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FEATURES Are the Democrats Back? From One Morales to Another at the Texas Democratic Convention BY MICHAEL KING The Democrats are Back!” It was the sort of celebratory sentiment that would have sounded more contagious emanating from almost any other source. In the mouth of Attorney General Dan Morales, that heroic defender of endangered property rights everywhere, it carried beneath its promise a distinct undertone of threat. As if in confirmation, Morales stayed at the dais only long enough to introduce Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, who immediately declared war on extremism. In the air, the silence of trumpets. It was only the formal opening ceremonies, Friday night at the sprawling Dallas Convention Center, and it was frankly hard to get mad at the Democrats. Their Republican counterparts, those extremists Bullock resoundingly denounced from the pulpit, had in just a year and a half moved the national conversation so far to the right that the Democrats photo-op on Friday morninga “community service” excursion in which a group of pols and party volunteers had helped demolish some old folks’ city-condemned garageslooked like a Revolutionary Brigade Storming Tiger Mountain by Starlight. The volunteers’ t-shirts read “I care therefore I vote Democratic,” and it seemed almost churlish to ask, in the face of this collective sentiment, whether voting Democratic might also mean that in the future the citizens of Dallas might expect to have enough resources to tear down their own hazardous eyesores. Or should they just wait until the next convention? New Democratic Chairman Bill White told the Dallas Morning News that the party’s service project was testimony to the Democrats’ belief “in the community and a vital civic culture,” and the words sounded on the ear like a sudden radical vision of the promised land. That’s what Gingrich and his hitmen have done to us, and for the Democratic Party, which only a year ago seemed deader than a roadside armadillo. A year of the Republicans had suddenly made it hipor at least hipperto be a Democrat again, and if you crossed your fingers, closed your eyes, and whistled loudly enough, the weekend’s designated mantra of “mainstream values” could almost sound like call to arms. The collective euphoria that for two days pervaded the air did seem genuine, contagious, and at least partly reasonable. The cavernous Convention Center, with its stadium-sized central hall and coded labyrinth of conference rooms, is a tough venue for a revival meetingthe congregants needed all their strength just to get from one end of the building to another. But from the miscellaneous workshops on Friday morning to Al Franken’s jabs at Phil Gramm on Saturday Democratic Senatorial Candidate Victor Morales: the common touch Alan Pogue 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 28, 1996