Schweitzer’s DNC Coronation

By Kellyn Brown

On the second day of a Democratic convention that even party loyalists had panned as dull, a sweating Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer took the podium. He yelled, waved his arms and brought a previously unenthused audience to its feet. He slammed the Bush administration’s energy policy while tying it to that of presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.

This was a big stage, even for Schweitzer, who is well traveled on the talk-show circuit. His address preceded that of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton’s, the most anticipated of the evening. He followed keynote speaker Mark Warner, the former governor of Virginia, who helped ease some of the pressure by delivering such a dud that he’s unlikely to be mentioned again as a future Democratic candidate for the Oval Office.

No – now it’s Schweitzer that is being touted as the rising star in the party even though many of the news networks didn’t air his remarks (some cut to him mid-speech when it became apparent that he was the most exciting, and peculiar, attraction of the show).

And the premature coronations soon rolled in for a governor well known to the West but less so to the nation.

The New Republic: Brian Schweitzer “could well be the Barack Obama of 2008.”

Los Angeles Times:
“Party activists got a glimpse Tuesday of a surprising new breakout star: a jovial, round-faced warrior with a bolo tie who managed to attack Republicans while keeping a smile on his face.”

Christian Science Monitor: “Brian Schweitzer did the equivalent of summiting Everest for the first time … getting the crowd to roar while discussing renewable energy.”

Forbes: “Democrats should have made him a keynote.”

To me, Schweitzer looked nervous as he began. And a report surfaced that he had changed his speech just hours prior when convention officials told him his primetime speaking spot was in jeopardy if he didn’t hammer John McCain.

He did so with gusto.

“If you drilled everywhere,” the governor bellowed, “if you drilled in all of John McCain’s backyards, even the ones he doesn’t know he has, that single proposition is a dry well.” The crowd roared every time he unloaded on the Republican and Schweitzer fed off it – at one point ordering them to get off their hind-ends.

The GOP back home was less impressed. Schweitzer, after all, brags that he chose a Republican lieutenant governor in John Bohlinger and has a history of working across party lines. “It’s like Brian Schweitzer came to Denver and got intoxicated with partisanship, by the high altitude up there,” GOP state Party Chairman Erik Iverson told Lee Newspapers. “That was a full, frontal attack on John McCain.”

But that’s exactly what the partisan crowd wanted. You see, at these conventions speaking about policy is fine as long you include soaring rhetoric that belittles the competition. And there was little of that done effectively until Schweitzer gave the biggest speech of his life.

Whether you agree with the substance of his message – that we can’t drill our way out of expensive gasoline or that Montana’s economic progress is a result of his policies – is another argument. But Schweitzer, who on previous national stages has looked phony by acting too folksy, appeared charismatic with infinite political potential. For the moment, he’s the next big thing, just as Obama was four years ago.

First, he has to defend his gubernatorial seat in a race where he is heavily favored. But if he wasn’t before, he is looking ahead now.

Political insiders often joke that every speaker at these conventions carries a rough draft of their inaugural presidential speech in their back pocket. After that speech, Schweitzer is certainly editing his.

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