MSNBC's Chris Matthews: The Democrats Want to Avoid 'Mishegas' During Their Convention

Chris Matthews
Chris matthews, guest column
Art Streiber/MSNBC

My first Democratic convention was Atlantic City in 1964. I was working as a busboy at a nearby restaurant. Just 18 at the time, I wanted desperately to get inside and share the excitement of it all. So I stood outside a big-dollar fundraiser at the Shelburne Hotel asking if one of the wealthy donors would let me use their ticket. Finally, a very nice lady, who seemed pretty bored with it all, let me have hers. I got to shake hands with Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy and Henry “Scoop” Jackson. I’ll never forget it.

Hillary Clinton, campaign, chris matthews

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Hillary Clinton

I started attending Democratic conventions officially in 1972. I was a volunteer in the DNC press office. By 1980, I was a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter. In 1988, working for The San Francisco Examiner, I began covering both party conventions. I haven’t missed one since. This year, I’ll be anchoring alongside Brian Williams and Rachel Maddow, joining them from the convention floor. I’ll be where I wanted to be so desperately back in 1964—where the action is. I predict the big moment of this Democratic convention [July 25–28 in Philadelphia] will be Thursday evening when Hillary Clinton walks out as the first woman in American history to give a presidential acceptance speech.

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There will be other big moments, of course:

Hillary Clinton’s pick for vice president
The choice of a vice president is big news, and Clinton will want a lot of excitement coming into Philadelphia. It’s a tricky test for any presidential candidate, because it creates an intimate partnership. The person selected will be in the same hall as the Oval Office. He or she becomes either the trusted counselor or the frustrated outsider. It’s the first big job of the presidential nominee to get this decision right. As of this writing, it appears she will make the announcement the weekend before the convention starts. There’s serious talk about Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The primetime speeches
It now appears, given his endorsement of Secretary Clinton, that Bernie Sanders will get a big primetime speaking opportunity. That could come as early as Monday—sharing the bill with another progressive hero, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Later in the week, expect to hear from Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton. The two showstopping addresses, I predict, will be President Obama and the historic nominee herself, Hillary Clinton. She will cap the convention on Thursday night.

Finally, party unity
It looks like Senator Sanders has won the big fights for which he campaigned. The Democratic platform will support a $15-an-hour minimum wage, tuition money for state universities and a commitment to universal health coverage. This means no big floor
debates during convention week itself.

democratic national convention, chris matthews

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Barack Obama accepts the nomination at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Clinton’s official selection as the Democratic presidential candidate
It’s going to be a historic moment. Roughly half the delegates will be women, and when they have the roll call of voters, there will be tremendous emotion in the room. Young women may not appreciate the history that has gone into making this plausible, but older women who have had a lifetime of experience understand that this is an awakening of true equality.

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The party’s attempt to be the “sane” ones
Hillary may not be the most exciting choice, but she’s a safe choice for the voter in November. There could be a great sense of electoral confidence like there was in 1964 with Lyndon Johnson against the Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater. The Democrats won’t want to match the expected mishegas of the Republican convention. They’ll want to be seen as the reasonable center-left party that’s got its head screwed on. —As told to Ileane Rudolph

MSNBC at the Democratic National Convention, Monday–Thursday,  July 25–28, 7/6c, MSNBC.