Monday, July 26, 2004

CONVENTION, ROUND ONE. I can’t devote myself to viewing all of this large, clumsy entertainment, and so missed Jimmy Carter, which I suppose is no great loss (I’ve seen him speak before).

In general, Night One seemed a little rushed. I guess the managers figured those few viewers who stumbled upon the show on their way to the Playboy Channel should sense vigor, or at least velocity, coming from the Fleet Center Though that deprived me of the great, rolling oratorical swells of yore, I understand that the modern ear is not attuned to them.

Thus Al Gore zipped through his speech, but that seemed generous of him under the circumstances – he was there to help, not to grab attention, so only his occasional shift to a low, rumbling tone indicated his old-fashioned speechifying gifts. He seemed relaxed and comfortable, especially by his usual standards. He was always better with the jokes when he wasn’t running for President. I didn’t see the embittered lunatic they talk about in the blogosphere, but that funhouse mirror is rarely reliable.

The 9/11 tribute was simple and even a little elegant, though I was strongly aware of its purpose as a touchstone for what would come later (as it did, with the Clintons using Kerry’s military record as resume lines for a Terror-era President). Cynicism or stagecraft? Depends on where you stand as you look at it.

Hillary was Hillary, and this was a good opportunity to think about what that is. I can see why some people hate her. There is always something a little hectoring in her tone, reminiscent of a grade-school teacher announcing the conditions under which next week’s field trip will be allowed. Of course this is more offensive when she is tired and grim, as she often seems to be when doing the people’s business. In this political context, though, cheerful and energized and surrounded by people who love her, she just seemed strong-willed and charismatic.

You could tell Bill Clinton’s speech was good because David Brooks on PBS did his best to piss on it ("No poetry," said Brooks; try to imagine David Brooks reading poetry for anything but quotes.) Clinton was never very good on the saxophone, but he plays audiences like no one else around, and he had a great theme: the campaign was not going to be about "who’s a good man and who’s a bad man," but about "choices." He kept stressing that the Republicans sincerely believe what they profess to believe, and that citizens who felt the same way (after Clinton had shown them how disastrously wrong they were) should go ahead and do so. So though his energy was high and his pace brisk, he seemed like sweet reason itself.

Whether any of this will work is for greater minds than mine to puzzle out.


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