. Also, over and over again, "give us the next four years and we'll fix EVERYTHING. What have they been doing the last eight? Caroline Kennedy is the only speaker I've heard to speak about individual responsibility.

3. The background music should have been violins to go with all of the daytime talk show "sob stories," hard luck stories told by "little people whose problems have been solved by Clinton-Gore. I thought I'd heard it all before, but this hard luck, Clinton-Gore will fix it all. The Republican Convention had its share of huggy/kissy time too. I hope as an adult group of presumably intelligent citizedns we haven't come to the need for this maudlin viewing.

4. This is not strictly about the convention, but how long will it be before the media and all of the people in both parties realize what a master stroke Sen. Lieberman was. In one stroke it has made Mr. Clinton's only mistake a moral one and not an administative one.

In a way I feel sorry for Al Gore's poor reception and hope we will have an exciting campaign, but nothing I've seen or heard so far will change my vote from Mr. George W. Bush. I like him and the kinds of people with whom he surrounds himself.

Maurice Kurtz: I am unaffiliated and waiting... Both big political conventions, especially in Philadelphia, produced a 3-ring circus: on stage, in the audience and in the VIP box. Bodies, heads, opinions and judgments were juggled non-stop. Two or three "performers" intentions are not enough to make, much less sell, a show. Ideas, stories, people, they are the meat and potatoes of drama and life. Some soul-searching and an appeal to the imagination can help.

Take me, for example: I've been out of the country for long periods. I need to have clear-headed ideas backed up by facts, presented honestly, not launched into empty space like inforcommercials, as pre-packaged blurbs. Am I the exception to the rule (I do not think so) when I say I expect authenticity, not to impress or fascinate, but to convince? I think I'll recognize the Real Thing because it will offer me a glimpse into the Truth of our situation, national, local and personal.

Truth is not a device. It's discreet opening into a human being's mind and heart.

Jean Spalding: The importance of preserving a woman's right to reproductive choice should be underlined! Unless Gore is President and in position to make Supreme Court appointments, the Roe v Wade decision will be reversed, and our grandchildren will lose the freedom so lately gained.

Robert Seymour: With the nomination of Joe Lieberman for Vice President, Al Gore has demonstrated great faith in the inclusiveness of our country. Another wall of bigotry has been broken down. It seems such a short time ago that restrictive covenants in suburban neighborhoods and country clubs excluded Jews. Now, at last, we can stop talking about tolerance and claim equality for all Americans irrespective of their faith or origin. It is time to celebrate!

James O. Cansler: In response to the extensive attention given to education at both the Republican and Democratic Conventions, two thoughts are offered. First, the emphasis is surely welcome, because it is desperately needed. Education deserves all the suport this nation can provide. Second, we miss the mark, in my view, when we talk of all we will do to "make sure every child gets a world class education" and say nothing of the students' central role in the educational process.

I have heard promise after promise to provide sparkling new facilities, the latest equipment, smaller classes and teacher respect, all of which are assuredly important. However, it seems to me that the speakers in both parties have failed or refused to acknowledge that learning is ultimately the work of the students. Without question, thirst for knowledge can be cultivated by teachers and by learning environments. Educational resources do, surely, provide the tools for learning. However, these tools are not education; they only offer the means for it. Why does no one say publicly that a love for learning - desire to know - if finally up to each person to embrace or ignore? In education especially, the old saying is true: "You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink."

Of course we must offer a "world class education" to every American. However, the key word is OFFER: educational opportunity requires a learner response to become education.

The political parties may fulfill their promises with many dollars for education. My point is this: whether LEARNING takes place in these promised new facilities will be determined by those tho whom the new learning opportunities are offered.

Wes Spalding: Three days of speeches proclaiming the accomplishments and goals of the democrats and the errors of the opposition, and soon we will learn how well Al Gore can fire up the troops. Many, if not most of the speakers invoked God's name in gratitude and supplication. Let us not forget about the separation of church and state, and that the accomplishment of worthy goals will require hard work and statesmanship.

Maurice Kurtz: The symbol of Presidential Conventions for the unaffiliated like me, can be summed up in the banner of the Missouri delegation: Show Me!

It's all well and good to focus attention on major problems, to contradict your opponent, to extol the talent, knowledge and experience of candidates. There's no place however for facts and solutions to convince the TV viewer. Prime time is short, and the Show must go on!

Presidential elections then become a springboard into High Drama where anything goes, including intrigue and political assassination. This Play can be divided into Three Acts:

Act One: Primaries and Conventions with candidates and ideas running wild.

Act Two: The long Campaign with its myriad ups and downs punctuated by debates, unsavory revelations, whatever can disarm or destroy the opponent.

Act Three: Election Day -- and Night! -- with or without suspense, that end with a Happy Victory or a Tearful Defeat. Where and when do I fit in?

College Students
Students from the University of Colorado in Boulder give us their opinions.

Wesley Herrin, Democrat "First I must comment on the terrible coverage done by C-SPAN. The camera shots were ineffective at best, they couldn't adjust the sound levels so you could hear who was saying what (or even hear the crowd cheering), and in general I got the feeling that they just really didn't want to be there. I was highly offended by the lack of professionalism shown by the C-SPAN crew, especially in comparison to the coverage of the RNC. The first night seems to have all the big-name speakers: Mayor Webb, Mayor Archer, the six female Senators, first lady Hillary Clinton, and of course President Clinton. All the speeches were performed exceptionally well and were spoken from the heart - this is why the Democrats are the better party: we actually mean, and stand up for, what we say. If the rest of the convention is anything like the first night, it should be a blast. I only wish I had been able to go.

I was also pleased to see so many important issues being addressed, such as pro-choice, better health care, and the need for a freshly elected Democratic Congress. I am hoping other vital issues will be discussed within the next three days, such as better funding for higher education, stricter gun control, and even better environmental protection. Once these and other issues are highlighted, then the Convention will be a success.

(Herrin was moved to offer a couple of political quotes, too:)
"Enter here the timeless fellowship of the human spirit." -Dr. George Norlin, former President of CU

"We cannot be satisfied as long as a colored person in Mississippi cannot vote and a colored person in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote." -Martin Luther King Jr., March on Washington, 1963 Here's my response to the DNC.

Dylan Wiersma, Green Party: The first night of the DNC appeared as contrived as their Republican counterparts first night two weeks earlier. While criticizing the GOP for parading token minorities on stage, the Dems mirrored this action while exclaiming they were "real" thing, a tolerant and inclusive party. Granted there weren't any ignorant Texans taking off their cowboy hats to pray for Melissa Ethridge while she sang the Star Spangled Banner, but at the end of the night, the Dems were cheering the same as the GOP, "Let's elect two white, heterosexual males to our presidential ticket." The Dems were a little arogant to claim they have overcome racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism. Our gov't, split between two parties, is still disproportionately white, male, heterosexual, and wealthy. Highlighting the female Senators leading up to Hillary Rodham Clinton's speech was the one redeeming quality of the night. It was empowering to see these women stand up and address issues facing women in the U.S. Finally, the Clinton's, possibly the most charismatic couple ever to grace the White House, gave two rousing speeches. Like the first night of the RNC, I felt disappointed that the final speaker, Bill Clinton (Colin Powell @ RNC), would not be on the ballot in November.

The second night of the DNC was fairly uneventful. They quickly brought up two important issues of difference between the GOP and Dems: abortion and gay rights. The theme of the convention seemed to be on pointing out every difference between the two parties answering to critics like Ralph Nader who calls them Repulicrats. Jesse Jackson gave a great speech. I almost swore never to vote for a Democrat again though, when Leiberman interrupted Dr. Stephen Hawking's speech. Here is a man infinitely more intelligent then the entire Staples Center crowd combined speaking about politics, and every moron in the arena turns around and has a cow about some senator from Connecticut. I was so utterly disappointed that the rest of the night was ignorable. Not being a Democrat, I could care less about how the Kennedys are doing in their Camelot fantasy world.

Al Gore almost won my vote on the final night of the convention. Although, like every politician, he was spouting rhetoric, he brought up one important issue after another. I didn't agree with everything, but most of what he said was powerful and not as far center as I expected. Probably the most important part of the well written speech was not in the text at all. Gore actually presented the material well and without the stiffness the media has tagged him with. He doesn't have the charm of Clinton, but it is easy to tell that a little of it has rubbed off. Gore's appeal to the left encourages me. I'm going to have to think hard between Gore and Nader. My vote for Nader isn't as solid as before, and my vote could certainly change in the next few months.

Chuck Hogan and his wife hosted a group of Parent Teacher Association members at their home in Cambridge, Vermont Monday evening to watch the Democratic National Convention. There was a mix of party supporters, including three Republicans, one Democrat and three Independents (one Bush and two Gore supporters).

Chuck Hogan "In all, we felt that the convention got off to a very slow start. The most effective early speaker was Mayor Riordan of Los Angeles. There were too many poor speakers to really grab our interest. That all changed with Senator Mikulsky of Maryland. We felt she not only spoke to the group, but had a style that made us take notice. She was a very forceful and dynamic speaker. However, parading the other women senators did little to follow up on her performance. In essence, we felt that we were just hearing the same thing over and over again.

It was at about this time that we were called and told our focus group would not be needed tonight, so the guests left and my wife went to bed, no one seemed interested in hearing Mrs. Clinton or the President speak. I, however, watched both. I realize that the Clintons have been in power for eight years, but they should, at this point, be pushing Mr. Gore to the forefront. I found both speaches lacking in this area. When Mr. Gore was mentioned, it seemed to me to be as a minor bit player in our national drama of the last eight years, with little projection of his abilities into the next four. The amount of time spent talking about 'Joey' gave me to think that Mr. Lieberman should be the nominee, not Mr. Gore.

Rotary/Small Business
A mix of groups including labor union representatives, small business owners and other citizens from across the U.S.

Don Lance, labor union rep., Akron, Ohio: "As we sat watching the convention this evening, it struck me how well they showed the diversity of the Party. The accomplishments over the last eight years for working people, children, and the working poor were well documented. The part about elected women played a bit too long, but showed the strength of Democratic women officeholders and candidates. I felt the President engaged the crowd and set the tone for the work that lies ahead for the delegates this week. The most important thing for them is to focus on the point: 'Are we better off than we were eight years ago?' This is the message which I feel will resonate with voters and bring people to the Gore column. In the area of Ohio where I live, many people hunt. Almost every household has a gun. The gun control issue turns people away. The consensus is that gun control only takes guns away from law abiding citizens; not the criminals. We have no big cities near us, so we have few big city problems. That's about it for now. Talk to you tomorrow."

Francis T. Kehoe, firefighter, Akron, Ohio: "First let me say that given a change in our electoral process, I firmly believe that President Clinton would win another four years in office. The man is a wonder, and it is nice to see him riding out at the top of his game. The convention itself, much the same as the earlier one in Philadelphia, is a sleeper. I would rather see these political parties donate some of their monies to art organizations. It all seems like so much pandering to foregone conclusions. Perhaps if we supported art organizations instead of wasting our resources, we might unleash a creative storm that would surprise us."

Jolenta Walczak, steelworker, Akron, Ohio: I'm very impressed to see that under President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, that my native country of Poland was brought into the NATO alliance. Also, it was quite interesting to find out from all the different ethnic groups particularly women how well they have done under the Clinton/ Gore administration and I think this will continue under the Gore/ Lieberman administration.

Rich Hiles, steelworker, Akron, Ohio: As usual the president's speech was electrifying. However, I think he could have included the Gore/ Lieberman ticket in it. It almost seemed to me that he was running for four more years. And ethnics seem to have done much better for real rather than as a proposition like in the Republican convention.

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