Everyone agrees. The story is that there is no story. The candidates have already been chosen. The platform has been written to avoid controversy. That’s why the early focus has been on the sideshows (since everyone knows that politicians get booed at baseball games, was it wise of Kerry to throw that first ball? What will Teresa Heinz Kerry say next?).
So here’s the story behind the story.
There are, first of all, the delegates, who this year are virtually all voting the way they are told to vote (and for the most part want to vote, because they want to beat Bush). Then there are the 15,000 mainstream journalists who outnumber the delegates three to one, who are, as the phrase goes, stenographers to power. Both these groups are partakers of the conventional convention wisdom: that because polls show Kerry does better among those who know him, the goal of this convention is to tell his story. (And, his group of a dozen political strategists who meet daily would add, in the words of consultant John Martilla, “to make sure that prominent in the narrative is his ability to handle issues of national security.”)
Next are the sponsors–Union Pacific, MassMutual, Edison International, BellSouth and all the rest, including the liquor and food companies–who pay for the countless receptions, at which delegates and the press consume gallons of booze and tons of sumptuous hors d’oeuvres as they talk to one another about the evil influence of big money on politics. I myself consumed more than my share of such complimentaries at the moving reception honoring Senator George McGovern (attended by former candidates Mondale and Dukakis), courtesy of Ocean Spray Products.
And finally there are the dissenters, and they are where they are–at the center of what should be the debate but on the fringes of the convention.
In the absence of any official joining of such issues as the war on Iraq, globalization, the death penalty and media concentration, all these player-constituencies carry on doing what they do best.
My sense, for example, is that in almost every state delegation a mini drama is being played out over the transfer of power to the next generation. In New York, if Attorney General Eliot Spitzer runs for governor, Mark Green, Andrew Cuomo and perhaps Robert Kennedy Jr., among others, are in line to run for attorney general. When I asked Mark about this and what sort of politicking one could do at the convention, all he said was, “Look and you will see any number of us taking down names of people to talk to later. We’re keeping lists like a prosecutor at a Mafia wedding.”
On Monday I went to an ADA lunch, where one of the speakers was Representative Barney Frank, as outrageously witty as ever (“If my Hebrew was better, I’d say Kaddish for moderate Republicanism”) and as on-message as everyone else: There were, he said, two models for transforming the Democratic Party in a progressive direction–the Nader-outsider model (many boos) and the Jesse-Jackson-enter-the-Democratic-primary model. He explained that “our role is to carry on that fight, and the way to get there is to follow the Jesse model.” But the backstory to Frank’s convention was that if Kerry wins the presidency, Barney (along with Edward Markey and a half-dozen others) will be running for the Senate. Go Barney!