Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday Night

Tonight was my first night ever on the floor of a political convention. None of the conferences, the film festivals, the symposiums, the concerts, the athletic events can compare. How to describe it? Normally, you'd see a basketball game here, maybe a Madonna concert.

In person, the convention floor is both more intimate than I expected and also a little Las Vegas. Why Vegas? Because of all the spotlights, the carpet, the dark metal girders framing the space, the knots of people and cameras in a mixture of small areas, the focusing around a few big names, big celebs while a million other things are going on in the background the same way that a crowd will cluster around a pit boss and a group of folks on a winning streak, the video screens, the lights. And of course the big gamble on the country's future. (Gamble? What gamble? It's a sure bet!!) All that was missing was the ding-ding-ding of the casino floor.

And yet why intimate? Well, the floor is carpeted. There are folding chairs to fill every available space. I'm able to walk right up to former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and ask for her autograph, which I admit is a little weird. (Long story there, consider this a shout-out to Jennifer and Glenna and Matty.) There's no traditional advertising banners hanging from the rafters--everything, and I mean every single banner, trumpeted the names of media outlets (and their skybox and/or work area. So there were banners for BBC, MSNBC, FOX, CNN, AP, you know, the usual suspects. (There's only a few media companies left, after all.)

Instead of looking down at a game where there's room for the players to move, its a sea of people. People walking around, people in chairs. Chairs with tv monitors displaying subtitles for the hearing impaired, people with disabilities and wheelchairs, even a few kids in strollers. How in the world did they all get through security?

At 6:30 pm, the crush of people trying to get to through security was painful. A tall man with an air of authority with a floor pass from the DNC reassured people--"we'll get in by 7" he said. "Caroline Kennedy won't come on until 7:30 and Michelle Obama won't speak until 8:30."

That, by the way, is my answer. Prime-time in Mountain Time means 7:30 to satisfy both the East Coast viewers and the West Coast viewers.

Back to the convention floor--so there are small raised platforms where the big TV guys stand and the photographers with the amazing camera lens that are larger than a VW van are aimed at the stage. There are these boom things that rise up and down and seem to have only a small binocular attached at the end. Ok, it's obviously a camera because I saw it was hooked up to a video monitor, but it looked like a guy had gotten a great extension tool for his personal opera spy glasses.

Then there are all the roaming cameras with the lights and the interviewer with the microphone. I saw a knot of these folks around former presidential candidate George McGovern. My George--his was the first campaign I ever volunteered for. I still have his campaign poster that he signed on a book tour that took him through Marin.

I saw former Secretary of State Madeline Albright walking into the Pepsi Center wearing a white pantsuit. And I saw her leaving at the end of the evening with a huge crowd of people streaming out after Michelle Obama spoke, What are the chances? At least I knew who she was. I am seeing so many distinguished white-haired men of a certain age with a certain type of gravitas. Who are you? Clearly you are running a small but significant portion of this country. Would it hurt to wear a name tag? At least on TV they tell you who it is.

So all that, plus a few people in the silly hats and the buttons and vertical signage that says the name of the state where the delegates are sitting. Just like always.

But you're wondering--what about the speeches? Yes, the speeches.

Okay, it's late and I'm tired and I've already given my low-down to my sister Jane, my nephew Jonathan, and Leah by telephone (she's flying in tomorrow).

I thought Caroline Kennedy was beautifully turned out. Just dazzling on a visual level. But she cannot speak. She delivered her speech (which was very moving) in a sing-song voice. She never was in the public eye and only came out, so to speak, for Obama. Her lack of experience, coupled with the expectations of her family name are a flat-tasting brew.

The movie about Ted was terrific. Frantic assistants ran up and down the aisles passing out Kennedy signs that we were to hold up and shake and cheer at the right moment, like, when he came out.

And that he did. I was off to the extreme left side of the stage and saw the handler escort him to the position where he could walk straight to the podium. He was a little stiff, a little bent over. But hey! He had all his hair! How do you go through a brain surgery and keep all your hair? And he just has so many accomplishments. And you show us those pictures of JFK and Bobby and hell, it just brings tears to my eyes. And he made some great points. About how we as a country should reach for lofty goals like his brother did in launching the Space program and the race to the moon. He said something to the effect of, I saw it (these ambitious and idealistic programs), I lived it, I know we can do it and we can do it again. But he said it better. Like he loved us and loved the country and knew what we were capable of, the way, well, the way a beloved uncle knows you.

So yeah, I shook the sign they gave me and I meant it. TED-DEE! TED-DEE!! And consistently, the crowd gave its warmest cheers anytime the subject of universal health care came up. And it came up a lot with Uncle Teddy.

Now then--Michelle. Is she a movie star or what? Is she like, Ms. Diana Ross but like, a nice socially aware version? The camera loves her. Loves her loves her loves. By that I mean, she was right there, very beautiful but still, normal. And then again times 3, there she was on the giant video monitor directly above and much larger. And MUCH more stunning. They say the camera just loves some people--the planes of their face, the shape of their eyebrows, their cheeks. Michelle Obama is one of those people.

Wasn't crazy about the speech. Sounded to me like she is still doing damage control that yes, in fact, she loves her country and is still responding to that kerfuffle last season when the right-wing pounced on her for her statement blah, blah blah. And she sounded like she was really trying to sound sincere and from the heart. Oh come on, Michelle--what do you REALLY think about all this?

And the brother. Okay, nice guy. Basketball coach, Oregon, oh so lovey-dovey. I mean, he's okay. He's not going to be a Roger Clinton or a Billy Carter. But since when did the convention become the place where the American public vets the political family? Who cares? The man is not that great a speaker. Could you please keep this thing moving along because we all really just want to see Michelle. Be in the same room with her. Pretend that we know her, like Sophia Loren or something.

And that whole romance dating thing that the Obama's think they have to explain to us. Did you get it? I didn't get it at all. The decisive moment in their relationship was when he invited her for ice cream after the company picnic? What? Could someone do another draft of this and get me the rewrite by the morning? It's just sort of a nothing story. No one would accept this story in a workshop. What are you afraid of exploring here? they'd all say. They'd rip her speech writers apart.

But then they get the big guy on the remote satellite link and he makes this great joke. He connects. He makes the nothing phrases sound really cool. Oh, he's got something alright. Thursday night will be amazing.

For the record, every media pundit says Michelle Obama delivered a homerun. Knock-out speech. So it's probably just me. Maybe because the aides were running around with those long vertical Michelle signs, trying to pass them out during the brother's speech. Maybe they are just so new. So brand new to the national stage, hard to see them after the dynasty.

What the heck. It's probably just me.

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