Saturday, July 31, 2004

Conventional Wisdom - Part One

So I followed the recent Democratic convention the way that most Americans followed it - not at all. I've been busy, and didn't even have time to watch The Daily Show, much less the keynote speakers. So what I picked up I picked up from osmosis - friends, the web, and the media (yeah, I know, that's scary). But I want to put down a few things in this hammock between the two conventions.

The Conventional (heh) media wisdom was that the convention would be a snore, and, if the Dems did things right, it would be. Stuff that makes good television usually makes for bad politics - 68 in Chicago? Great television, good for democracy in general, lousy for the party. So if they got through the week without major gaffes, without horrible things happening, and with modicum of positive spin, they've done the job. Everything after that is gravy.

The Conventions are not (contrary to opinion) a big commercial - they are about firing up the base and about the ground-level connections that make any group work. Not only among the various factions and committees and delegations, but with the those reporting on the efforts. This convention is just like the International Pipefitting Device Convention in Peoria, its a meet and greet, a place where faces are put to communications.

And just so you know - San Deigo Comics convention? 85,000 attendees. Democratic Convention? 35,000. So don't complain about not getting enough ink.

That all said, the Democrats did real well. There were a few gaffes, and no one really got out of line. For the Democrats, this is amazing. This is a party that has more wings than a John Madden turkey has legs, and to see them all pulling in the same general direction is a scary thing to behold.

The Democrats also revealed something that most of us have forgotten - the power of speeches. Time after time, I heard about how great the speeches were. Clinton was great. Carter was great. Obama was fantastic. Edwards was spot-on. Kerry's was "the best speech he ever gave" (That's praising with faint damns from our media). And in one brief, shining moment, the Dems understood the attractiveness of Ronald Reagan as the late president's son spoke about stem cells. Yeah, you could see the synapses firing in their brains - This is why his father was popular.

Couple minor gaffes - The possible future first lady told a newspaper reporter to "shove it". And by reporter I mean editorial writer. And by newspaper I mean the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a cross between Fox News and My Weekly Reader. Unlike most commentators, I can honestly say I have read this paper, and state that its been picking on Mother Teresa since she was married to Senator John Heinz (the late Republican senator was insufficiently bloodthirsty to satisfy the Scaife owners of the Trib). It was a minor dust-up (compared to, say, the Veep tossing around the F-Bomb on the Senate floor), and the end result was to make the candidate's wife "fiesty" and "independent". Which makes me think it may have been planned.

And on THK, I did catch part of her speech. While the commentators are trolling obscure European films to place her accent, most of America is going to think of one thing - Eva Gabor from "Green Acres". OK, admit it, you just got the image of Kerry and Kerry in the American Gothic pose. John Edwards as Eb. Bill Clinton as Mr. Haney. This has been a filmways production darlink.

And there was also an attempt to embarrass Kerry with a picture of him in a blue clean suit at NASA, looking like he was auditioning for the road-show version of Harvey. The Reps are still hoping for a "Dukakis in a Tank" moment, an image that can crystalize a negative spin, but they should be avoiding photos - the Dems just have to flip the flashcard of the "President in a Flight Suit".

OK, the speeches were amazing, even filtering down to my level. The biggie in the early part of the week was Barack Obama, who is the "new Mario Cuomo" in that a good speech thrust him to the forefront of the party (no one wants to mention that a good speech at the convention also thrust Mike Dukakis to the forefront of the party). The big paragraph that gets quoted is:

The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or do we participate in a politics of hope?

Awesome god. Awesome text. I'm a sucker for a unity message.

In many ways, the coverage of good speech after good speech seemed like the media was itself creating a story here - building up for big expectations for Kerry's own acceptance speech. Kerry is not as stiff as claimed, but he did have a helluva warmup band. And yet he spiked it, laid himself out, presented his background and his intentions. In effect, introduced himself in a way that the media had pressed him to do. And in turn they (even the right-o-center commentators) gave him good marks. Even a Democrat convention director cursing live on-air about the balloons not falling could not mar the moment.

And we have to fold away the tinfoil hats - the Clintonista Democratic Leadership Committe did not pull out any coup to put Hillary on the throne. But we can keep the tinfoil hats on hand - Stories that Pakistan was being pressed to deliver a High Visibility Terrorist during the convention were realized when, two hours before Kerry's big speech, Pakistan delivered a High Visibility Terrorist. But even that got buried by the convention news (it showed up on page 11 of the local paper) - in part because the Pakistanis bagged him five days previous, but only made the announcement at what was hoped to be a advantageous time).

As one blogger put it "If it takes a Democratic Convention to get the administration to get serious about terrorism, let's hold one every week!"

The bloggers themselves were there in force, being subsumed into the body politic. They were taken more seriously, and made their media and political connections as well. In part, the positive spin from the mainstream media may be in part from the presence of the bloggers, who could beat out the mainstream in speed, had a left-of-center view, and were reporting both on the convention and on the media coverage (who watches the watchmen, indeed?). I am sure that more than a few bloggers saw long-range opportunities here, and that political blogwriters will soon join the pundocracy of talking heads.

If the bloggers had the juice at this convention, protesters didn't. The "free speech zones" were a joke, looking like prison camps, and only covered by the media to show how oppressive they were. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette covered a mock conflict between LaRouchies and a bunch of guys dressed up as pirates, but for the most part the protesters were uncovered and forgotten. I think this was part of a media "theme" as well - if the mainstream Dems are supposed to the left, it confuses the issue to show people protesting that they are too conservative (which was where most of the protests came from)

And so its done, and the city of Boston and the Democratic Party both get to breath a sigh of relief. Interesting news at a convention is not always a good thing, and the Dems showed, much to my surprise, that they could get together under one roof and put on a show. That bodes well for their level of organization.

More later on the subject, after New York,