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Democrats in Denver III

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COMMENTS

27 August 2008 20:33

I spent three or four hours in the Pepsi Center this evening listening to the Convention proceedings. The size of the whole production continues to impress. Down on the floor, delegates shuffle around like worker bees on a honeycomb. Rising up the steep sides of the arena are rows of seats, hospitality suites and skyboxes, of varying levels of prestige.

The convention has two quite different vibes. In the arena itself, there's a revival meeting going on: when a speaker comes to the podium, the respective state delegation members cheer like crazy people; delegates are wont to break into chants at the slightest provocation. On the other hand, the rest of the Pepsi Center feels like one enormous airport lounge. It's full of A-type personalities talking into their mobile phones; there is free food and booze lying around; and the punters are sliced and diced into multiple hierarchical categories: Honored Guests, Special Guests, VIPs, and so on. (Pity the poor Democrat who is only a Guest.)

There were lots more log cabin stories tonight — in fact, often the cabin in question is several generations removed from the speaker. Senator Amy Klobuchar recounted that her 'grandpa worked 1,500 feet underground in the iron ore mines of Ely, Minnesota'. Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas somehow worked in the fact that her great-grandmother was a maid.

On the other hand, a few speakers managed to achieve the desired effect more naturally. Angeleno Congressman Xavier Becerra spoke of his constituents this way:

There is a saying I've always believed in: dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres. Tell me with whom you walk and I will tell you who you are. Well, my friends, I know with whom I walk. I walk with those who build and drive, cook and clean, feed and bathe, protect and serve. And, my fellow Americans, in January, 2009, we will finally have a leader who walks with us — the next President of the United States, Barack Obama!

We also heard from some of the working people to whom Becerra referred. The convention organisers invited a number of workers to speak from the podium — an autoworker from Michigan who has just been diagnosed with diabetes and is scheduled to lose his job, a former textiles employee who has been laid off, and so on. This might have felt manipulative, but it did not. It felt good to hear from ordinary people, rather than just hearing about them the whole time. These speakers really do live in the 21st century equivalent of a log cabin.

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer — a folksy, tubby fella in bolo tie and jeans — gave a rip-snorting rant that completely overshadowed the management talk of the supposed keynote speaker, former governor of Virginia, Mark Warner. Said Brian: 'Now (McCain) wants to give the oil companies another 4 billion dollars in tax breaks. Four billion in tax breaks for big oil? That’s a lot of change, but it’s not the change we need.'

Of course, the star of the show was Senator Hillary Clinton (my photo above). If the Pepsi Center is a honeycomb, then tonight Clinton was indisputably the queen bee. After a brilliantly produced video tribute, complete with guitar licks and self-deprecating jokes, Hillary gave a pitch-perfect address. It was strong, stylish and dignified — the equal of her concession speech. If it did not have a phrase quite as evocative as the one about the 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, it did have some memorable lines:

It makes perfect sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities (for the Republican National Convention), because these days they're awfully hard to tell apart.

Finally, let me describe two further Tribes of Denver. This being a political convention, there are plenty of Peacocks strutting around — politicians on the make, perhaps serving as county dog-catcher just now but on the path to the White House, in their minds at least. There are also a disturbing number of Peachicks around the place, besuited way before their time. Some of these folk look twelve, yet credentials entwine their neckties and BlackBerries buzz on their belts.

You also see Hacks everywhere. By Hacks, I don't mean the foreign press , which is doing a good job covering a huge story with little access from the authorities. I mean the elite US media, which is something else to see. Correspondents from the big networks and cable channels perch in little gilded cages scattered around the convention floor — buffed, tanned and dyed. They sit facing away from the podium in order to provide the optimal backdrop for the TV. Last night, one very blonde anchorwoman sat perfectly composed in one of these booths, lit from above, in a sparkling white dress — looking for all the world like the little wax angel we used to put on top of our Christmas tree.

If you ever doubt that American talking heads believe they are an integral part of the story they are covering, check out the mock-up campaign posters adorning the background of the CNN set — featuring CNN correspondents as the candidates.