Daylin's Daily Denver Digest

Friday, August 29, 2008

Last Thoughts from Denver

THURSDAY - The final day of the convention began as the others had; with me singing Sonny and Cher songs in the elevator. Midway between the second verse of "I Got You Babe", and a delegate from Mississippi telling me he was going to "pop me one" if I didn't stop singing, I learned that newly minted Vice-Presidential nominee Joe Biden would be coming to the Pennsylvania breakfast. Every morning each delegation has a breakfast where delegates eat a liquid yellowish substance that had apparently been eggs at one time and gather their credentials for the day. At each such breakfast, there are usually two speakers. The first is the corporate sponsor of the breakfast. So, for example, if a breakfast is sponsored by Philip Morris, their Vice-President in charge of Medical Obfuscation will get up and say a few words about the health benefits of unfiltered menthol cigarettes. Then a politician gets up and gives some variation of the following speech:

We're gonna win!

Once, during the 1984 convention, some Governor got up and gave a famous, but less well received "We're gonna get crushed like a dog under a bulldozer" speech. He was not asked back. Joe Biden's speech, while hardly groundbreaking, certainly was exciting and his Scranton heritage made us Pennsylvanians feel like we were in the center of the action. By the end, people were on their feet, chanting "Joe, Joe, Joe!!" I sort of tuned out for a while, so I can only guess that by "Joe" the crowd was referring to Biden, although I suppose it’s possible there was a sudden, spontaneous outpouring of affection for boxing legend Joe Frazier, for whatever reason.

After Joe left and we gathered our credentials, it was time to begin heading to the INVESCO field where Barack Obama was giving his much-anticipated acceptance speech. We left five hours before the speech was scheduled to start in order to "beat the line". And we did beat all but about three and a half miles of the line. I leaned several things while waiting. First, if you are going to be standing in the hot sun for hours, milk and raw clams is a really bad snack choice. Also, if you must stand next to someone that long, avoid the guy wearing the "Ask me about AMWAY!" pin on his shirt.

Finally we made it onto the field and into the Pennsylvania delegation's area. Unlike the previous three nights, I was not sitting immediately next to Katie Couric. Although we had feuded all week, I could swear I saw her looking wistfully at me from her CBS News booth 40 feet away. Maybe, if we meet again, perhaps at the 2012 convention, we can actually be friends. And maybe she will agree to take a picture with me, and even not scream “SECURITY!!” whenever I started climbing into the CBS booth to chat.

As the hours passed waiting for Barack to come out we were treated to a speech by Al Gore and musical performances by Sheryl Crow, Michael McDonald and Stevie Wonder. People were tossing Barack Obama volleyballs around and dancing in the aisles. No one seemed to want to play the game of Parcheesi that I brought with me, but I did manage to engage Morgan Fairchild in a contest to see who could count higher. The best line of the night prior to Barack was delivered by one of the six "average Americans" who spoke just before Barack came on. His name was Barney Smith (I'm not making this up) and he had lost his job. He said "We need a president who cares as much about Barney Smith as Smith Barney". The crowd exploded.

Barney was clearly chosen to speak because of his name. I just wonder how the campaign found him. They could have just called all the Barney Smith's in the phone book hoping to find one that was unemployed, and who also didn't own any stock in Smith Barney. Failing that, they could have moved on and interviewed Whitter Dean, Stanley Morgan, or Brothers Lehman. Maybe they could have branched out to other businesses that lay off people and interviewed King Burger.

Finally, after a short biographical video Barack came out onto the stage. He didn't trip, so I paid Governor Rendell the five bucks I lost as a result of that. Then, after about five minutes of cheering and flag-waving, the 84,000 attendees became completely silent. It was the sort of silence you only hear in a cave, or during Roseanne Barr's stand-up act. He then proceeded to give the best political speech I'd ever seen. Either you saw it or you didn't. If you did, you know. If not, no words that I write could do it justice. I would only add two observations.

First, for African Americans in the audience, this was a very profound moment. As John Lewis said when he spoke, a black man accepting the nomination of a major party for President of the United States was something they talked about to inspire each other, but never really thought they'd live to see. The fact that it was actually happening, on the exact date of Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech, seemed to be culmination of a century of struggle. Obviously I couldn't personally touch the deepest levels of emotion that this produced. I could only stand back, and watch the reaction of those who bathed in the full, unfathomable meaning of the moment. But I feel that even that vicarious melding of this moment in my life to their lifetimes of overcoming changed me. And as my mom says, "anything that changes you Daylin, has to be good."

Finally, as the speech went on I felt I should pause to notice what I was learning and what I was relearning. I view great political speeches as a chance to renew my own sense of purpose. I came away from Barack's speech pledging to reconnect with first principals as a public servant. Always challenge yourself and your audience. Talk about real things and confront real problems rather than campaigning on stale, political hack negative attacks. Seize the moment and be fearless. These sound obvious, but are easily forgotten. I am grateful to Barack for recharging my moral battery.

After we poured out of INVESCO and returned to our hotel, I celebrated the day with some awful nachos, as one does. This convention, like all of them, was an exhilarating experience and regenerating experience. There is nothing like the American political convention anywhere else in the world. In much of the world, you would be executed for attending an event like this. As long as I am ambulatory, I plan to go to the DNC every four years for the rest of my life. If you have a chance, you should go yourself. If you do, try to get a picture with Katie Couric and E-mail it to me.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Roll Call, Biden, and Baby Gap

WEDNESDAY, MIDNIGHT - I've come to the conclusion that I prefer conventions in old cities. In places like Boston or Chicago, you roll out of bed, splash on some High-Karate After-Shave, and walk the six blocks from the hotel to the convention center. In newer cities, everything is so spread out that it takes you 90 minutes to go from anything to any other thing. The hotel we are staying in is nowhere near the Pepsi Center. In fact, it's not even in Denver, but rather is technically located in North Vietnam. So leaving the hotel is a real commitment. If you get on the train and realize that you forgot your hair gel (believe me, it was a nightmare!), there's no going back.

The distance involved also means you have to constantly be planning. For example, yesterday I wanted to make sure I got the convention in time for the roll call, so I had to budget my time carefully. I had to plan to leave the EMILY's List meeting at 3:15, a full 45 minutes before I planned to even get there. That was tight, but I feel I gained some real insight into Einstein's Unified Field Theory of space and time.

Being at the roll call was important to me for several reasons. First, as a delegate, I was actually elected by the people to do this job, so it's good form to show up. But beyond that, I've always loved the convention roll call. It is truly a slice of Americana. For those who haven't seen it, each state has some representative stand up and report to the chair how they intend to cast their votes. But merely reciting the numbers is never enough, you have to give a cultural overview of your state. So for example, you may see someone in a hat shaped like a cheese-wedge stand up and say:

"Madame Chair, the great state of Wisconsin, the proud home of the "Fighting-Lifers" national inter-prison league basketball champions, the birthplace of cheese, cheese bi-products, both toxic and non-toxic, and artificial cheese-like food, and the future home of the Oshkosh Nuclear Waste Repository, proudly casts 47 votes for the next President of the United States, Dennis Kucinich!"

Despite this being my 6th convention, it is my first as a delegate, so I really wanted to be a part of this process. I made it to the Pepsi Center just as the chair was hearing Florida's votes being cast ("The Great State of Florida, where David Hasselhoff once lived..."). I shot a quick glare at Katie Couric and did the thing where I point to my eyes then to hers to let her know I was watching her. She flashed the same back to me as I approached Governor Rendell. I had some definite ideas about what I wanted the Governor to say when it was Pennsylvania's turn to vote.

Representing Upper Merion, I thought he should mention the King of Prussia Mall, or if not the whole mall, than at least the Baby Gap, which I think is a particularly good one. I suggested mentioning Ho Sai Gai, my favorite Chinese restaurant, although he didn't have me go into great detail about my favorite dish. After all, it’s not all about me. However, half-way through my four page list, I noticed that Mayor Nutter was talking on the phone in a very animated and agitated way. He was upset because we just got word that Pennsylvania was not going to get to vote after all. The roll call was going to be cut off at New York when Hillary would move to nominate Barack Obama by acclimation. Apparently this was the deal the two campaigns had negotiated, and it had to be timed just right so Hillary could make her motion right at the beginning of the nightly network newscasts.

I actually thought this was a mistake. If the point of having the roll-call at all was the "catharsis" that had been talked about so much over the past couple of weeks, then why not have every state and every delegate participate? But this argument, eloquently made by Mayor Nutter, did not carry the day. The last state to vote was New York. I was upset because we didn't do our part of the roll-call and because despite my best arguments the New York delegation didn't seem at all interested in mentioning the King of Prussia Mall, or Ho Sai Gai, or my favorite Barber (also on the list).

The rest of the night was very exciting. Obviously President Clinton and Joe Biden got a lot of attention. When President Clinton was introduced, the place went nuts and there was a glimpse of the sort of old-fashioned demonstrations you used to see at political conventions. Clinton couldn't get the crowd to stop cheering for a good 10 minutes, but that's nothing compared to the old days when demonstrations would sometimes go on for hours. However, in the modern television age, this sort of thing is not practical. In 1972 demonstrations kept George McGovern from giving his acceptance speech until 2:30 in the morning, when it lost in the ratings to a rerun episode of "Nanny and the Professor". Since then, conventions are much more disciplined. I understand why, but it is sad that things have to be so precisely scripted.

The big surprise of the evening for me was how good John Kerry was. He was forceful, witty, cogent and inspiring. Like Al Gore, he's much better now than he was when he ran. As a Democrat, I can't tell you how grateful I am to our candidates who are catastrophic when they are running, but get really, really good once they've lost. That's just wonderful. No hurry fellas!! Take your time! If you need a couple of extra years to get your act together, no problem! Maybe the current Phillies will just whack one ball after the other out of the park in 2028's old-timer's game. That would be swell!

Tonight's the big night. It seems that the rumors of Bruce Springsteen playing are unfounded. Although I hear we may get to see Seals and Croft, but without any of the original members. It seems that Barack has an impossible task tonight. He has to be rousing and inspiring, but not so much that he comes across as an elitist. He has to be specific enough to show he has substance, but not present some laundry-list of proposals. He's got to come across as wise and experienced, but also fresh and new. And he has to do it all while living up to the news media-hype which has painted him as the best speech giver in history. I don't know how he does it. But that's why, even though we are exactly the same age, he will be walking out in front of 150 million people tonight, while I'll be saying "you gonna eat that?" to a stranger sitting next to me at the Tennessee Bar-B-Que buffet.

Tomorrow: Final Thoughts

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Corn Dogs and Convention News

TUESDAY - 9:00 AM: One of the more surreal aspects of being at a national convention is that, while you are in the middle of everything, you have absolutely no idea what's going on. You have no time to read the newspaper (except for the Times-Herald, which everyone here reads obsessively) or watch the news. So, for example, President Clinton could come by the Pennsylvania delegation's breakfast and say something really newsworthy, but if you are in the back loading up on corn-dogs, you'll miss it entirely.

The result is that rumors become an extremely valuable currency. All day long you hear tons of rumors, some more credible than others. Just at breakfast this morning I've heard that Bruce Springsteen was playing before Obama speaks Thursday night; that Obama is going to parachute onto the stage, and that Celine Dion has promised never to sing again if Barack wins the election (actually, that may just be wishful thinking). I even started a rumor about me having lots of hair which seems to be spreading like wildfire. I can't wait to get back from the convention to read about what actually happened here.

TUESDAY - Midnight: I am currently at Invesco Field. This is where Obama is giving his acceptance speech Thursday and I am at a reception for a bunch of delegates from big states. The convention floor was very exciting tonight. Senator Bob Casey spoke, as did Governor Rendell. The best speaker prior to Hillary was Governor Schweitzer from Montana. Apparently people wear their shoelaces as ties in Big Sky Country, and they like their politicians to have a healthy dose of ADD. Governor Schweitzer was full of aphorisms, like "Voting for John McCain is like putting your second goat on the griddle." I'm not actually sure what that means, but the Montana delegation ate it up.

Hillary was the best I'd ever seen her. You can draw your own conclusions, but I will tell you that even the die-hards, with the 20 Hillary buttons on their shirts and the permanent "Hillary Rules" facial tattoo were standing on their feet when she said "No Way, No How, No McCain".

If I had written Hillary's speech I would have added a few words about the United States Supreme Court is hanging on the heartbeat of one 88 year-old Justice. John McCain has promised to appoint more justices like Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court. If he does that, everything from reproductive freedom, to basic civil rights and civil liberties, to the minimum wage and social security are at grave risk. But thinking about this made me too depressed and I had to go get me another corn dog.

At the after-party, Hillary and President Clinton showed up with Chelsea, Governor Rendell and some others. I told Chelsea my story of how Katie Couric refused to take a picture with me, and Chelsea laughed. And then I asked Chelsea if I could take a picture with her and she said "absolutely not", and then went to pose with a guy in a Viking hat. Bill and Hillary made very gracious remarks and worked the crowd for a long time.

After being rebuffed in my effort to get pictures with Chelsea, Hillary, Bill, and a college bowling team from Akron, I went out of the sky-box into the seats over-looking the stadium. They were building the stage that Barack will use to give his acceptance speech. There is a long runway out onto a small circle-like podium at the 50 yard line - Senator Obama will speak from a small island in the middle of what will be an ocean of humanity.

The visual reminded me that so much of what we do in life we do alone, even when there are lots of people around. What if he trips? What if he walks too far and plummets into the crowd? (Unlikely I know, but maybe he has night vision problems). What if he's off getting a corn dog and misses the whole thing?

Tonight, Biden and President Clinton...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Denver: Day Two

MONDAY 2:00 PM: The big question on the first day of the actual convention, other than who picks out my wardrobe, is the relative level of sanguinity on the part of Hillary delegates towards Barack Obama's nomination. The national media is playing up the alleged "feud" between the two camps. In fairness, there wasn't much else to talk about over the weekend, other than a misunderstanding involving one of Denver's Broncos, which was accidentally displayed at the wrong reception and bar-b-qued.

After the PA delegation meeting, I set out to find out first-hand what the state of relations was. The obvious first step was to have a huge lunch. One needs energy. Then a nap. But immediately after that I started personally seeking out Hillary delegates to speak to. At the hotel where I am staying there are delegates from Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Connecticut. I thought that was serendipitously a great cross-section states where Elvis lived and states where Elvis did-not live.

I had about two dozen conversations I can report that while there is some lingering disaffection with the fact that Hillary did not win, I have not spoken to a single person who does not plan to vote for Barack Obama in the fall. A couple of people felt that Hillary had been pushed from the race prematurely. Another was upset she was apparently not vetted for VP. But while all of her supporters had strong views about how she should be treated at the convention, they also all, every single one of them, when asked if they would consider voting for McCain reacted as if I just asked them if they would like a pet ferret.

I would add one additional point. If I were John McCain, I would not be comforted by polls indicating a tight race based on a high percentage of support from Hillary supporters. I may not be the smartest guy on the planet - heck, I may not even be in the top 3 - but I do know a good bit about analyzing political statistics (which is why I'm invited to so many parties). The fact is that once Hillary supporters find out that John McCain wants to criminalize personal reproductive choices, opposes expanding the S-CHIP program, supports perpetual war in Iraq and wants to appoint more Supreme Court Justices like Scalia, any residual anger from the primary campaign will dissipate and those voters will come home.

MONDAY 9:00 PM - I just left the floor of the convention after the first night. It was quite a whirlwind of activity. I walked through the most intense security I've seen at a convention. As I circled the outer-hallway of the Pepsi Center, before I even walked into the main room, I saw Jimmy Carter, John Kerry and a guy who could have been Art Linkletter if he's still alive. If he's not, then it probably wasn't him. He was pretty animated.

I also had a very interesting conversation with Katie Couric of CBS news. I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but it went something like this:

ME: Hey Katie, can I take a picture with you?

The speeches ranged from electrifying to stultifying. But it’s hard to blame the speakers. Just because you once, for example, sold a microwave oven to Barack Obama, doesn't necessarily mean you are prepared to address the nation in prime time. The highlights of the night were obviously Ted Kennedy and Michelle Obama.

First Teddy. Let me start out by saying I'm not much of a crier. I basically only cry when I hit my hand with a hammer and at the end of Eagles playoff games. But when ambled onto the stage after a tribute from Caroline Kennedy, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. There on the podium stood, perhaps for the final time, the living embodiment of all the hope, promise, nostalgia, disappointment and grief of the Kennedy years from Camelot until today. I personally introduced Teddy at an Obama event just a few short months ago. His voice was raspier and he was clearly weaker than he was back in April but he gave it his all and brought the convention to life.

Michelle Obama had a very interesting task. The Sean Hannitys of this world have made it their business to demonize her. It's probably not personal. It's just them being partisan hacks. If Barack were married to Betsy Ross, we'd still hear how she "hates America" and "only pretends to know how to stitch flags to hide her radical, feminist, tax-raising agenda”. So Michelle had to come across as human and normal, which sounds simple, but is only easy because most of us receive the benefit of the presumption of humanness from those we meet. It's harder to do on national television in the face of months of a smear campaign against your humanity. I should know! (Why is unclear, but it seemed like a good line).

You can draw your own conclusions about how she did. I will tell you that in the hall, she was a huge hit. Even some of the Hillary folks who were holding back on showing the love to all things Obama were moved by her speech. By the way, if you heard someone yell out "Mention Daylin Leach" during a particularly poignant silent moment - that may have been me!

Finally, after the convention ended, I went to a Planned Parenthood after-party. It was interesting in that there were two doors to the event, both leading to the same room, but for some reason, they would only let VIP types into the one door. Apparently, going in the other door leading to exactly the same place was only for riffraff and cretins. Also apparent to me was the fact that I was decidedly not a VIP. I wasn't even an IP, and may not have been a P at all if someone with more juice than I do didn't pull me in through the magical "door for losers". Once inside, I ate shrimp and listened to very loud Michael Jackson music. Maybe the VIPs got special ear-phones at their special door.

Tonight, Hillary and Mark Warner…

Monday, August 25, 2008

Daylin's Denver Digest (8/25/2008)

Welcome to Daylin’s Denver Digest a.k.a inside info from the ultimate insider (or at least as “ultimate” as someone who was invited to none of the parties and will be wrestled to the ground if he tries to get near someone important can be).

Sunday, 10:15 AM: – I remember my first Democratic National Convention. It was 1988. Dexies Midnight Runners were all over the radio (maybe that was 1978?). I was young, with a thick head of hair rimming my bald-spot. And I was full of the sort of irrational exuberance that only political self-delusion can give you. Michael Dukakis was going to win in a landslide, what with all that charisma and all.

You see political conventions are all about hope and promise. You are in a new city, surrounded by people who think like you. Everything from the bling and the swag (I’m so hip) to the street-lights and pizza boxes have your hero’s name and/or face on it. The fact is that all of the group-think and hero worship render defeat unimaginable.

As I strap myself into my roomy and comfortable seat in coach, my mind drifts back to highlights of previous conventions I’ve attended. This is actually my sixth consecutive convention. I’ve now officially been to more national conventions than I had dates in high school. I’m very proud of that. I lean back in my seat and hear a faint “ouch” from the lady behind me and I drift into a sweet sleep, dreaming of landslides. If Barack Obama is looking for hope, he’s going to the right place.

SUNDAY, 8:20 PM: - I have arrived at the opening reception. All political conventions are, at bottom, large parties. Tonight there are several thousand people here to eat Bison which is delicious. I have been a vegetarian for 20 years, but I make an exception for endangered species. After the reception there is a welcoming concert with Dave Matthews Band, Sheryl Crow, and some country singer who apparently loves to sing about the juxtaposition of pick-up trucks and “cheat’n cowboys”.

The event is held at Red Rock, which is a huge venue surrounded by red rocks, which proves that the folks in Ocean View don’t have a monopoly on clever names. It is truly one of the more breathtaking sites I have ever seen and the concert is perfect, except for the refusal of the country band to pay the Allman Brother’s “Whippin’ Post” despite my repeated requests.

The party exemplifies one of the unique phenomena of political conventions. Every party is surreally populated by people you have seen on television your whole life. If you look to our left you may see Caroline Kennedy talking to Katie Couric. To your left Barbara Streisand might be giving her phone number to Kid Rock. Straight ahead, perhaps George Clooney is beating Woody Allen to a bloody pulp. It’s really very strange. Tonight I spoke to Governor and VP finalist Tim Kaine and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. I’m quite certain that in their blogs they mention having spoken to me.

Stay tuned for more from Denver…

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