House party

Two years ago, in the summer of 2004, my friends Kerry and Deana hosted a party centered around a campaign to elect John Kerry president. In what was something of a technological first – for me, anyway – we hooked up via the Internet to a nationwide phone call from filmmaker Michael Moore, who was headlining this MoveOn “national house party,” not to mention promoting his movie Farenheit 9/11, which was just being released in theaters. President Bush was way ahead at the polls and seemingly unstoppable, but gathered there that night with dozens of like-minded citizens, not to mention tens of thousands of others assembled at similar events around the country, I couldn’t help but feel the political landscape was shifting and the forces of hope, compassion and rationality would prevail.

We all know how that turned out. But it was a damn fine party anyway, which is why last night we tried again.

MoveOn’s focus this time was the 2006 Congressional elections, and the featured speaker via national Internet/phone hookup was Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, more dignified than Moore, perhaps, but equally strong and confident. Most of the four dozen or so guests were on the experienced side of 50, and almost all of them had signed up to attend the most convenient such gathering on the MoveOn master list and had never met their hosts.

The event was successful in that Obama and the MoveOn organizers convinced most of the attendees to volunteer to make hours of nationwide get-out-the-vote phone calls between now and election day. Their call list, compiled by MoveOn, will consist of registered Democrats who are low-propensity voters – people who, records show, tend not to vote but choose Democrats when they do. Many of these people are discouraged by the political climate, the theory goes, and by connecting with them on the phone, volunteers can spark enough hope or anger to get them to the polls.

Afterwards, people stayed to talk for a while about what else they can do to get the country back on track. These folks were bright and passionate and had a lot to offer. One guy, arguing for publicly funded campaigns, said he was in the room when a group of New England real estate barons cooked up Michael Dukakis’ presidential bid, trying to create a Massachusetts Miracle for their own net worth. A woman up on global warming said if we don’t take care of the environment, it won’t matter who gets elected because we’ll all be gone soon anyway. Several others talked about voter fraud and the many ways Republicans supposedly fixed the last two elections.

I suggested that it might help if our party fielded some candidates this time who, you know, actually offered something other than anger and frustration. Obviously, Americans are unhappy with the country’s direction. Polls show that everyone up to Karl Rove would love to vote against the Republicans if he didn’t have to vote for Democrats. People seemed to agree but nobody had an answer.

I was thinking about that this morning when I read Patrick Goldstein’s column in the L.A. Times Calendar section about how the movie business now is all about marketing and not production. The studios don’t seem to care much about the content or quality of what they’re selling, as long as it’s something they know how to promote. Same deal in politics, I guess.

I turned on my computer to find I’d already gotten two emails from MoveOn – one a survey about last night’s event, and the other noting that I didn’t sign up for the volunteer phone tree and urging me to get on board. These guys don’t miss a trick, and maybe that’s what we need. But before I sign up to make those calls, can we maybe find some candidates with personality, good ideas and backbone?

Or is that too much to ask?

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