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What I Saw at the Two Conventions

Tuesday, Sep 9, 2008

I broadcasted my radio show from both the Democratic and Republican Conventions. Here are some observations:

1. The Democrats in Denver were very excited from Day One, just as excited as I saw them at their last convention in Boston. They went on to lose the general election. But I can see why Democrats find it hard to understand it when their candidate loses. At least at the last two Democratic Conventions, it has been very easy for Democrats to believe that they have the right man and the right message.

2. There were some differences, however. In Denver, the Democrats wanted to present themselves as Middle American as possible. In Boston, the hero of the Democratic Convention was Michael Moore. But in Denver, Michael Moore was nowhere to be seen. Nor was Jimmy Carter heard from. And no Jesse Jackson, either. Also, delegates seemed more formally dressed, and there were more flags and more chants of “USA” than even at the Republican Convention. If one only looked at the convention, one could easily have assumed it was the Republicans’.

3. The Republicans had no Day One because of Hurricane Gustav and John McCain’s decision to limit the first night’s activities to obligatory business. This helped the Republicans insofar as it eliminated Bush-Cheney political liabilities (neither ended up attending), but it had a temporarily dampening effect on morale — which was not completely undone the second night. It was more than undone the third night with the speeches by, among others, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani and, of course, Sarah Palin. Gov. Palin is as striking in person as she is on television and in photographs. It is difficult, if not impossible, to overstate the impact of her being named the Republicans’ vice-presidential nominee.

4. The Democrats have a superstar candidate who was previously unknown, and the Republicans have a superstar candidate who was previously unknown. The former is a young African-American running for president; the latter is a young woman running for vice president. It is unlikely that there is one person on earth who predicted the four nominees.

5. At the Democratic Convention, I spoke to a number of blacks, on the radio and privately, who predicted that if Barack Obama loses, most blacks will attribute the loss to racism, especially if McCain wins by a narrow margin. They did not even rule out the possibility of some rioting.

6. On the final evening of the Republican Convention, I sat in a suite with Medal of Honor recipients. I rarely find myself speechless, and never find myself intimidated. I did then. I was in the presence of real heroism, of men who really had done great things. I didn’t know what to say to them. I was like a kid seated next to his greatest sports or movie idols. I wondered, though, how many Americans, if given a choice between spending an evening with Medal of Honor recipients or movie stars would choose the former.

7. As noted, the Democrats waved many flags. At Invesco Field, where Obama addressed 75,000 supporters, the Democrats gave all of them an American flag. According to The Denver Post, thousands of those flags were left behind or in garbage bags. The Democrats say they intended to pick them up days later for other events. I don’t believe them — not because they are not patriotic (the people I was with at Invesco Field love America), but because they are generally tone deaf to patriotic symbols. My one souvenir from the Democratic Convention is a flag I found on the floor by my seat at the stadium. I instinctively picked up a flag that had fallen and took it home. That is no longer a liberal instinct.

8. The exit from Invesco was chaotic. No provisions for transportation were made, and tens of thousands of people walked long distances. We were literally fenced in until someone tore down a segment of fence, and thousands then climbed over concrete barriers to get out.

9. History will judge whether Obama made a wise decision to deliver his acceptance in a football stadium in front of 75,000 adoring fans. A good argument could be made that it is not his superstar status that he should be emphasizing, but his gravitas.

10. After attending the Democratic Convention, the lack of blacks (and Hispanics) at the Republican Convention was jarring. Former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman made serious efforts to bring African-Americans into the party, but apparently to little avail. Given the troubled state of virtually every inner city governed by Democrats and the Democrats’ opposition to school vouchers, one would think more blacks would at least give the Republicans a try. Not this year.

11. For the first time in generations, one party’s ticket has no military experience. It does, however, have two lawyers. And neither of the Republican nominees is a lawyer. These facts are not coincidental.

12. After my debate with Air America’s Thom Hartmann in Denver, a number of those present — all Democrats — commented on how surprised they were at how intellectual the arguments I, the conservative, offered were. This is only because, in general, most liberals see, hear or read conservative arguments far less often than conservatives see, hear and read liberal arguments.

13. What Sen. Joe Lieberman did — speaking at the Republican Convention on behalf of its presidential nominee — took immense courage. It is likely that many longtime friends have abandoned him. What he did is also quite dramatic. He was, after all, the Democrats’ nominee for vice president of the United States just eight years ago.

14. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at both conventions. But those watching on television miss little. In fact, everyone I spoke to who watched McCain’s speech on TV thought it more moving than many of us who were there.

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