Political conventions are a very different experience for those being there as opposed to those watching on TV.
This year’s Democratic National Convention is a case in point. Except on C-span, our country’s parliamentary channel, Almost no one pays attention to what’s going on, on the floor or the podium. What the news channels do, is to explain what they think is going on without actually showing most of what’s going on. It’s mostly all about them rather than the event. The broadcast networks are even worse. They don’t even show more than three or four speeches, and only those who are considered the most important. I’m not sure why they even bothered.
That’s why the actual business of the conventions are held in the early evening when it seems nobody but us “political junkies” are watching. The part that goes back to the days of yore when the balloting and the platforms actually meant something, and which even today are the only reasons these things are still held.
The media also likes a little chaos, which is why some of the opposition gets shown on TV marching. They want blood in the water but not very much. “Oh isn’t that cute, the silly lefties are marching for Bernie even though he lost.! How sweet.”
I was at the Democratic Convention the other day, and as I said at the top, it’s a very different experience indeed.
There are two venues, the Pennsylvania convention center in midtown, where it’s actually rather easy to get in, and the locked-down national security space around the Wells Fargo center, three miles to the south.
The Pennsylvania Center has the feel of a trade show or ComicCon, with lots of panel discussions a “huckster’s room” (called Politifest), where there are a few nifty exhibits and booths selling souvenirs. The general public is allowed to attend some of the panel discussions, and they get bright shiny credentials almost like the delegates and media get. There were also lots of tables where one could get literature from people espousing various causes, Lesbians for Clinton, for example, was giving out free Hillary coloring books. Cute.
Then there’s the National Security lockdown event at the Welles Fargo sports arena. For this, you need a REAL credential badge, which if you are not a delegate, alternate or major party bigwig (or selling $5 bottles of Aquafina® bottled water at a venue), are damn hard to get.
That venue has two parts. The press tent, which is actually three tents connected to each other, and the arena itself, which is divided into the hallways and the convention floor. Both are crowded to the max and the jostling between the delegates, press and volunteer guards is fascinating to behold.
Near the entrance to the arena is “radio row” where hundreds of talk radio hosts are chattering away to their audiences back home without really knowing that the hell is going on around them because they’re not allowed in the skyboxes above or the floor near them. But they can hear and see all the chaos that surrounds them and that’s usually good enough. Sometimes an assistant or intern takes their seats and they can roam the hallways, where they interview anyone who’s willing to pontificate in front of a microphone, which isn’t that difficult.
The arena has three levels. The cheap skyboxes which are rented out by lobbyists on the third floor, and media skyboxes which are rented by major networks….and the floor. The best view was from a certain “private club” right off the floor where I managed to sneak right onto the seats of one of the redder states. Mission accomplished!
Now what the media wants is to cover chaos. That is as long as no one gets physically hurt. This the Bernie Sanders delegates provided in spades.
The day before, one of the people who was supposed to second Senator Sanders’ nomination was denied permission to speak because her attacks on then presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton in the text she provided. So some delegates and alternates decided to do some agitprop theater in the press tent, holding a demonstration right in the middle of the place.
So of course, all the bored reporters formed an amorphous mass around them, followed by the cops, who were suddenly there, checking credentials (the Bernie-or- busters had allegedly ransacked the place and looted it of office supplies the day before) to make sure we were actually press.
These people actually thought that the attention they were getting was positive and their message was being heard. Nope. It was total derision. The presidential race is a winner take all affair, and the person getting in second gets a speech in prime tine, which is kind of like the copy of he home game losers get on game shows.
This year, as far as I can tell, there weren’t any lobbyists giving out free booze at afternoon receptions and no free beer in the press tent like they did in 1992. That was my only complaint.