Denver Diary, Pt. 5 Stagecraft

  You can’t spell DeMille without DEM (or DeM, anyway). Whatever you think of the Democrats, their candidates and platform, give ‘em credit for showmanship. The convention’s building, the way a good melodrama should. 

  Night 1 had a single real headliner—Michelle Obama, who had a compelling life story to tell, and was there to convince people that she and her husband are pretty regular folks.

  Night 2 had Hillary, dispelling doubts about whether she really though Obama was up to the job, and whether she’d really campaign hard for his election.  

  Night 2 was also leavened by the immensely entertaining Governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer. The bouncy rotund guv also showed up at the FL delegation breakfast the next morning, still sporting a bolo tie, still getting laughs… and cheers when he predicted an Obama victory in his usually-red home state in November.  (Schweitzer was the red-state Dem who delivered, in his convention speech.  The much-ballyhooed Mark Warner of Virginia was stiff and not very memorable).

  Night 3—tonight—was where the sheer stagecraft of the enterprise impressed.

  The roll call turned dramatic as Obama neared his “magic number” of 2210 delegates. New Mexico deferred to Illinois. Usually, the votes of the nominee’s home state put him over the top.  But Chicago mayor Richard Daley immediately deferred to New York (well, not quite immediately—he had to mumble some hooey about a cross-town World Series between Cubs and White Sox first).

  Well, no surprise who eventually took the mike at the NY delegation.  Hillary Clinton’s call for unanimity drew a big roar.  This roll-call two-step, timed to play out on the network news, back east.

   Bill Clinton got a 3-minute ovation when he took the stage, a couple of hours later.  Whatever his reservations about Barack Obama during the primary season, Clinton defended him deftly, comparing Obama to himself during his first Presidential run in 1992.

   Republicans, recalled Clinton, said he was too young and inexperienced to be President. “Sound familiar?”, the ex-Pres asked, to laughter.  He said it didn’t work in ’92 and wouldn’t work this year because he and Obama were on “the side of history” (would it be quibbling to suggest, if Ross Perot had’nt run in ’92, “history” might have switched sides?)

   A third high point came an hour after Clinton left the stage, and Joe Biden’s appearance was where the sheer volume of stagecraft struck me.

  The crowd began by waving red standards inscribed simply “Biden”.  By the time the VP nominee launched into a call-and-response with the audience (“That’s not change, that’s more of the same”, went the refrain), the crowd was waving red signs that read “McCain- the Same”.  Moments later, when Biden was lauding Obama’s positions, the hall was filled with blue signs reading  “Obama- Change We Need”.  By the end of Biden’s remarks, new blue signs had been distributed—“Obama-Biden”. 

   That’s thousands of copies of 4 different signs, distributed in the course of a half-hour speech.  Over the top?  Probably, but logistically impressive.

  Oddly, the two most awkward major moments of this convention both involved the soon-to-be-nominee.  Monday night’s appearance by satellite was stilted.   Michelle turned her little girls toward a video screen, saying she had a surprise for them.  There was Barack—no surprise at all— in a modern-day magic mirror. The scene was stilted, slightly spooky, and not helped by the fact that Obama told the kids he was in St. Louis when letters on the screen beneath him clearly said “Kansas City”.

  Tonight, Jill Biden came onstage after Joe’s speech, mike in hand, and again promised a  non-surprising surprise.  Sen. Obama emerged to compliment all the major speakers at the convention and their families, and tell the crowd he’d see them at the stadium (which he called “Mile High Stadium”, rather than the corporate-sponsored moniker “Invesco Stadium”).  I half-expected the candidate to admonish the crowd to “drive safely and don’t forget to tip your waitress”.

  But clearly, this convention is building toward his appearance Thursday night.  75,000 people, musical heavy-hitters warming the crowd up (John Legend, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder among them), all with the backdrop of history—MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech of 45 years ago, to the day.

   They’re counting on Obama to wrap it all up, playing to his strength. Will the convention wizards augment acceptance-speech oratory with more stagecraft (that would seem to open the night up to a “just show biz” line of criticism), or let the words and the candidate carry the night. 

  The GOP stagers are already hard at work, in the Twin Cities and here in Denver, where the logo for their press conferences bore the legend “A Mile High, An Inch Deep”



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