I am sitting here listening to the speakers at the last day of the Democratic National Convention. Call it a liveblog. I will be posting here throughout the night, although I am going to shut things down when the final hour begins, so I can pay attention to the most important speakers. As I write, Tammy Baldwin is taking the stage, for context.
Attending the Democratic National Convention has, so far, been the experience of a lifetime. It has been so overwhelming that I haven't had time to type out any thoughts or reactions yet. I hope to make up for this in the next few days, and to jot down some random thoughts tonight.
Our airplane flight out was somewhat of a nightmare, as the plane was held in Phoenix because of concerns about thunderstorms. Of course, Fox News immediately went live on the air with the conspiracy theory that Obama himself had caused the bad weather and that he really didn't want us to attend. Or something -- it's hard to tell what with all the nonsense and folderol being broadcast about Democrats and the weather this week. More on that in a bit. But enough travel stories, as they are really only interesting to people on the same flight in any case.
We got in around midnight, and after a $50 cab ride arrived at our hotel.
We awoke and headed out to explore the scene. The weather looked pretty overcast, once again, because of divine intervention (according to the righties... sigh...). Throughout the day, the skies opened up repeatedly for stormy downpours and the occasional thunder and lightning. We had to put up with occasionally getting soaked.
We roamed the city center ("uptown" for Charlotteians... Charlotteers, maybe?) and found all sorts of parties and events we would return to throughout the week. Of particular note was "The PPL" (supposed to be pronounced "The People" but we couldn't keep from saying "The Pupple" ourselves...), an alternative site for those media who couldn't score the official press credentials to get inside.
Also of note was a private museum-style exhibition hall set up by a private political memorabilia collector, complete with a replica Oval Office, replica "Resolute" presidential desk, and replica segment of the old (707) Air Force One. I spent a pleasant time here, mostly enjoying the way their roof kept the torrential rain off my head.
The most fun thing during the week was the private parties. When you have a press pass, you do not "crash" such parties, you instead "cover the scene for your publication." In other words, free food and liquor from all sorts of different organizations. The best of these was a pub quiz put on by Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post (who writes "The Fix" blog), and a party thrown by Real Clear Politics.
One thing you'll note in this reminiscence is a lack of blow-by-blow descriptions of what happened inside the arena on the first day. There is indeed a reason for this, and the reason is that my lovely wife and I had only a single press credential to share between us. Due to logistical problems with going in and out of the arena (security, torrential rainfall, etc.), we decided not to swap off throughout the night and so she went inside for the first evening to see Michelle Obama's speech and all the rest of the speakers.
I was left to fend for myself. The problem I had was finding a venue where there was not only a television on, but one where the sound wasn't muted. Most of the events were filled with blasé media types who weren't paying the slightest attention to what was going on at the actual convention. Finally, I took a gamble and headed over to the Real Clear Politics party. There, I found a GIANT projection television, with more-than-adequate sound.
Deval Patrick's speech was inspiring, what with his "It's time for Democrats to grow a backbone" theme. Julian Castro is obviously headed for bigger things within the Democratic Party, as he held the arena rapt for his entire speech. His best line was a comeback to Mitt Romney's suggestion that a college student "borrow money off your parents" to start a business -- "Gee, why didn't I think of that?"
I sat in front of the screen at the RCP party, as oblivious to the hipsters as they were to me, and watched the final few hours of the evening. Michelle Obama, quite obviously, knocked her speech so far out of the park they're still waiting for it to come back to Earth.
My wife and I met up afterwards at yet another private shindig, where the bar was open and the livin' was easy. We got back to the hotel after 3:00 A.M.
The big secret of political conventions? Nobody sleeps, apparently. "You can sleep when you get back home" is the motto.
Keep checking back throughout the evening. I will be adding to this article as time goes on, but have to pause occasionally to post so you can read it. My apologies for any errors, as I simply am not going to have time to check text before posting.
Day Two didn't really start all that well, truth be told.
In fact, by mid-day, I was considering writing an article with the title "Cat Herders' Convention," since the confusion and chaos seemed to be mounting by the hour. The security here is un-freaking-believable, and this is coming from someone who has seen events in Washington D.C. with half a million people in attendance (to say nothing of inaugural events with upwards of two million). There are cops here from seemingly every state east of the Mississippi River, completed by an overwhelming amount of Secret Service and Capitol Hill police. I rode a bus with a cop from Chicago who seemed bemused to even be here.
Of course, I can laugh at this now, but Wednesday morning it seemed anything but funny. We had an event scheduled with the PBS Newshour, in (of all places) the NASCAR Hall of Fame, at 9:30 in the morning.
Now, our hotel is approximately 20-25 miles away from the city center. There are shuttle buses which are supposed to convey us painlessly to the main events, but they don't start running until early afternoon. This leaves either a $45 cab ride or the local public transportation. The woman behind the counter at the hotel was extremely helpful in this regard, and we took the bus to the only light rail line in the city (we were lucky, as our hotel was at the end of this route), and rode fairly comfortably downtown (oh, excuse me, "uptown"), for the princely sum of two dollars. So far, so good.
However, overnight, the security zone had been massively expanded, which meant that "you can't get there from here" was no joke. We hiked a good half-mile in one direction, gave up, hiked back, and finally found the one street we were allowed down. Then we had to circle the building, with all routes but one closed off (the last one we tried, naturally). We finally did make it to the event -- at 11:00 A.M., as it concluded.
The really annoying thing, for me, was that I had put on my new suit (with a "Jerry Garcia original" tie, just to add California flavor) for the occasion.
Now, Charlotte is in the South. For those of you unaware, the South in the summertime has to be experienced to be believed. I, in fact, grew up close to the region (close enough that the weather was the same), which is one of the major reasons I moved away in the first place. The temperature was somewhere in the 90s, and the humidity was at about 140% (yes, I am aware this is impossible, but that's what it felt like). To put this another way, this is not optimum weather to hike a few country miles in a suit and tie.
I will pause here for rude comments from the peanut gallery. "Wimp!" I hear those of you cry who have the misfortune to live where such meteorological conditions are commonplace. "You weakling Californian!" jibes might also be flung. Well, I do not deny it. Guilty as charged. My California wimpitude must be acknowledged. It is was it is, but I simply am not used to (1) wearing a suit in the first place, and (2) wearing a suit in sauna-like weather. Especially when I'm running on about two or three hours' worth of sleep.
In any case, the consolation prize was getting to meet the president of PBS, and attempting to convince him that I'd be a dandy interview subject, any time Gwen Ifill had an empty chair. Which was fun, I have to admit.
Also, checking out the NASCAR cars was a blast as well, including a racing Hudson Hornet from long ago.
From there, it was off to pick up my daily press credentials. Once again, the herding cats logistics raised their furry heads. Bloggers were forced to pick up credentials every day, before noon (making sleeping in all but impossible, seeing as how the public transportation took about an hour and a quarter each way). In the daily blogger press briefing, I did get to meet Sandra Fluke, and I have to say that anyone who annoys Rush Limbaugh is automatically OK in my book. So there was that.
With several layers of clothing sticking to me like a soggy second skin, we headed back to the hotel for a brief few hours of napping before the evening's events got underway. Gratefully, I then removed my suit and packed it away for good. By this time, I also had to bandage several blistered toes in order to be able to even walk, due to chafing in the muggy, muggy atmosphere.
OK, that was probably too much information, right? I do apologize for the lapse.
Getting back to the morning, we got one piece of good news (rumor, but still...) and one piece of disappointing news. The good news was that the Romney team had pulled all its money and advertising out of Michigan. This is a big deal, because it means they've completely given up on the state (which at one time seemed like a possibility for Mitt). This begs the question, of course -- will Romney lose all four of his "home" states? Massachusetts and California were never going to vote Republican, but New Hampshire and Michigan were seen as possibilities when the race began. Now Mitt's down to fighting for the Granite State, and if he loses it he'll have a clean sweep of four losses in the four states he can claim kinship with. Pretty pathetic, n'est pas?
The disappointing news, of course, was the announcement that the main event had been moved from the stadium to the indoor arena. The weather had been horrible up to this point, with the aforementioned torrential downpours and lightning storms. Of course, perversely, from about the hour they announced the shift, the weather cleared up and we haven't been rained on since.
A word about the rightwing conspiracy theory surrounding the move is necessary, here. According to the convention planners, 65,000 people had been issued "community credentials" to attend the stadium show, and an additional 19,000 people were on the official waiting list. Republicans claimed that the move was necessary because "Obama couldn't fill the stadium." I have first-hand knowledge that this is complete moose poop. As mentioned, my wife and I are sharing one press credential. Because of this, we have been trying for weeks to score one of these community credentials (a fancy way of saying "a ticket for the stadium event"). Weeks. When we arrived, we increased our attempts by contacting all the press and convention officials we could (quite a substantial number, some of them quite high up). We tried everything to get her in to the stadium -- to no avail. She wasn't even on the official waiting list.
Got that, conspiracy nuts? [Yes, I am looking in your direction, ChrisWeigant.com contrarian who-shall-remain-nameless!] We've been busting... um... "chops" (shall we say) all over Charlotte trying to pry an extra ticket loose. There were no tickets to be had -- even when powerful people tried to get their hands on one.
Now, if Obama were having problems filling the stadium, don't you think they would have been trying to give away tickets like candy? I can personally attest that this was not the case. So let's have less of the rightie nonsense, shall we?
Ahem. Where was I?
Oh, right, the second night. I'm going to cut things off here, so I can post what I've got so far... stay tuned for more....
Day Two (evening)
Somewhat rested, I headed off to the arena for the second night of the festivities, press pass clutched in my sweaty hands. Well, OK, that was poetic license (bordering once again on "too much information"), as it was actually on a lanyard around my neck.
Through the security, through the second (and third) levels of security, and I was finally inside. Now, I know what you're thinking -- "What an exciting moment!" Well, yes. But you have to understand that out of the reported 15,000 press present, I was on the bottom rung of the lower staircase. No fancy suites for us, in other words.
But even so, it is admittedly pretty cool to be an official card-carrying member of the Fourth Estate. I had (by now) ditched my suit and tie and was back in comfortable California attire of T-shirt and jeans. And baseball cap.
The baseball cap was actually a big hit. I had no idea, because I've been a little busy for the last few days, but when I headed to the elevators to explore the hallways, I found myself in line behind none other than George Will. I had to shake his hand, since it was actually the second time in my life I had done so (the first was in high school, but that's a whole 'nother story). He complimented me on my hat, and informed me that the Baltimore Orioles were actually leading their division.
This late in the year, this is either news of a miracle, or a sign of the immanence of the coming of the apocalypse, I should mention (for those non-baseball fans who may be reading this). After all, the O's are in the same division as the fabled New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. My hat was in fact a big hit all night long, and I even got an admiring comment from a Yankees fan. As I said, either a miracle or the end of the world approaching, take your choice.
But enough of sports stuff. We're supposed to be on the politics page, right?
My press pass allowed me to roam every hallway in the arena -- the public areas where delegates were allowed, as well as the behind-the-scenes areas in the halls outside the major television skyboxes. I have to say, this is the best-dressed crowd I have ever seen inside a basketball arena (except for those of us in casual wear, or in flamboyant costumes). I was even able, for brief periods, to get a temporary pass to roam the floor of the arena, and approach the podium. If you look closely at ABC's wall-to-wall coverage, you'll see me doing just that behind an interview with Debbie Wasserman Schultz from the floor (I'm easy to spot, just look for the Orioles cap!).
Being on the floor is pretty thrilling, I must admit in all honesty. I've seen conventions on television before, but standing ten or fifteen feet from a person giving a speech at one is indeed unique.
I leave it for others to comment on the blow-by-blow of the evening. The speeches were the usual sort of thing all night, although the tone seemed to go on a rollercoaster from ecstatic highs to long and serious lulls. The theme of the evening was business and how Democrats are not the success-hating caricature Republicans keep trying to paint them as. A quick look at the Dow Jones Industrial Average when Obama took office and now proves this, but we got many personal stories to offer up further proof, if any were necessary.
A few high points are all that are necessary. Sandra Fluke, whom I had met earlier in our blogger press briefing, was fantastic, and really woke everyone up. Elizabeth Warren got the biggest hand, and the biggest crowd response.
Of course, the biggest speech of the night was the Big Dog himself, President Bill Clinton. But that'll have to wait, as I want to get on to what's going on now, as we approach the final hour of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. So maybe I'll revisit Clinton's speech tomorrow, or over the weekend. Right now, I'm taking a break to post what I've got so far, then I'm moving straight on to the main event I am now witnessing.
The Main Event
OK, I am now rushing things a bit. I promise tomorrow (or at some point) I will go over the speeches themselves and delve into the prose and rhetoric.
Tonight I have been listening to speech after speech, and the intensity has been slowly building. I am inside the arena's bowl, and hearing these speeches live, which gives a much different flavor than viewing them on television.
John Kerry, so far, gave the most memorable speech, showing humor that was noticeably absent when he was running for president himself. I particularly liked his turning "was for it before he was against it" around on Romney.
But I'll go over all that later. Joe Biden just took the stage.
Biden gets a lot of ribbing from late night comics, Republicans, and the media. But the crowd here certainly does love themselves some Joe. Which will, no doubt, warm the heart of another ChrisWeigant.com commenter we all know and love.
Joe Biden, punchlines aside, is an excellent politician. He knows how to give a speech, he knows how to hold an audience in the palm of his hand, and like an orchestral conductor, he knows how to bring the volume up, and lower the intensity to where you can hear a pin drop.
Biden oozes humanity in a way few politicians can match. This is why Barack Obama relies on him so heavily out on the campaign trail. Biden is the consummate Average Joe, who can relate to Americans' everyday hopes and fears in a manner few can match. His skills are on full display tonight, and the crowd is eating it up like a New Jersey governor on a chili dog. So to speak (ahem).
Earlier, the Second Lady of the United States, Jill Biden, showed her own humanity with a remarkable speech. As I write this, her husband is playing the crowd like a violin, showing his remarkable range.
OK, I am going to wrap this up here. I may have time much later tonight to conclude with my impressions on President Obama's speech, but I am certainly not going to be typing during this momentous event. So, for now, I will bow out, and I do promise to cover the content of what was actually said over the past three days in my next few articles. One of the benefits of being official press is I get every speech "as prepared for delivery" emailed to me -- so I will have the opportunity to look over all this oratory at leisure, and pick out the best of the lot.
Until later... I leave you all to enjoy the biggest speech of the night yourselves.
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