Netroots Wrap-up: Opening Keynotes

As part of my wrap-up of the Netroots Nation conference, I finally found the following video of the opening keynotes. While there is something to learn from each speech, there are two speeches worth focusing on.

First, NEA Vice-President Lily Eskelsen’s speech begins at roughly the 41 minute mark and is masterful. She provides an engaging and well-paced speech that expresses the importance of standing with teachers at a time when conservatives have targeted the educational system for plunder. Perhaps exhibiting my personal bias, I was appreciative of her specific reference to the dwindling funding for debate programs under conservative budgets.

Second, NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman gave a fascinating speech. Fascinating because it left the room confused more than excited. His professional obligations prevented him from commenting on his ongoing investigations into the financial sector wrongdoing that precipitated the economic crisis and this was met by hostility from the Occupy set and eye rolls from the mainstream progressives (compounded by a kerfuffle over whether or not Schneiderman was invited and declined to participate in a later panel on the foreclosure crisis). As a lawyer, I felt sorry for Schneiderman because he truly is bound to stay silent about an ongoing investigation. However, given the audience, he had to have known that failing to at least provide a strongly worded, if vague, commitment to bring the perpetrators to justice. I was left wondering what exactly Schneiderman was hoping to accomplish with this crowd. I guess when you work in the law long enough, you can forget that the average person does not understand the intricacies of the profession.

His decision to invoke FDR’s language that those on the Left are charged with “making me” act, I believe Schneiderman was asking the progressive blogosphere to conduct its own investigative journalism to both assist his office directly and to indirectly assist by raising awareness to force state lawmakers to provide him with more resources to investigate on his own. I know from personal experience that Schneiderman’s office is understaffed and under budgeted for the scope of the investigations the Netroots faithful seek. Unfortunately, because Schneiderman didn’t cast the speech in terms of staff and budget pressures, the appeal came across as a buck passing that further agitated the crowd.

But then Schneiderman concluded by calling for a Second New Deal, a bold proclamation that only confounded those annoyed by the rest of his speech. I thought the conclusion of the speech was strong, but I couldn’t argue with those around me who felt it reflected an official who was “all talk, no walk” after the poor messaging of the beginning of the speech.

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