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Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 18:00 | SYDNEY
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Democrats in Denver II

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26 August 2008 17:46

This afternoon I ventured for the first time into Denver's Pepsi Center to watch the first day of proceedings at the Democratic National Convention. It's an impressive venue, especially when full to the rafters with twenty thousand-odd excited, screaming, dancing Americans. (I say 'this afternoon' because all the formal Convention stuff takes place late in the day, in order to maximise the television viewing audience. A lot of political business is done each day before the official kick-off, but that all happens offsite.)

A procession of politicos spoke from the podium, to variable effect. There were a good amount of 'log cabin' stories: it seems that everyone in Congress comes from an immigrant family and worked nights to put themselves through school. The worst offender, to my mind, was Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. McCaskill told a moving tale of an unnamed woman of modest means from a small town who'd battled the odds and waited tables and gone into public service. It was only when I heard the words 'She now works for families of modest means as a United States Senator' that I realised she was talking about herself.

The two emotional high points were the speeches by Senator Edward Kennedy and Michelle Obama (my photo above). Over the course of the last ten conventions, Ted Kennedy has gone from runt of the Kennedy litter to good time boy to presidential insurgent to liberal agitator to beloved ancient. He seems as monumental and timeless as the Jefferson Memorial. Of course, he is not timeless — and it was hard not to be moved by the sight of the old lion still roaring and pawing the air, and pledging to be in Washington next January for Barack Obama's inauguration.

The effect of Kennedy's appearance was spoiled only a little by the convention organisers' decision to segue quickly into the Kool and the Gang song 'Celebration' (with the refrain 'Celebrate good times, c'mon!'). Then, as if to illustrate the glorious spectrum of American politics, the announcer asked delegates to 'welcome to the podium the... City Clerk of Chicago!' (Poor fellow: his big moment, and he gets the slot after Kennedy.)

Michelle Obama came across as a warm, strong professional woman — who'd have thought she was an Afro-sporting, AK-47-toting radical? Her job tonight was to open a window a little on to the Obama marriage, and she did this with some dignity. The nicest touch of the evening came directly after her speech, with a live cross to Barack Obama in Kansas City featuring some easy banter between Obama and his cute daughters.

The two Tribes of Denver for today are the Eccentrics and the Hawkers. Boy, does a convention bring out Eccentrics. There are people in Denver dressed as spacemen and kung fu masters. I saw one guy with his face painted so as to resemble a gunshot victim. There are preachers shouting from street corners, and being robustly booed for their efforts. A man in fatigues spent the whole day walking around town with a hand-drawn sign saying 'Real Americans love Fox News' on one side and 'Fox News really IS fair and balanced' on the other. I spoke to a nice chap in full colonial get-up (including brass buckles tied to his Topsiders) telling people about Revolutionary history. Naturally, his name was George.

This being America, the joint is full of Hawkers. Everyone is getting in on the act. A Mexican restaurant is advocating 'Burritos for Obama'. There are hundreds of unlicensed dealers with little stalls selling unofficial merchandise. Ladies from Denver's strip joints are prowling the mall in search of stray delegates. Every busker in North America is in town. One can buy 'Obama-in-a-box' and 'Hillary-in-a-box'. And for those whose throats are hoarse from chanting 'Yes we can', there are three kinds of soothing Bush-themed mints for sale: Impeachmints, Indictmints and National Embarrassmints.