BOSTON—Being a reporter at a political convention is a lot like having sex. Hey there, gorgeous, would you like to interview me? The American people this, the American people that. Oh … cliché. Cliché, cliché, witticism, cliché, insight borrowed from the New York Times. Fact retrieved from an appropriately obscure … please keep ask-ask-ask-ask-ask-asking … Oh yeah … cliché—don't stop asking!—evasion of difficult … Yeeeeeesssss!
(Pause. Smoke cigarette. Straighten tie.)
OK, now I'll interview you. What do you think of this dubious claim, do you agree with that empty generalization. How would you compare … what does Joe Sixpack … what does the Bible belt … what do minority groups … was the candidate trying to, trying to, trying to ….
Did you sum up?
Then tell me how the new campaign finance lim—Oh. My darling. You are so pithy. So very, very pithy. Your succinctness—it moves me so.
Now what do you say we try interviewing eachother?
The preceding re-enactment explains why reporters attending conventions always say that conventions can't get too much press coverage. I even heard myself say something like that yesterday on National Public Radio's "Day to Day." How did I come to believe that, I wondered, as I listened to the segment. I didn't remember believing it before. And what did I tell Ken and Daria Dolan on CNNfn this morning? How many drinks did I have last night? None? That's right. I'd worried that the Distilled Liquor Council, which hosted a party I was crashing, would feel insulted because all I wanted to drink was water. All that interviewing and being interviewed had left me dripping with sweat.
So I tried to steer clear of other journalists today.
Shambling out of the FleetCenter after my TV interview, I saw a man who looked like Robert Altman, the film director. This being the Democratic National Convention, it was Robert Altman. He'd been there since 5 a.m. shooting additional footage that will provide some sort of coda to his wonderful TV miniseries, Tanner '88. I asked him what he thought of last night's speeches by Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. He pronounced himself well satisfied. He said that in the predawn drive to the arena, "I opened my New York Post and I thought, 'Where the fuck were they?' " Searching the Post later, I couldn't find anything that looked like the piece whose obtuseness would have offended Altman and so concluded he must have meant the Boston Herald. (They're both right-wing tabloids.) The Herald's Page One screamer perversely bypassed the nominating convention underway in the Herald's backyard for "Teresa's Ted K Tirade," wherein John Kerry's wife called the senior senator from Massachusetts a "perfect bastard," thereby revealing herself to be a serial potty-mouth. (Earlier this week she very sensibly told a reporter for a Richard Mellon Scaife-owned newspaper to "shove it.") The catch was that the damning quotes dug up by the Herald came from Myra McPherson's book, The Power Lovers, which was published in 1975—when Heinz was married to Republican John Heinz, then a congressman and soon to be a senator—and had been published by the Herald back then.
Wandering toward the financial district, I spied a rally—a very small rally—in fact, the smallest rally I've witnessed in Boston so far this week—taking place in front of the statue of Sam Adams that stands at the back entrance to Faneuil Hall. It was a rally for Democrats For Life, a group that quixotically seeks to persuade the Democratic Party to outlaw abortion. Speaking to the group was Ray Flynn, the former mayor of Boston, who while cradling his young grandson in his arms called for "a revolution for the culture of life." A few minutes later, Flynn told me, "I'm disappointed that Democratic politicians really haven't been speaking for pro-life, pro-family, pro-poor." Flynn was particularly bitter that this year's convention at the FleetCenter—which "I built"—was ignoring Democratic pro-lifers. "There's no room at the inn for pro-life speakers," he said.
I asked whether he'd spoken about this issue to Kerry. Flynn answered that he hadn't had a conversation with Kerry "for a couple of years," but that he was pleased when Kerry said recently that, as a Catholic, he personally believed life begins at conception. A few minutes later, though, Flynn mocked this stance, comparing it to somebody saying before the Civil War that although he "personally opposed" slavery, he felt the government should allow it.
I stopped for lunch, then proceeded to Christopher Columbus Park, situated by the waterfront on the edge of the North End. The League of Conservation Voters was holding a rally there. Environmentalists chanted "four more months" and cheered when the group's president, Deb Callahan, said of the Bush-Cheney ticket, "Some things were never meant to be recycled." Callahan told the crowd that Kerry had a lifetime LCV score of 92 percent and that this was higher than any other Democratic presidential nominee in history. (Weirdly, Al Gore's lifetime LCV score was only 64 percent. During the 2000 primary campaign, I examined the reasons why here and here.)
Callahan then introduced Barack Obama, an Illinois candidate for the Senate, this year's keynote speaker and everybody's favorite magazine-profile subject. (Click here for TheNew Yorker's entry and here for the Atlantic's.) "I can't give you a big stemwinder, because if I throw out my throat for this evening I'm gonna look stupid," Obama said. He then gave a little stemwinder about his daughter, who has asthma, and the injustice of allowing less-affluent children, less able to find good medical care, to be "threatened by something so basic as the air that they breathe." His remarks demonstrated an eloquence and commanding presence that a national TV audience, presumably, will witness this evening.