Robert G. Kaiser & Lucian Perkins
Tuesday, July 27, 2004; 12:00 PM
Associate editor Robert Kaiser and Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Lucian Perkins are at the Democratic Convention in Boston collecting images and impressions in their Convention Diary. What is the latest news from the convention? How are delegates, journalists and VIPs dealing with the unprecedented security around the Fleet Center?
Kaiser and Perkins were online Tuesday, July 27 at Noon ET to discuss the convention.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
As someone who all but gave up on the Democratic party after 9/11 when they let Bush and Congressional Republicans walk all over them, I am happy to say... THEY'RE BACK!
The Gore, Carter, and Bill Clinton speeches were not only masterful in their expressions of a deep and levelheaded patriotism, but also in their political shrewdess.
You must have been inspired hearing them -- which may be the main point, all political analysis aside.
What was it like?
Robert Kaiser: Good day, and thanks to all fo ryour interest in our diary. We've now had quite a few direct emails sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, and hope there will be more. send us your queries, your suggestions, your complaints, whatever. One of the best messages we've received--one of the smartest, that is -- will be posted in today's chat, below.
I think this question captures the mood of a lot of Democrats in Boston after last night's speeches, which were a big hit here as well. I have to say "inspired" is something a newsman with 40 years experience doesn't experience too often; I managed to stay on my feet through all that rhetoric last night. But there were three good speeches that any professor of oratory could use as examples of fine speechmaking. And watching Bill CLinton was just fun--an artist at work, no matter wha tyou think of the man.
Robert and Lucian,
President Clinton mentioned the Assault Weapons Ban last night, drawing a contrast between Democrats who want to see it renewed and Republicans who want it to die when it expires in September. Do you think there's a way for Democrats to talk about the ban as seperate from the standard "gun control" stance that gets them into trouble?
Robert Kaiser: Yes I do. That's how it was passed in the first place, by separating it from the classical gun control debate, with the argument that hey, hunters may need guns, but does any sane citizen need an assault weapon?
Has the intrigue, excitement, back room deals, and compromises permanently left the partisan convention? Or has it become merely a loose form of political liturgy?
Robert Kaiser: I like "loose form of politial liturgy." I think that's really very accurate. It does have religious connotations, or at least spiritual ones, for many of the participants. Did you notice the delegates in the hall who were literally weeping during Clinton's speech last night? Liturgical.
There were deals, but they were made months ago, and of course, since nearly no one in the political class smokes any more, they were NOT in smokefilled rooms. They produced the kerry victory in Iowa, which, we can now say, was the key event of the year on the Democratic side.
Although not as spectacular in style as some of the other speakers at the Convention last night, I think that former-President and Nobel laureate Jimmy Carter's overwhelming repudiation of Bush administration foreign policy was a devastating call to arms that deserved much more press that it got (I didn't notice any articles focusing on that speech in either the Washington Post or the New York Times). I think it was a very important attack on the Bush administration by the most morally-centered expert on international affairs in our country. If this were a foreign Nobel laureate attacking the indefensible policies of his/her own country at a major political gathering, the U.S. press would be all over it like flies on... honey.
Robert Kaiser: thanks for your critique. I thought it was an interesting speech. I'll pass on your comments to The Post editors here. And I'll post a very different view of the Carter speech right after this...
Did anyone else notice last night that Jimmy Carter ascribed "extremism" much more often to President Bush than he did to Osama bin Laden? He also seemed convinced that Bush bears much more responsibility for the breakdown in the Mideast peace process than, say, Arafat, Hamas or Sharon.
Americans with short historical memories might also not have noticed the irony of a former President who drove American allies to distraction when he was in office criticizing President Bush for damaging allied relations.
On the other hand, Carter's teeth are still in remarkable shape.
Robert Kaiser: another precinct heard from...
Stop the Clinton Bashing:
In her piece on Bill Clinton yesterday, Hanna Rosin included this line: "former presidents don't spend too much time in their hotel rooms." I think that's an insulting slap at our esteemed former leader. Shame on you!
washingtonpost.com: Life of the Party Turns Wallflower (Post, July 26)
Robert Kaiser: Are you serious?
San Francisco, Calif.:
President Jimmy Carter's speech last night seemed to me to be the most direct and insightful of the evening's speeches. His speech was not covered by the three big networks, but was broadcast on public television. In your opinion, why wasn't this respected humanist's message covered? Was it a decision of the corporate networks or advice from the Kerry camp?
Robert Kaiser: Let me say it straight out: the decisions of the three major networks to broadcast only an hour of the convention last night and tonight and tomorrow night--the networks whose very existence, and every dollar of whose profits depends on their affiliates ability to use the public airwaves that all of us own--is a national embarrassment, and a disgrace. There, I said it.
Carter's speech certainly deserved a wide audience. How many ex-presidents do we have, for goodness sake? I'm sorry it wasn't shown more widely, or written about more extensively.
I'm surprised that I haven't heard more about the Arkansas Delegation. The state is the home of the most recent Democratic President (Clinton) and one Presidential hopeful (Clark) and yet they are not even sat on the floor of the Convention Hall. Just curious as to what that delegation is up to.
Robert Kaiser: are the Arkansas papers not writing about the delegation? Not sur eit's a national story, but it is certainly an important one for all of you in Ark.
When delegates get dressed up in large hats, wearing lots of buttons, and wearing donkeys or elephants, does that make for a good picture, a silly picture, or just a fun picture for us all?
Lucian Perkins: All the above.
Nice to hear from you today. Do you think Democrats are succeeding in switching from negative Bush bashing statements to positive "Here is what we are going to do for America" statements? I think Clinton made an excellent speech but the rest of the crowd was just usual Bush bashing just a little tuned down. But that's mine impression.
Robert Kaiser: well, your impression matters; they all do. I think the answer to your question has to be in the eye and ear of the beholder. Obviously there were strong critiques of Bush last night; Carter's was particularly strong. But the lasting impression of this convention will be made Thursday night, when Kerry speaks. The rest of this may be significant to the faithful Party loyalists and activists, but it will all pale in comparison to the Kerry speech. I suggest that's when we'll see what the balance is between Bush bashing and positive alternatives to Bush policies.
I have a question about the Republican response team in Boston. I was watching CNN last night and they went into the "war room" of the Republicans. I have to admit that I was a little amused to see like 20 white, men (of course wearing blue oxfords and tan pants) there. There were no women, no people of color, nothing...
Yet, people don't mention that. I guess if I was able to see it then so will others but it did strike me as a completely different scene than the mulit-cultural democratic audience. Or what I imagine the Republicans will try to show at their convention in New York. But aren't these men the true Republicans?
Do you think this is important for journalist to point out or am I nit-picking?
washingtonpost.com: GOP 'War Room' Is On-Site (Post, July 27)
Robert Kaiser: Thanks for your comment. I'm sorry to say I missed what you saw last night--we can't be everywhere at once, and indeed, Lucian and I are feeling raggedly behind the curve here. There's just too much going on.
Your question as to whether reporters ought to always point out the race and gender of people giving briefings answers itself, I think, when you re-state it as I just did. No, that's not news reporting, at least in my view. On the other hand, it's an important reason why we need television, and photographs. Thanks to both, people like you who notice such things will see what you saw, and draw whatever conclusions you think are appropriate. As you should.
Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.:
Why have the major networks decided to show a "primetime" version of the convention this year? I am a 38 year old woman and I have been watching these conventions since 1976 at the age of 11. They use to be considered major events in this country. Has cable television taken over the massive news coverage because the big three ABC, CBS and NBC are more concerned with the loss of advertising revenue from these ridiculous reality shows?
Robert Kaiser: see my intemperate answer above.
But I think you may have been out of the country for the '90s. That's when the networks abandoned the conventions. It is not new this year.
Were there any other speakers at the national convention besides Carter, Gore, Clintons?
Lucien Perkins: The first night was jammed with speakers and tributes beginning 4pm. And there were speakers in between Carter, Gore and the Clintons. In some ways it is too bad TV coverage was limited. It was a great performance last night by many.
Pocomoke City, Md.:
What nationally is Mrs. Heinz?
Robert Kaiser: She grew up in the Portugese colonies of southern Africa; if I say Mozambique, it will turn out to have been Angola, and vise versa. But it was one of those.
Why is Carter considered an authority on any subject (I guess it could be he knows and understands failed presidencies)? For instance, he took Bush to task for not attacking North Korea, when it was Carter who negotiated the settlement that allowed N.K. to develop its weapons -- not Bush.
Robert Kaiser: Thanks for your comment. I suspect you know that it isn't exactly a unanimous view. It was interesting to be reminded at the time of President Reagan's funeral that Clinton actually left office with higher approval ratings in the polls than Reagan enjoyed when he left office. Of course a lot of Americans share your disdain for Clinton, but a lot also share the enthusiasm of the crowd here whom he sent into rapture last night.
Coming in this morning the only noticeable things were more cops than usual talking to each other at South Station and more beer trucks offloading beer kegs along Tremont Street. Other than that, not much is happening. Did I bring my duck tape with me in vain?
Robert Kaiser: I hope so. Lucian and I were also out and about, driving down to Dorchester this morning for a fascinating breakfast with three young men from the troubled neithborhoods of south Boston. We'll tell you about them later in our diary. But we too saw normal commuting conditions and a quiet city.
I hope I'm not hexing us all by saying this, but it occurred to me last night that if I were one of Osama's guys, the last place on Earth I'd try something this week is Boston. The city is blanketed with cops and agents. Sneaking some dastardly device into the Fleet Center wojuld be an amazing accomplishment. Any sort of terrorist attempt in Boston this week would be an enormously long shot. Why risk failure and humiliation? Of course I'm trying to put myself into the minds of people I don't remotely understand, but you get my drift.
The 9/11 Commission Report is especially eloquent, I think, on the subject of our natural tendency to always refight the last war. Is it really likely that the next big terrorist attack on the U.S. will involve hijacking and airliner and using it as a missile/bomb? I don't think so.
Not serious -- just amused by the (inadvertent?) humor in the article.
Robert Kaiser: thanks for straightening that out.
What do you think of USA Today nixing Ann Coulter's column? I read her piece on line and it seemed a lot like other work she's done.Didn't they read any of her work to find out her style and approach?
washingtonpost.com: Coulter Column Canceled After Editing Dispute (USA Today)
Robert Kaiser: sorry, this one passed me by. I'll have to catch up with it later. We've given you all a link (and me too!) so anyone who wants to find out what this is about can read it...
Salt Lake City, Utah:
In an earlier response, you said TV coverage was limited. I confess I did not watch the convention on TV for long, and mostly listened to the speeches on NPR. But in your opinion, is it somewhat telling of a slanted corporate media when the DNC is given half-hearted coverage but a week and a half is spent idolizing Reagan on his deathbed? Are the media mergers of the past decade having an enormous impact on the partisan tilt of broadcast and cable television? How much will this be offset by younger viewers deserting mass media in droves?
Robert Kaiser: Interesting comment. I'd like to hear a network executive explain why Reagan was worth so many hours, and the convention is worth so few.
Young people are going to do in network television over time; I'm quite confident of that. Already the networks' share of the tv audience is half what it once was. That's also true for network news. The world isn' tchanging, it HAS changed. What the effect is on politics, I cannot say with any specificity.
What's going on with that huge death trap they're
calling the free speech zone?
Lucian Perkins: I tried to get there yesterday, but my schedule didn't permit it. If not today, definately tomorrow.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
Based on the EVIDENCE, how accurate is the Republican's portrayal of Kerry as a flip-flopper?
It's amazing to me how many Americans say they don't like Kerry because he waffles. It seems to me the only reason they are saying that is due to the fact they heard it on a pro-Bush advertisement.
Are the citizens of this nation as sheep-like as I fear or is there any evidence from his senatorial days to back up this characterization.
Robert Kaiser: Thanks for the question. I will not try to explain why Americans think one thing or another, but I do think that changing one's mind is a normal part of life, and of politics. Kerry has certainly changed his mind on some issues. But so has President Bush. He didn't believe in "nation building," and now rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan are two of the biggest tasks he has undertaken. And it is proving to be as hard as he feared when he opposed the whole idea. He opposed a 9/11 commission, and now he is embracing it. He justified tax cuts on the groundsw that they were the right response to budget surpluses, big ones that he inherited. When they disappeared, he justified tax cuts on the ground sthat they would help the country out of the recession, implying that budget deficits aren't really that important. etc. etc.
When I find a politician who never flip-flopped, I'll be ready to retire.
The question everyone is asking: What is the point and why do you cover the conventions?
Lucian Perkins: LIke it or not, this is still part of the presidential election process. It is still, probably, one of the best ways for most Americans to learn more about the candidate and the party. Even though this event is very well choregraphed and controlled by the parties, it is still very revealing about both and what they stand for.
Personally, being on the floor last night was very "electric." I haven't seen this much energy and enthusiasm since the 1992 Democratic convention. It will be interesting to see if this energy sustains itself the convention is over.
I think people really want a hard look at what's happening. I don't mean
cynisism, but getting past the sales pitch to see what we're really buying
into. You know Clinton delivered so many shocks and then the press missed
the truth on the WMD. And Bush was going to be a "uniter" and wouldn't
engage in nation building. I mean we know there's a lot of bad information
coming through the media.
The big story will be whether the Dems are being honest about who they are
or whether this convention is just an orchestrated effort to reach a
certain market based on what the surveys dictate should be said. There has
been a tremendous exodus of white middle-class voters from the Democratic
Party over the years. Dems may try to get these voters back, but I think
you'll find the convention is not about white middle-class people at all,
and there just trying to sell us but will turn the country over to special
I'm also really curious about how all the talk about "values" really plays
out. Is "values" just the latest buzz word? Does it mean anything? Is
this just a warm and fuzzy that means whatever you want. What does
"values" really mean? Qre we just trivializing this word until it means
Washington Post is the greatest investigative paper on the planet. Good
Robert Kaiser: This is the thoughtful comment we received by e-mail that I referred to at the beginning of this chat. These are good points, none of which I can respond to definitively. The author of this good message was Gene Wilson, who sent it to us at email@example.com. Thanks, Gene!
Do conventions matter anymore?
I thought Gore and Carter were very good. I thought Hillary was great, and I thought will was fanatastic. He summed up many of the key differnces between democrats and republicans in a clear, plain spoken manner. All in all the tone was perfect and the message superb.
But if its not on TV (like Gore and Carter), and most people read only a broad overview of the evening in the morning paper, what good does it do?
Lucian Perkins: Though it was hard for me to listen carefully to the speeches and take pictures at the same time, the quality of all the speeches last night seemed extraordinary. By the end of the evening this crowd was really fired up and ready to change the world.
You are right in saying that reading about the speeches in the newspapers or getting snipets in the news is no substitute for the real thing.
Silver Spring, Md.:
Agreed -- the lack of network coverage is appalling. The real question, however: Is the RNC going to get the same limited coverage?
Robert Kaiser: Yes, the networks are stuck with their decision for both conventions.
Will someone please point out that President Bush and Dick Cheney have been using "free speech zones" for 3 1/2 years. Many of theirs have been as far as 3 miles from their events.
If I am not mistaken conventions have been employing some version of these since '92.
Robert Kaiser: well, you just pointed it out. I cannot, however, vouch for the accuracy of your assertion. This is one of the interesting pitfalls of online journalism. I hope you're right!
Which are, if there are any, the differences in foreign politics between Bush and Kerry? Particulary on Middle East?
Robert Kaiser: We appreciate your interest, but I have to say your question is one you can answer yourself by going to the kerry and bush websites, reading the papers, etc. We're not a research library here.
That said, kerry has not tried to distinguish his policy sharply from bush's on the Palestine-Israel dispute. Whether he will try to carve out a distinct position there I just don't know.
Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.:
Just a quick note to say what a great idea this diary is... great layout and graphics too. It is interesting to see this side of it and not just the big news channels with the same talking heads spitting their partisan venom at each other (think Novak and Carville.)
Thanks for a unique perspective. I'll look forward to reading the updates and seeing the diary for the GOP convention (and how liberal New York City reacts) at the end of the month.
Lucian Perkins: Wow, thanks. We'll work even harder--if that is possible.
Quezon City, Philippines:
Can you tell if the question or comment you are getting is not part of the Republican spin. Amazing how they nit pick. Amazing how the Kerry can afford to dissuade Democrats are abstaining from attacking Bush. A collage of this president's statements through his first (many outside of the U.S. hope, his last) term will do everyone a lot of favor. Not only as reminder, but as a way of letting off steam over the lies, the spin, and the calculated terrorizing.
Robert Kaiser: Thanks for posting. One of the striking facts about this election campaign to me is the strength of emotion on both sides. For every person we've heard from who agrees with you, there's someone else who thinks every criticism of Bush is unfounded and motivated by some perverse desire to undermine him.
Yet I know from my own conversations with ordinary voters that a great many Americans are immune to either version of the emotionalism. They may or may not be curious about the candidates, but they aren't committed to the victory or destruction of either. So there are going to be a lot of arguments among Americans this fall! How's that for an insight?
The black preacher from South Carolina was very good last night. He really gave a strong personal endorsement of Kerry. There was also an excellent policy speech on healthcare. Where's the coverage of this?
Lucian Perkins: It was great. As I mentioned earlier, The program last night was very strong and a lot of great speeches got lost in the cracks.
I was surprised at how much coverage the cable news networks gave the "shove it" remark by Mrs. Heinz Kerry. To me this is much ado about nothing. In a similar way the reporting of the use of a vulgarity by Cheney seemed way over reported. This though was does even rise to a vulgarity. What is your opinion about this reporting by the cable news media?
Robert Kaiser: I'd distinguish between the two episodes: A Vice President telling a Senator to ---- himself on the Senate floor strikes me as more newsworthy than a candidate's wife saying shove it. But in our celebrity-besotted culture, whenever a certifiable celebrity says something off-color or just surprising, some media outlet will make news of it, I'm confident.
Kansas City, Mo.:
I'm kind of new to the Political Convention scene and I constantly hear how much Kerry is trying to control the public image of the Convention this year. He has tried to keep the speakers from being too negative in order to put an emphasis on getting the Kerry image out to the American people.
But what has happened in year's past at Conventions when the nominee is not already decided upon? Like in 1992, when Clinton had a small chance of losing the nomination and was only able to celebrate when he was announced.
Who did the speakers talk about when they didn't have a nominee yet? Last night was focused on what Sen Kerry could do, but what happens when there is no one specific?
Robert Kaiser: Your history isn' t quite right. Clinton had the nomnation wrapped up in '92, and the speakers were all on board with him, as I recall. This has been the pattern really since 1980. Think of it, a quarter-century of canned conventions. Yet manhy of them were interesting and important in their way. The '92 Republican convention, for example, left the impression that the GOP had moved to the right in a way that ultimately semeed to help Bill Clinton get elected. The '80 Republican convention, and especially Reagan's accpetance speech, was a big boost for the GOP. So was the publicity Reagan got over his fliration with asking Gerry Ford to be VP before he picked Bush the Elder. So even when the outcome is known, things can happen that make a difference, at least in my view.
Do you think Kerry has a chance? Because its all about money and I am still waiting to hear these folks address the real problems -- health care, JOBS FOR AMERICANS and our social security money!
Robert Kaiser: Kerry has a chance
I know that a person makes application to
be a delegate to the convention, but how is the selection made for a state delegate?
Robert Kaiser: every state and state party as its own procedures. In most, now , I believe, the delegates are elected in primaries and caucuses.
While I enjoy your discussion and point of view, I wonder why the Washington Post does not try to "balance out" your work with an editor who is just as big a fan of the Republican POV?
Robert Kaiser: The Republican POV? Don't know what that is. If you think I am a "fan" of the Democratic POV, whatever it might be, I can assure you otherwise. I am a contented, registered independent, who happily finds fault with both parties. I haven't felt an emotional connection to a presidential candidate since 1960, when I made the mistake--and I do consider it a mistake now--of falling in love with JFK, as did so many members of my generation (the war babies).
Grand Rapids, Mich.:
Why, without any notable news hook would a respectable publication like the Washington Post run a story on Monica Lewinsky today? Are you lacking opportunities to educate the electorate on the burning issues for the nation?
washingtonpost.com: The Frenzy Over Lewinsky (Post, July 27)
Robert Kaiser: Because of our breakfast meeting, I haven't read this story, so can't reply except in general. The Post is a huge newspaper; we publish more than 100,000 words a day, the size of a good sturdy book. So there's room for a lot of different stuff, some of which inevitably offends some reader or other.
Why has Kerry given Max Cleland such prominence in his campaign? Cleland lost an election fair and square, and didn't have his patriotism questioned once by Republicans (contrary to Kerry's claims). Are wounded veterans not allowed to lose elections? If so, we'd better get Bob Dole involved in the Bush campaign.
Robert Kaiser: As I recall it, the Republican campaign againsgt Cleland included very tough denunciations of him, particularly for his position on the Department of Homeland Security--a Democratic idea which President Bush endorsed only reluctantly, under political pressure. Did that constitute an attack on Cleland's patriotism? You decide.
As to why he is important in the convention, I think that's because Vietnam and the Vietnam veterans have become, and will continue to be, a very big part of the Kerry campaign. It will be interesting to see if there are Vietnam Veterans for Bush and Cheney in evidence this fall.
Why is Jesse Jackson not among the speakers?
Robert Kaiser: Rev. Jackson has lost his stature in the Democratic Party, a process that began in 1992 when Bill Clinton edged him aside, and was accelerated by his own personal scandal involving the birth of a child to an aide who said Jackson was the father. But he hasn't disappeared by any means; his picture has been in The Post several imes lately. I'm sure he's in Boston somewhere, though I haven't seen him.
Will you still consider it a "national embarrassment and a disgrace" when the networks only cover an hour a day of the RNC? Certainly there are more than enough ways people can get their convention fix.
Robert Kaiser: Yes I will. Of course you're right, there are lots of ways to get your convention fix. It just offends me that people who have gotten extremely rich by using the public airwaves are unwilling to show a little civic responsibility twice every four years. Would it be so hurtful to them to do so?
Comment - I live in Atlanta, GA and I can vouch for the way the Republicans treated Max Cleland. They most certainly DID question his patriotism. I was here and I remember it all too well. I will NEVER forget it.
Robert Kaiser: Thanks for posting.
Kansas City, Mo.:
Re the Lewinsky story. I just hope the Post has a Watergate story in the middle of the GOP convention Afterall it will actually be newsworthy, being the 30th anniversary of Nixon resigning
Robert Kaiser: Good point.
Re Jessie Jackson. They showed him in the audience at the convention last night. By the way, I notice that Al Sharpton is scheduled to speak today. That surprises me -- and not in a good way.
Robert Kaiser: I suspect this is Sharpton's reward for endorsing Kerry when he finally dropped out of the campaign for the nomination. If you catch him speaking on prime time, let me know.
Robert Kaiser: Out of time. Thanks again to everyone. And please do contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any requests, questons, comments. We're going off this afternoon to try to see both Howard Dean and Michael Moore. If there's anything worth reporting, we'll put it into the diary.
Speaking of appalling network coverage, as far as I could tell, only ABC carried live the reverend from South Carolina who gave his personal story about Kerry's leadership in Vietnam. Incredibly, the other network correspondents were blathering on about topics like how Kerry needs to "define himself" and that the American public doesn't know him. So, isn't there some network broadcast mastermnd who can just point the camera and let air the content that is exactly what the swing voter is apparently lacking?
Lucian Perkins: I have to agree there is a lot of bathering.
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