After attending a day at both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, I have some observations to make.
Philadelphia is a fine city; Los Angeles is the city that doesn't work. It's actually possible to get around Philly without a car, by walking or public transit; it isn't in L.A.
Republicans had a lot of cash bars at their delegate receptions; Democrats had open bars but drank cheaper drinks -- mostly beer.
Delegates at both conventions paid no attention to what was going on at the podium unless it was the major speech of the evening. The sound system was excellent but there were too many people to talk to and too much to see. It makes one wonder what the purpose was of the parade of speakers in the afternoon and early evening -- heard and viewed only by the C-Span audience.
Both conventions banned food and drink from the hall. That made for packed crowds in the hallways of delegates and media eating and drinking.
There is no such thing as a rank-and-file Republican. Just about all their delegates were elected officials or prominent people. Only five of the 74 Illinois delegates were not quickly identified by the office they held. That's for several reasons. Democratic party rules make all Congressmen and Senators super-delegates; Republicans have to get elected from their district -- taking up a slot that could otherwise be filled locally. Democrats have twice as many delegates so there's more opportunity for regular folks to get elected. Also, the labor influence means that there are lots of union workers and teachers are delegates to the Democratic Convention.
Both conventions were well-orchestrated affairs to show off their party's best -- as determined by the image-makers in charge. They both succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.
The logistics in Philadelphia were excellent. Some delegations may have been housed a fair distance from the hall but the shuttle bus system was efficient. In L.A., the distances were shorter but the times were much greater, public transportation was pitiful, cabs were scarce and exorbitantly-priced (average fare $50) and the shuttle buses were a disaster.
One of the Illinois delegation buses got lost one day leaving the Staples Center and Knox County State's Attorney Paul Mangieri had to convince the bus driver, imported from New Orleans (L.A., with its meager public transportation system, doesn't have enough buses.) that they actually wanted to go to Burbank (where the Illinois delegation was staying). After finally convincing him, Mangieri had to get a map and navigate the bus to the hotel.
On the final night, Illinois delegates were sitting around the hotel pool with nothing to do while Al Gore, Joe Lieberman and their party were boarding planes to LaCrosse, Wisc. at the Burbank airport, literally across the street from their hotel. While there was a small bon voyage rally at the airport, nobody bothered to tell the Illinois delegation who had been complaining all week of nothing to do in Burbank. When they found out about it the next day, there were some unhappy campers.
Buses were as much as two hours late. Much of the North Carolina delegation missed their governor speak because their shuttle buses were two hours late that day. A convention floor leader thought it wouldn't look good if the North Carolina delegation seating was all empty while their governor spoke so he asked Florida delegates to sit in for them. Florida served as "rent-a delegates" on several other occasions when transportation snafus kept some states away. A Florida delegate I talked to said it was great fun: "We got to meet a lot of people and sit in a variety of seats -- most better than ours."
Julia Lee, a delegate from Los Angeles, was enthusiastic after President Clinton's speech on the convention's opening night. ''He told it like it was,'' she said. Lee, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union, finds the Democrats far superior to the Republicans on the issues that matter most to her. ''We don't want our Social Security privatized; we want the patients' rights bill,'' she said.
Lee also was proud that the convention showcased her hometown. ''It's the greatest place ever where we could have it,'' she said.
Randy Randall, a Los Angeles computer consultant, wasn't attending the convention but found himself at convention-related events in his other job as a catering waiter. When he was working at the ''Faces of L.A.'' reception on the Saturday preceding the convention, he said, ''Everybody was either trying to find out if I was a Democrat or to convert me to one.'' No conversion necessary, he added; he is a Democrat. He expected to work other parties during the convention week, possibly including Barbra Streisand's closing-night bash. He had met Streisand, famous for being a perfectionist, several years ago when he worked as a background photographer for motion pictures, including her version of ''A Star is Born.'' ''As long as you don't do anything wrong, she's very nice,'' he noted.
He hoped Los Angeles would show a good face to convention attendees. ''We kind of take a bad rap in other parts of the country,'' he said. Hosting the convention, he said, ''is very similar to the Olympics we had in '84. There is this kind of dread of the thing coming -- thinking the freeways will be congested, that you won't be able to get a table in a restaurant. However, the reverse was true. The freeways were wide open; people were far friendlier than normal.''
There was a good deal of action outside the Staples Center. Protesters were demonstrating on a variety of issues. Some were decrying U.S. sanctions against Iraq, saying they hurt Iraq's citizens far less than its leaders. Some were calling for the freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted (without a fair trial, some say) of killing a Philadelphia police officer. Some were demonstrating for women's rights, some for improved public education, some to call attention to the millions who lack health insurance.
Among the protesters was Bill Neal of the International Socialist Organization, a former Chicagoan now living in Los Angeles. The ISO is interested in the broad spectrum of issues raised at the protests: ''Our aim is to bring together different strands of the movement,'' he said. The point of bringing them together is ''to change the entire political debate in this country,'' he said. This includes making health care coverage and higher wages a priority, ''not just in this country, either,'' he said. But about the United States, he asked, ''Why is it that we live in the richest country in the world that cannot provide health care for its people?''
Neal was unimpressed by the Democrats; he favors Green Party candidate Ralph Nader for president. ''We support Nader primarily because we think he gives a voice to the people on the street,'' he said. ''I think his campaign would be worthless without the people on the street, and I think he knows that.'' He agrees with Nader's summation of the difference between the two major parties: ''What Nader says is, the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats is the speed at which their knees hit the floor to accept corporate money.'' Whether or not Nader can win is irrelevant, Neal said: ''The most important thing is to give people the confidence to change society themselves.''
Neal also was not impressed by media coverage of the protests. ''The media has not been friendly to the issues raised by the activist organizations,'' he said. Instead of the issues, he said, the media covers the spectacle -- the clashes between protesters and police, for instance.
Some activists inside the convention sympathized with the protesters outside but said they had found working within the party system valuable as well. These activists include Stacie Katz, Sarah Stanner, and Jean Cohen, three convention volunteers and members of a Young Democrats organization in San Diego. ''We were out there yesterday and today we're in here,'' said Katz as she watched Tuesday night's convention proceedings. ''We were out there with our pro-choice signs,'' added Cohen. They don't have ideological differences with the protesters, they said. ''They don't see that we believe what they believe,'' Stanner said. Katz added, ''We strong environmentalists, we're pro-minority rights, we're pro-choice,'' she said. Some may think the Democratic Party has become too conservative in a bid for centrist votes, but the three young women said they are trying to keep the party true to liberal principles. ''We're trying to reform the party in our own way,'' said Katz. The young women were unenthused about the idea of supporting a third-party candidate. ''We don't have the option of a parliamentary government,'' which allows better opportunities for minority parties, said Katz. They were thrilled, however, to be at their first national Democratic convention, after having volunteered at the California state convention for several years. ''We realized this was the opportunity of a lifetime,'' Cohen said. Stanner added, ''It's so exciting. There are so many interesting, diverse people.''
by Norm Winick
In what is becoming a political tradition, presidential candidates now start their post-convention campaign run in the middle of America. Both Republicans George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Democrats Al Gore and Joe Lieberman traversed Illinois within a day of their phenomenally-successful national conventions. Bush visited Republican downstate strongholds such as Bloomington-Normal and Springfield. Gore went to more Democratic areas including the Quad-Cities and Quincy.
Gore and Lieberman were three hours late arriving in Burlington Sunday evening. The bus from Moline had stopped for a planned rally in Muscatine and had made several unplanned campaign stops when impromptu gatherings along the route were large enough to warrant a visit. The crowd of nearly 1,000 was getting restless but remained friendly as the sound man kept playing Garth Brooks and Bruce Springsteen CDs. The musical entertainment and preliminary political speeches from the Mayor, the local NAACP president, the Iowa AFL-CIO president and several others were completed hours earlier.
When the fleet of buses, nine in all, containing the candidates, the travelling media, and countless aides to both, arrived , the crowd was rewarded with Al Gore in his upbeat post convention best. He was hoarse and tired but kept to his theme of the day, health care, and was animated and personal. Vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman was equally well received. Tipper received the biggest cheers when she talked about her several prior visits to Burlington, including one memorable one she spent bowling.
The highlight for most of the crowd came after the speeches. Gore, Tipper and Lieberman worked the crowd like pros. They each went to three different sections where people were pressed up against the ropes hoping for a chance to shake hands. They all autographed signs, shook hands and posed for pictures. Then, they switched sections. People who waited were given the opportunity to shake hands with all three. They didn't leave until everyone present was satisfied.
A secret serviceman standing guard commented, "this is the scariest part of any political appearance and they do it scarier than most."
Immediately following their respective conventions, both Presidential candidates conducted campaign swings through the Midwest. Bush chose a whistle stop train tour of Michigan, Indiana and Illinois and Gore selected to follow the Mississippi River south from LaCrosse, Wisc. to Hannibal, Mo. In both cases the candidates chose to parlay the respective successes of their convention speeches into a serious of issue-targeted campaign stops.
Gore's stop in Moline on Sunday provided an opportunity for Galesburgers to press the candidate's flesh in a large 5,000-plus strong rally while hearing an energized Al Gore make a powerful and well-received speech. Admittedly, the rally was packed full of the party faithful primed to like what they were about to hear. It's not unlike a minister preaching to the church choir but in this era of continual television coverage partisanship only adds to the impact of events like these.
The crowd was already swelling two hours early under sunny but comfortable weather. Security was tight and admission was controlled by ticket. No one got to within a block of the candidate platform without a thorough screening for weapons. Secret Service agents with specially-trained dogs patrolled the crowd.
The location at the corner of 15th Street and River Drive was well chosen from both a political and security viewpoint. Large tall buildings line River Drive to the east and west with a closed Interstate highway ramp commanding the high ground immediately north (behind) the south facing platform. This artificial canyon was filled from sidewalk to sidewalk for better than two blocks with wildly cheering supporters of Gore -- creating a excellent setting for television coverage.
He focused on the ever-present issue of healthcare reform. Gore isn't rushing headlong into a complete overhaul of this nation's healthcare system. He is instead pursuing a slower more gradual approach that focuses on the special needs of children and senior citizens -- including prescription drug benefits -- up front.
Few would argue against Gore's proposals to limit the excesses of HMOs and the insurance industry in limiting healthcare options or to insure medical coverage to all children or to reduce the expense of prescription drugs for the elderly. These were Gore's key issues that day and they were well received. Al Gore's masterful handling of this campaign stop flies in the face of his stereotypical reputation as a wooden and clumsy speaker. First-lady-in-waiting Tipper also did her husband proud during this trip.