DNC Dispatch: Diplomats, Turner and Kasich

By Katherine Miller, executive director of communications, UN Foundation


Yesterday’s convention headlines were dominated (and rightly so) by Sen. Ted Kennedy’s moving display of personal strength and party loyalty, as well as Michelle Obama’s touching portrait of her loving family. But behind the scenes there important discussions about climate change and global philanthropy taking place.

The National Democratic Institute is hosting the International Leaders Forum, a series of events for the more than 1,200 foreign dignitaries who are here to witness Barak Obama officially taking control of the Democratic party and begin the final push towards Election Day. C-Span is featuring some of the video on its DNC hub.The diplomats are especially excited about Wednesday’s day long program featuring Madeline Albright, former Sen. Tom Daschle, Richard Holbrooke, former Sen. Tim Wirth (president of the UN foundation) and rumored guest Joe Biden. But until then they are spending their time listening to members of Congress, policy advisers, and others discuss the role of international cooperation and ideas for the next Administration’s foreign policy approaches.

Alongside of the NDI program is the 2008 Rocky Mountain Roundtable hosted by the city of Denver and Mayor Hickenlooper. Yesterday’s panel on global philanthropy was held before an audience of more than 900 people and featured Ted Turner, Larry Brilliant, Mary Robinson, Andrew Young, and many others. It was moderated by Walter Isaacson. It was inspiring and feisty, and there was a general consensus that, among the issues facing us, Climate Change is the most important. As Brilliant said, “if we don’t do something now, we’ll have malaria in Los Angeles and we won’t have to worry about the design for the 9/11 memorial because New York will be underwater.” Dramatic statements, yes. But not untrue according to the world’s scientists.

Listening to these amazing men and women was totally inspiring and (unknowingly) prepared me for a discussion I had later that evening in the Convention Hall. After listening to Kennedy’s speech, I ran into former Ohio Representative John Kasich. Now a commentator on Fox, Kasich took the opportunity to tell me how screwed up the UN is, how we all need to fix it and that its letting people die.

It was clear (and disappointing) after much discussion that Kasich, probably doesn’t understand the role the UN plays in humanitarian situations. Or at least things of them along parallel lines. He has just returned from a trip to Rwanda and commented on all the amazing things happening there but refused to acknowledge the role of UNICEF, WHO, or others on the ground there and throughout the rest of Africa. Instead he is fixated on trying to make the UN into something it is not, a governing body instead of a diplomatic one.

We closed out our conversation agreeing to disagree but, I did invite him to NDI’s session on Wednesday. Maybe hearing about the good work of the UN, the American public’s desire for international cooperation, and meeting some of the 2,200 people expected to attend will open his eyes a little more.