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Inside Politics

Blog, Day 4: Thursday, July 29, 2004

Editor's Note: Follow all the action at the 2004 Democratic National Convention with CNN correspondents, anchors, analysts and guests on this daily Weblog. All times are Eastern Daylight.

Finally, a surprise

'In' suite
Ben Affleck and Hillary Clinton watch the Democratic convention.

Posted: 11:22 p.m. ET
From Bryan Long,

Sen. John Kerry accepted the Democratic nomination tonight. No surprise.

But there were other surprises of the night.

First, CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider notes that Kerry offered a tax cut for the middle class and small businesses. This isn't something you often hear from Democrats -- especially presidential candidates. Predictably, there was no applause from the convention hall.

Schneider also thought "it was a little bit complex." This was true especially when Kerry detailed his defense plans.

CNN "Crossfire" co-host Paul Begala was impressed with the propulsion and speed of Kerry's speech. He thought it would top an hour, but Kerry did it in 44 minutes.

"I thought it was terrific, because it showed strength," Begala said. "Never again will the Republicans say the Democrats are wimps."

CNN "Crossfire" co-host Tucker Carlson thought the speech was "very clever." In fact, Kerry was able to fill his speech with "veiled attacks" on the Bush administration but not to the point of making it personal.

Of course, the critique of Kerry's speech will go on for days. Just as the balloons and confetti are still dropping here -- more than 20 minutes after the end of the speech.

Readers write ...

Posted: 9:41 p.m. ET
From Todd Leopold,

A few more notes from the outside world:

Gary from Waikiki, Hawaii, doesn't think much of one of this convention's celebrity visitors: "Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs ... should not be getting any press at all. ... He only started his Citizen Change as a self promotional tool, just the same when he carried the Olympic torch, all for publicity for him."

One more comment about Rev. Al Sharpton and the pundits from Chris of Huntington Beach, California: "Al had a message, it came from his heart, and was appreciated, obviously, by the delegates. I'm seeing reporters that are just too aloof to get that."

And Marijo of Texas wonders, "Is John Kerry the first presidential candidate ever to have been divorced?"

Nope, Marijo. Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman were divorced in the late '40s; Reagan later married Nancy Davis.

In the spirit

Posted: 8:53 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, co-host, CNN's "Crossfire"

Will someone please spare me from the whining of the dinosaurs?

If I hear one more chin-stroker lament the lack of any drama or suspense at this convention, I'm gonna scream.

There's no suspense at a wedding, either. You already know she's going to say "I do," you know the best man's going to make a fool of himself at the toast, you know Uncle Fred is going to get drunk and throw up on Cousin Eddie's shoes.

But you go anyway. Modern conventions are like weddings. They are the culmination, the verification, of something that was decided long ago. I, for one, don't pine for the days of the smoke-filled rooms when rich, white men picked the candidates. I prefer the people, thank you very much.

And just as a wedding can be a precursor of the marriage to come, so can a convention give you a pretty good idea of how a party might govern. When I worked for Bill Clinton, we worked hard to have a fun but feisty convention. We wanted the country to see that we weren't going to take any guff off the Republicans -- and hoped they'd infer from that that we'd be tough in the White House as well.

The Kerry campaign is trying to tell you they're positive; that they have ideas for the future; that they're inclusive and future-focused. So far, they're four for four.

But I will grant you that this convention is a tad too scripted. Tucker Carlson calls it "Disney-fication." When we mentioned this to Dennis Kucinich a few minutes ago, he said, "I didn't vet my speech with Disneyland. My speech came from Tomorrowland." Not bad.

So let's all quit complaining that a convention is no longer a corrupt gathering of self-interested power brokers and celebrate that it's the confirmation of a democratic process. Listen to what Kerry says tonight -- it'll tell you a lot about how he'll govern.

The Stepford Democrats

Posted: 8:35 p.m. ET
From Tucker Carlson, co-host, CNN's "Crossfire"

I ran into a well-known gay activist tonight just as the prime-time lineup was beginning. Why haven't you given a speech at the convention yet? I asked. Because I'm not allowed to, he said, laughing.

But he wasn't joking.

The most striking thing about the Democratic convention this year is how few Democratic themes have been heard from the podium. With the exception of Al Sharpton, an uncontrollable force of nature who has so intimidated the Democratic leadership that they leave him alone, no speaker I've seen has deviated significantly from the prepared text.

And the prepared text mentions almost none of the stock Democratic talking points: Bush stole the election, lied to get us into war, and threw the profits to Halliburton and the Carlyle Group, all to please the Saudis and the religious right, and also to avenge his father's 1992 loss. Because Bush is both diabolical and a moron, brilliantly evil and mentally retarded.

That's been the substance of the average Democratic stump speech this year. You wouldn't know if from watching the convention. For the past four days, the Kerry campaign has ruthlessly suppressed the effervescent (and often paranoid) activist wing of the Democratic Party, for fear of alienating middle America. They believe this is smart strategy, and they're probably right. But it's also dishonest. And it makes for an awfully boring convention.

The 'in' suite

Posted: 7:39 p.m. ET
From Bryan Long,

Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, John Cusack and Norman Lear are enjoying great seats together in a suite with a head-on view of the stage. Soon after these guys took their seats, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton joined the group.

Let the music play

Posted: 7:24 p.m. ET
From Todd Leopold,

The Democrats have really hit the '60s and '70s soul and funk hard this convention.

Besides the songs I mentioned in a previous post (scroll down), I've heard (as segues) riffs from Sly and the Family Stone's "Stand," the Dramatics' "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get," Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" -- that one, if I'm not mistaken, was for Kweisi Mfume -- Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose," and Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher."

They're interesting choices, both full of energy and not a little nostalgia. If there's a flaw in using so many powerful horn riffs as segues, it's that after they play it feels like the end of a rousing awards show.

Of course, that could be the point, too.

The start of it all

Posted: 6:05 p.m. ET
From Todd Leopold,

It's easy to overlook, even with two plainclothes security men standing on either side: a single sheet of heavy paper under glass, between an exhibit devoted to John Kerry and a souvenir kiosk on the second floor of the FleetCenter.

Oh, people notice it's the Declaration of Independence, but it's a typeset copy, not the handwritten one so often reproduced, and therefore one can assume it's just, well, a copy.

But there's something about the document -- a gravitas, a solemnity -- that makes people stop and do a double take as they walk by.

"People walk over and say, 'Is this real?' " said William Pickett Jr., a retired ATF agent who's been keeping an eye on the Declaration during the convention. "And I say, 'Yes, it's a real copy.' "

The copy is one of 200 printed in early July 1776 by John Dunlap -- called the "Dunlap Broadside" -- and disseminated by horsemen throughout the colonies with the intent of spreading the news of independence.

Only 25 apparently survive; this one was famously found in the back of a painting purchased at a yard sale for four dollars. Television producer Norman Lear, a founder of the liberal organization People for the American Way, later purchased it for several million dollars.

"It's so great to see," said Pickett. "It makes you feel proud to be an American."

P. Diddy vs. the Secret Service

Posted: 4:41 p.m. ET
From Bryan Long,

Sen. Kerry should be happy to know the Secret Service has his back.

Sean "P. Diddy" Combs stopped in the hall outside the CNN suite for an interview with USA Today. Combs has been here all week to promote Citizen Changeexternal link, a non-partisan group which encourages youth to vote.

Diddy's entourage of four bodyguards and two publicists, along with the gathering crowd quickly filled the hall. A Secret Service agent walked up to one of the guards and asked him to please move out of the hallway.

The guard angrily turned around and bowed up.

"I said 'please,' " the agent told the guard.

Combs then apologized to the agent for the dust-up and moved to the side of the hall.

"I just want the hallway passable," the agent confided later.

Not everyone's a Democrat

Posted: 4:32 p.m. ET
From Wayne Drash, CNN news editor

A Secret Service officer became amused at a security checkpoint Friday afternoon. After sifting through a bag, he found a button with Bush's face on it and the words "Somewhere in Texas a village is missing its idiot." The officer laughed and held it up for his colleagues to see.

He then leaned over to the button's owner and said in a hushed voice, "I'm one of the few Democrats in the Secret Service."

Readers write ...

Posted: 4:08 p.m. ET
From Todd Leopold,

Most of the comments received by the blog in the past several hours still have to do with Rev. Al Sharpton's speech last night, and the vast majority favor Sharpton -- and don't like the way CNN handled its commentary.

Karin from Cortlandt Manor, New York: "Al Sharpton's speech was just what we need and so was Edwards' speech."

Dolly from somewhere in cyberland: "Al Sharpton was great last night. ... We want the story from the mouth of the speakers, and we often do not appreciate the media's instant editorializing."

Linda from Belvidere, Illinois: "Thanks to all the analysts for their criticism of Rev. Sharpton's speech. They undoubtedly gave the Kerry/Edwards campaign a huge boost. I will use the mute button more frequently in the future."

Zelda from St. Petersburg, Florida: "I didn't interpret Rev. Sharpton's Clarence Thomas comment at all as the pundits did. I took it to mean that if Bush had been president in 1954 we would have had a court made up of Antonin Scalia clones who never would have ruled in favor of Brown. And to our great fear this could still be a possibility in a second Bush term."


Meanwhile, an update on the mysterious Dunkin' Donuts pastry disappearance (more on story; scroll to bottom): According to an item on USAToday.comexternal link, it's the government's fault.

"Federal agents Tuesday morning blocked a potentially dangerous truckload of ... doughnuts," the site reported. "Dunkin' Donuts stand owner Danny Haddad said he told the Secret Service a doughnut delivery would arrive every morning around 6, but for whatever reason it wasn't on Tuesday's official schedule. 'They said, "Sorry, no go," ' Haddad said."

That's taking security a little too far, if you ask me.

France for Kerry?

Posted: 1:29 p.m. ET
From John King, CNN Senior White House Correspondent

Spotted on the floor Wednesday night: Jean-David Levitte, the French Ambassador to the United States.

Kerry in the house

Posted: 1:23 p.m. ET
From Kelly Wallace, CNN National Correspondent

Sen. John Kerry came into the FleetCenter wearing a blue blazer over a blue Oxford.

He smiled when he got to the podium and then spoke to the traveling press

"I can't hear a word you're saying," he said.

And then, standing at the mike, "This is great. Can we do it now?"

It sounded like he then said "great hall."

Kerry teased the press, mouthing words as if he were delivering his speech, gesturing with his hands.

He then said, "Members of the fourth estate. I've called you here to tell you your reign is over."

He then cupped his hand over his ear, pretending he could not hear any questions.

Kerry stood at the podium, looked at the teleprompter, and went over to the side of the stage from where he is expected to walk. (It's on the left.)

He gave a thumbs up as he left the stage. A few people in the hall applauded as he entered and left.

Making news

Posted: 1:08 p.m. ET
From: Todd Leopold,

The world's great news organizations are here at the Democratic National Convention: the all-news networks, the broadcast networks, NHK and the BBC and The New York Times and the Washington Post.

And, of course, The Onion.

The Onion, "America's Finest News Source" (see Web siteexternal link) is represented in the person of one Peter Koechley. And he is, indeed, one: Not just the one Peter Koechley here, but the one Onion representative.

"That's 10 or 15 percent of our entire news outfit," Koechley pointed out.

Koechley isn't in Boston so much to report with daily dispatches than to gather material for future Onion stories. "There's no direct reporting happening," said Koechley. "Our concept of what's topical is a little more glacial."

Koechley, 23, "grew up with comedy newspapers," he said, starting one in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin (also The Onion's place of origin), when he was 13 and another when he was 15. Now he's part of a staff that puts out one of the most notable humor publications in the country, the folks who came up with the books "Our Dumb Century" and "Dispatches from the Tenth Circle." (And, yes, there's a movie coming out at the end of the year.)

Koechley has paid attention to many of the speeches, being particularly impressed with Barack Obama's. "A lot of the jokes that make The Onion challenge the frames of reference on issues," Koechley said. "Obama articulated every issue perfectly. He took every tired line and made it fresh."

But who does he like? Koechley sticks with his Wisconsin roots. "Russ Feingold," he said, referring to the state's junior senator. "There's lots of love for Russ Feingold."

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