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OUR OPINION: Democrats in the arena

"Fearless of the future; unheeding of our individual fates; with unflinching hearts and undimmed eyes; we stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!"...

Our Opinion

"Fearless of the future; unheeding of our individual fates; with unflinching hearts and undimmed eyes; we stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!"

Now that was a convention.

The speaker was Teddy Roosevelt, the year was 1912 and the event was the Republican National Convention. Smithsonian magazine describes the proceedings, in which TR squared off in an epic nominating battle against William Howard Taft:

"The resulting floor fight in the aptly named Chicago Coliseum lived up to the prediction of the Irish-American humorist Finley Peter Dunne that the convention would be 'a combynation iv th' Chicago fire, Saint Bartholomew's massacree, the battle iv th' Boyne, th' life iv Jesse James, an' th' night iv th' big wind.'"

And that's just one episode in the great American history of political conventions, which continues at the Alerus Center today as the Democrats take over Grand Forks.


Welcome, all.

There's a feeling you get when you're climbing the hills at Gettysburg or strolling alongside Antietam Creek that you're walking on hallowed ground. Nothing of that import has taken place in the Alerus Center's short history -- at least, not yet.

But the delegates still can count themselves part of a grand tradition, one that stretches back to colonial days and features countless scenes of American politics at its best.

There was the 1948 convention speech delivered by the young mayor of Minneapolis, Hubert H. Humphrey, in which he demanded a civil rights plank in the party's platform -- and prompted the Dixiecrats to walk out: "The time has arrived for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of state's rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights," Humphrey announced.

There was the moment in 1896, when William Jennings Bryan transfixed the Democratic National Convention in Chicago with his defense of the Free Silver movement, then closed with these words: "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!"

Wikipedia describes the scene:

"As Bryan spoke his final sentence, recalling the Crucifixtion of Jesus, he placed his hands to his temples, fingers extended; with the final words, he extended his arms to his sides straight out from his body and held that pose for about five seconds as if offering himself as sacrifice for the cause, as the audience watched in dead silence."

The silence didn't last long. "The Coliseum burst into pandemonium," the description continues.


"Delegates threw hats, coats, and handkerchiefs into the air. Two alert police officers had joined Bryan, anticipating the crush. The policemen were swept away by the flood of delegates, who raised Bryan to their shoulders and carried him around the floor. 'Bedlam broke loose, delirium reigned supreme,' the Washington Post reported."

And there was the convention speech in 2004 that first brought a Senate candidate from Illinois to the national consciousness. "There's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America," Barack Obama said.

It was TR who once spoke of the man in the arena, "who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause." Democratic delegates are in that arena today, literally and figuratively. They're making history, not watching it be made; and in the process, they're keeping the American tradition of Roosevelt and Humphrey and Obama alive. Again, welcome.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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