Coming back from two weeks in the woods to the manic energy of Denver ismaking my head spin, so I’m still adjusting to re-entry. I’ll be blogging here at Capitolism for the duration of thisweek and next, from Denver and then St. Paul. Covering a convention issomething of a challenge when you know that 14,999 other journalists arerunning around more or less doing the same thing you are. Even if youlimit yourself to just the other progressive journalists here, includingother magazines like The Progressive, Mother Jones and the Prospect, andblogs and websites like FireDogLake, TPM and the Washington Independent,there’s probably at the very least 100 other progressive journalistshere, blogging, writing, looking for stories.

All of which is to say: novelty can be hard to come by. Which is whymembers of the media have a strange love/hate relationship to theconventions. They love going (lots of free booze!) but resent the dearthof actual “news” being produced.

But part of the problem is that the DNC isn’t one unified event. Infact, it contains a series of nested events, all happening within eachother and simultaneously in the same city. Conversing with a colleaguelast night, I was forced to answer the surprisingly difficult questionof “What is the Democratic National Convention?” Here’s a partiallist:

♦ An extended party for political élites: Like New Hampshire, all the nation’s top political players, from elected officials to TV talkingheads to consultants are in the same place at the same time.

♦ A reunion and massive networking opportunity for thepolitical-industrial complex: This is the angle my colleague Ari Bermanhas been looking at, that is, the hundreds (thousands?) of lobbyists whoswarm to the conventions to sponsor parties, provide schwag andgenerally market themselves and their own influence to those with powerand those close to those with power

♦ An extended campaign commercial for the party nominee.

♦ A media boondoggle: Obvs.

♦ A big fundraiser: A friend of mine who works at think tank told me hisagenda for the next four days was to talk to as many rich people aspossible and raise as much money as possible.

♦ A gathering of the people who constitute the institution called theDemocratic Party: This is the chief and core function of the event, butalso the most overlooked. From every state, thousands of people, many ofthem just ordinary folks, come to the conventions as local delegates. Inthe conventions I’ve attended, talking to the delegates is always themost edifying activity. Many of the delegates are big shots–people likeDonna Brazile, but most of them aren’t. On the shuttle from the airport yesterday I sat next to a county legislator from Long Island. She’s been an elected official for six years and this was her first convention. Last time around, she said she was so overwhelmed by her job she couldn’t make out. This time around she was palpably thrilled. Shecalled her husband from the shuttle to remind him about the lasagnashe’d made and left frozen for him in the fridge.

So the most heartening aspect of the convention is seeing up close justwho the Democratic party is, and it must be said that it really is oneof the most diverse institutions in American life. The problem is thatthe people who make up the Democratic party, the local countylegislators from Long Island and postal workers from Detroit, and unionmembers from California It’s deeply, deeply flawed of course. It’s muchwhiter at the top than at the bottom. But spend time at the partiesthrown by lobbyists, and it’s easy to get depressed about the Democratsin particular and American politics in general. Spend time around thedelegates and its hard not to feel optimistic.

I’ll be spending much of the next four days trying to tell myself thatoptimism isn’t misplaced.