Tuesday, July 27, 2004
 
Day One: Being There
By Frank O'Brien
BOSTON - July 27.

Micro-observations on the staging of a national-level drama, in another waterfront city where "the downtown could finally be reconnected to the waterfront," and a local dedication ceremony defines what politics is all about.

THE NIGHT BEFORE

Sunday night, I was contemplating a cooler full of beer in a local Boston bar: bottles aligned in careful rows, generous quantities of ice packed in around the sides, the bright tinfoil neck wrappers the only part visible above the ice chips. The party is about to start. It wasn't difficult to forsee the future on Friday morning: the littered floor, half-drained bottles and crumpled cups, the thirsts and laughs and bitterness and rancors the beer cooler will supply, but for a moment, all is chilled, neat and ready for the party. The end is contained in the beginning.

THE DAY OF DELEGATION BREAKFAST

Monday morning, the huge California delegation convenes at 9am in the Westin Copley Plaza ballroom. Groups cluster around tables in friendly conversation, sitting strictly with familar faces. It's as if every local restaurant from all over California has relocated its political breakfast table to Boston.

Congressman Bob Matsui is talking to a cluster of reporters in the back - up close his face is smooth, almost tranparent, his eyes dark at once encouraging and sharply appraising. He has a slight but definite reserve - a carefullness that must come from years of dealing with the press and public. It seems spontaneous insight, alarming critical humor and unexpected irony are not among the Congressman's prefered ways of self presentation. This restraint probably accounts for his success as an elected representative.

As he is about to answer a question, Chairman Art Torres asks for the third time that everyone is to be seated - Congressman Matsui's wife takes him by the arm and firmly directs him towards the table. He complies to his wife's direction without resistance. This may be evidence of another reason for his success.

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

930 am is slotted for the daily press briefing. The room is packed. Virtually every seat is taken and reporters are lined up along three walls. At the back a square slightly raised platform is crowded with a cluster of cameras and electronic gear. Thirty minutes late, Stephanie Culter, the Kerry campaign press secretary, takes the podium and begins a recitation of the day's events. Her presentation is an exercise in defining the campaign themes. The reporters appear disinterested, like an early morning class at a party college, the weary students taking notes at the compulsory economics course taught by an uninspired instructor.

The disconnect expands after Cutler introduces a Monday night featured speaker, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones from Ohio. Rep. Jones bounces to the podium and launches into an effervescent stump speech - the presentation certain to earn applause at the district Chamber breakfast or Rotary Club lunch. As Rep. Jones emotes and strives for an eloquent cadence designed to sweep a hometown audience along in a wave of irresistable assent, the assembled press betrays no reaction .. none ... just the quiet scribbling of pens on paper. As a puzzled Rep. Jones asks the crowd if they want to hear more, press aide Cutler gestures for her to step down so the program may proceed.

This group takes pride in its reserve and casual indifference. They do look like a serious, intelligent crew, the nerds who ran the school paper 20-years on. The neglect of fashion is conspicuous. Many in the crowd of print journalists look like they could have slept in their clothes. Later, at the Fleet Center, the TV anchors are a contrast - these well-constructed people look like they stepped directly from an exclusive spa onto the convention floor. TV news people seem to be the real attractions here - their trailing entourage and bulky, high-tech gear dominating the convention floor and corridors. In contrast to the politicians - who give off a vibe that combines accute power-status anxiety with an aggressive stance - the TV news personalities glide along on a gentle air buffer of comfortable self regard.

The convention center is a maze of concrete corridors and a warren of electronic cables, all converging on the sleek, pristine, opulent stage that is the focus of cameras from all directions.

The hall a few hours before the convention: pale blue and deep red - bright TV lights and a sound system with a mega-bass lowrider speaker effect. It's like the inside of an electronic ark, with technicians all around making adjustments to the cameras, mikes, platforms and network anchor booths.

Ian Sherwood is managing floor coverage for BBC News. The Kerry campaign has no incentive to provide foreign journalists time with the candidate - as they are focused on reaching the US audience. Sherwood describes his UK audience as interested in Kerry as an alternative to Bush, a US President who got their Prime Minister in a bit of trouble. Asked what are the concerns of viewers in the pubs, Sherwood thinks that domestic issues may be more important to UK viewers than the Iraq war. Interest rates are rising and that is putting a squeeze on many middle-class homeowners. Even in England, politics in local.

GHOSTS OF THE CELTICS AND BRUINS

Walking down one back corridor in the Fleet Center, I found an obsure steel door with the tag Fleet Center carpentry shop. Bill Hogan of Carpenters Local 33 showed me around the workspace. Along with the saws and benches and tools, the walls were plastered with stickers and photos from Boston sports teams - Bruins and Celtics - going back over 20 years. "So this is the place where you guys fabricated all those dead spots on the Boston Garden's parquet floor" I said. Bill replied "What dead spots?"

GREENWAY DEDICATION

At Park Event, Mayor Calls for End to All Task Forces and Committees: Start Work

Monday morning featured the dedication of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. Sen. Edward Kennedy gave a gentle and loving tribute to his mother, full of humor and inspirational recollection. The Greenway is on the site of a former elevated highway that circled downtown Boston, now running underground thanks to the Big Dig.

Boston Mayor Menino spoke, enthusiastic that "the downtown could finally be reconnected to the waterfront", but, the Mayor warned, "it's time to end all those task forces and working groups and committees and get down to work."

The best speaker was Eunice Kennedy Shrirver, Gov. Schwartzeneger's mother-in-law. Mrs. Shriver, although frail, evoked her mother Rose in clear, direct words - a recollection that combined affection, unembarassed idealism and a challenge to the living to overcome obstacles and make a difference. The difference between Mrs Shriver's speech and the poll-tested equivocations of most modern politicians: its salsa picante vs mayonaise.

The content and rhythm of her remarks - and her distinctive Boston accent - brought alive her brother, the late President John F. Kennedy. It was uncanny - I thought - that this is the sort of speech JFK would have delivered if he had lived thirty more years.

As the speakers had praised the Kennedy brothers, Mrs. Shriver reminded the audience that women could accomplish something too, and she urged young women to strive for their dreams, using the Greenway as an example of what can be accomplished by dedicated action.

City and state officials have agreed to establish the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, an independent non-profit organization, to run the parkland corridor. This approach resolves a series of turf battles over the site between the City, State and Turnpike Authority. A recent study by the Boston Foundation concluded that the $20 billion dollars in improvements at the harbor and waterfront have generated a "huge and growing payoff" for the substantial investment of public funds.

THE PEACEMAKERS

Carrying a huge wooden, hand carved peace symbol aloft on a 5-foot pole, Paul Loveless stands out among the crowds of earnest, well-groomed hurrying Democrats. His hair is white, in strands and whisps that spread thoughtlessly to his shoulders. Paul is blind, I see, as I stop him to talk along a wide sunny stretch of Boylston St. in the Back Bay. In his other hand he holds a white cane, with a small American flag bound to the top with duct tape.

Paul is accompanied by two men and two women, members of the DC Anti-War Movement, who have come to Boston to carry their message to the delegates.

"This flag stands for peace, justice and human rights" Paul says, "Bush has thrown it in the sewer." I see that he is missing three fingers on each hand - he's working with just his thumb and forefinger. "The KKK did that to Paul" one of his friends says.

Paul explains: "I was on a march in Georgia and a group of guys asked me if I was marching against racism. I said I was. They got mad, called me a "white nigger", a "copperhead" and then started throwing bricks at me, saying "here's your ticket back to Africa".

Paul said that injuries in that fight lead first to infection, then to gangrene that wasn't treated. "It was painful" he said, but "If I can do this in my condition, anybody can."

For the others in Paul's group, the sentiments were unanimous. Jim MacDonald, of the Anti-War network, said Democrats were not enthusiastic about Kerry but were unified in their feelings about President Bush. For MacDonald, the major parties are two sides of the same coin - dominated by corporate money and special interests. "I'm prepared to spend my life outside the system" said MacDonald, in his late twenties, "this is a long-term struggle". Paul and the others nodded on agreement.

Ironically, "copperheads" were northern Democrats who opposed the end of slavery and the civil war. Many were recent Irish immigrants who feared free negro labor - "We won't fight to free the nigger" was one of their slogans.



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