The Democratic Party without the party

November 14th, 2008

I’ve never made a political contribution in my life. (True, I did manage David Tyberg’s ill-fated race for class president in 11th grade and I also masterminded the KEG Party’s joke campaign for SGA president at the University of Maryland.) But the reality is my involvement with politics is pretty much non-existent.

Which is why it was really strange when Mark Warner’s campaign for Senate thought I was a donor named “Nick.” I have no idea how my e-mail address got into Warner’s database. This wasn’t for press alerts either; these were straight-on announcements for donors.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by the mix-up. In the mid-1990s, then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich sent my grandfather a signed gavel “in personal appreciation of your support.” Grandpa was, at the time, a life-long Democrat who had never supported a Republican candidate, let alone vote in Gingrich’s home state of Georgia.

Fast forward more than a decade, and here I am, a registered Independent in the state of Maryland, getting e-mails from Warner, a candidate I could not vote for even if I wanted to. At first I thought they were junk e-mails, sort of a localized version of that “I am the Prince of Nigeria” scam. But all the links checked out. These were official campaign e-mails.

I deleted them every few days and didn’t give them much thought. Then, about a week before the election, I got a Warner e-mail inviting me to the victory party in McLean. I might not know much about Warner but I do know that I like a good party. Besides, things looked good for Warner—up about a bazillion points in the polls, nearly universally loved throughout the Com-monwealth. Even more, I sensed Democrats would have a pretty huge election night throughout America. I’d watched election night coverage for years. Those celebrations looked like fun. I could DVR Jon Stewart—I wanted to party.

I got the approval from the News & Messenger editors. We didn’t have any reporters as-signed to cover that party, so I could call in some quotes and have a good time. (I even got my name on the media list so I’d be legit, not some migrant who crossed state lines for a can-didate I couldn’t support). Turns out I didn’t need to: This thing was open to the public. Anyone could come in off the street, eat a free dinner and watch the returns, peppered with speeches from Warner, Gov. Tim Kaine, Sen. Jim Webb and others.

Everyone I spoke with—European spectators, campaign workers and Democrats of all ages—had a blast that night. The celebration was billed for Warner, but Obama was really the star.

But, for people who couldn’t care less if a county in Florida went from red to blue (indeed, the room erupted into cheers at that moment), it wasn’t much of a party. In fact, it wasn’t a party at all.

I should’ve tampered my expectations. I was ready for a room full of young, attractive campaign workers, willing and eager to give their phone number to a reporter or his wingman. I was ready for free-flowing booze, even some dancing. I remembered Al Gore partying the night away after he conceded in 2000. There would be no concessions this time around: Election night was supposed to be Christmas, New Years and Thanksgiving all rolled together for these people.

But $7 Miller Lites is not a celebration. In fact, it’s downright oppressive. (I asked the bartender for a glass of water and was directed toward the water fountain). No one else seemed to mind, they were too focused screaming at the television. (Plus, there weren’t too many in the “under 30” demographic either)

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. In 2004 I hosted a “Choose or Booze” party for my grad school friends. One, who had volunteered for the Kerry campaign, left after 20 minutes because we “weren’t taking it seriously enough.” Lesson learned: hyper-partisans aren’t interested in having a good time until it’s all over.

Still, I’m glad I went with the Democrats rather than sit Shiva with the Republicans. Everyone was upbeat, willing to talk and share their stories. For them, there were more important things at stake than over-priced beer and bad hummus.

For me, lesson learned: Don’t go to these things expecting anything that resembles a party. Instead, it’s more like a rock concert for nerds.

People get there early, rush the stage and wait for excruciating intervals between political speakers. The real parties, it seemed, were away from the cushy Tysons Corner hotels, in and around the bars and streets of Washington, D.C.

In other words, nothing I didn’t already know.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072.

2 comments to “The Democratic Party without the party”

  1. “Instead, it’s more like a rock concert for nerds.”

    So you’re saying it was the same crowd as the coming TMBG show?

  2. Pretty much, only way older and generally less attractive (if you can believe it).