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Convention Dispatches Live: Tuesday

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Tuesday, July 27, 2004; 10:00 PM

The 2004 Democratic National Convention continued amid tight security in Boston with speeches from former Former Vermont governor Howard Dean, Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama and Teresa Heinz Kerry.

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal was online to take your questions and comments on Tuesday night's speeches and the latest political news from the convention.

Terry Neal (post.com)

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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.


Terry Neal: Hello everyone. Thanks for joining me again this evening to talk politics, convention and whatever else is on your minds.



Washington, D.C.: Apparently, relatively few people saw any of last night's proceedings in Boston -- network TV reruns reportedly beat convention coverage across the board, and the convention's ratings have slumped from their mild levels in 2000. If so few voters are bothering even to watch, is any of this showboating even relevant any more?

Terry Neal: You know, I think it is relevant. To take a few hours out of the year to focus on the political future of the country to me doesn't seem ridiculous. I think the bigger question is, why are people tuning out?
Certainly more and more people are turned off by the partisanship, the attacks, the feeling that both parties are dominated by big money and corporate interests.
But hey, this is still the system we've got. The fact that people might be more interested in Fear Factor or The OC doesn't mean it's not relevant.


Miami, Fla.: Hello Mr. Neal, I was surprised by the speach from President Carter, but he made a wonderful point -- President Bush wants to be known as a war president one day and a peace president the next. That was, in my opinion, a good point to make. My question: was this a flip-flop on the part of the president? Thanks, I enjoy your chats.

Terry Neal: Thank you for the question. I wrote a column a couple months back when the Bush campaign started the whole Kerry is a flip-flop artist campaign. My point was not to defend Kerry, because he has certainly tried to play both sides of the fence on a number of issues. But name me a politician who hasn't--including Bush.
The Associated Press recently compiled a list of recent Bush flip-flops. Here they are for your reading pleasure:
?The president initially argued that a federal Department of Homeland Security wasn't needed, but then devised a plan to create one.
?He resisted a commission to investigate Iraq intelligence failures, but then relented.
?He opposed, and then supported, a two-month extension of the 9/11 commission's work, after the panel said protracted disputes over access to White House documents left too little time.
?He initially said any access to the president by the commission would be limited to just one hour but relaxed the limit earlier this month.

washingtonpost.com: Credibility Questions Could Boomerang on Bush (washingtonpost.com, April 1)


Bethesda, Md.: I haven't been watching round the clock, so pardon me if I've missed it. But will the network TV coverage of the either convention take the viewer into any of the posh, backroom corporate-sponsored parties in which candidates and party hacks are buttered up for the legislation their lobbyists will later be allowed to write in our name? Or is that pretty much something we have to ante up the megabucks to even know about?

Terry Neal: It is unquestionably true that corporate interests spend a lot of money on parties for politicians at these conventions--for both Democrats and Republicans. It is also unquestionable that these corporate interests never spend a dime that isn't ultimately aimed at wielding influence. This is not new. Politics and money have always been intertwined.
But I think we should all be careful about such a broad stroke indictment like the one you make. Corporations pay, essentially, for access, but that doesn't mean every politician is corrupt and at their beck and call.


washingtonpost.com: Terry has stepped away to participate in a 10:15 p.m. CNN Headline News segment. He will be right back to continue taking questions as soon as it is over.


Wheaton, Md.: This convention is like watching paint dry. What are you doing to keep from falling asleep?

Terry Neal: Who said I'm not falling asleep?
Just joking. No, look, this is pretty interesting stuff to me. But of course, my interest in politics is a little greater than the average person's. I thought last night's speeches--by the major speakers, anyway--were very interesting and occasionally entertaining.
Also, I'm getting a first-hand look at this thing that you and others who are watching are not. My days are spent talking to delegates and activsts, watching some protestors act silly, interviewing politicians, etc. Also, the feel on the floor of the delegate center, as well as on the ground around the center is fairly electric, with tons of enthusiastic people--many of them just real, regular folks excited about being involved in the Democratic process.
OK, I guess I'm just a big 'ole nerd!
I can certainly understand, though, that this might not exactly be the most compelling theater for those of you watching at home.


Arlington, Va.: I used to think Harold Ford would be the first black president. Barack Obama just shattered that idea with his keynote address.

Terry Neal: Thanks for your comment. I think they certainly are two of the rising stars of the Democratic party. One of the little remarked upon political phenomena that is currently occurring is the slow transformation of black power from the first wave of politicians, typified by folks like Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, Washington Mayor Marion Barry, Reps. John Conyers, Maxine Waters, Harold Ford Sr., and others to the new generation.
The old guard emerged primarily from the civil rights movement, and its power was based on grievance and anger at the horrible inequity black people faced in their every day lives.
This new generation, typified by people like Obama, Ford, Detroit Mayor Kendrick Meek, Fla. Rep. Kendrick Meek, et al., pays homage to old guard and to the history, buts its vision and agenda is broader and is based on opportunity, economic inclusion and ensuring blacks and other minorities are taking advantage of the opportunities and gains the previous generation help bring about. They seek not just to be black leaders, but leaders to all. Obama is running for the Senate, and Ford has declared his intentions to do so, meaning they will have to--and expect to--be able to appeal broadly to white voters as well as blacks.
They are also more comfortable talking about--as Obama did tonight--how the black community bears some of the responsibility for its current condition and must take personal responsibility to improve it.
Make no mistake, the old guard still rules. But things are changing.


Chapel Hill, N.C.: My friends and I are crazy about Barack Obama. How do you think he did tonight?

Terry Neal: I'm hearing lots of positive chatter among the delegates and activists around here about his speech. People are very excited. As I said in my last answer, he appears to appeal very broadly to voters...


West Orange, N.J.: With a recent CNN poll showing 51 percent of the electorate unsure of who John Kerry is, does this present a problem for the Kerry campaign after spending millions on advertising these last few months?

And does this low key convention benefit Democrats by attracting moderate swings and moderate Republicans?

Terry Neal: I touched on this in my Talking Points column today, and I hope you all check it out on the washingtonpost.com homepage when we finish chatting...I think the problem Kerry faces is not unique for people running for president. That's why conventions are so crucial--because they are often the first real opportunity for candidates to introduce themselves to the national audience.
Yes, John Kerry has spent a lot of money on advertising, but as a rule, advertising is a more effective tool for trashing the other guy than it is for building yourself up. That advertising money has only allowed Kerry to stay in the game. The convention is what will put him on the map--but only if he does it right.
That is the reason why I think these conventions are newsworthy.


Alexandria, Va: I would bet money that the reason the viewership is so low is that people are getting their convention news via the Internet and would prefer to read snippets of speeches than watch the whole thing.

Terry Neal: Yes, I think that's part of it. There has been an explosion of broadband/high-speed Internet access just since 2000. People have more options than ever. Much is being written, for instance, on the growing popularity of bloggers and how many people are reading them this week.


Sydney, Australia: I'm an expat and Democrat watching the election from Australia. It seems to me that the Democrats are more organised, motivated and united than in any election I can remember. It's about time. It's too bad that we don't have compulsory voting as in Australia -- it's a privilege but also an obligation to participate in the political process.

What do you see as the Democrats biggest weakness in this election -- national security, the economy or social/moral issues?

Terry Neal: I would agree with your assessment that Democrats are more united and motivated than they have been in a long time. Organized? That remains to be seen...
I think the Dems biggest weakness, without question, is the lingering perception that they are not tough enough to protect the nation in these perilous times.


Alexandria, Va.: Obama will be the first African American President. He was fantastic!

Terry Neal: I'm getting tons of emails just like this...Apparently, he struck a chord.


Sterling, Mass.: It must be facinating and exciting to be in the center of all this wonderful energy. As a longtime Massachusetts resident (and self proclaimed liberal), I wish that John Kerry would take bolder, clearer positions. His ambigious statements about gay marraige is a good example. Gay marriage is a the civil rights issue of our generation. I wish Mr. Kerry could passionately move the country towards a more tolerant and accepting policy (just like Kennedy and Johnson, against strong public opionion). Yet, Kerry says he's against a national consititional ammendent that bans gay marriage but supports the State constitution ammendemnt which does esstentially the same thing. Won't the Bush team seize on this inconsistency?

Terry Neal: Yes, I hear this sort of thing about Kerry a lot, including from the people who like him. I wanted to get outside of the convention zone today, so I went to Roxbury, a black-majority community here in Boston, just to talk with voters about their impressions.
I talked to one fellow, a barber who was cutting hair as we chatted, about Kerry. He was a fan. He couldn't stand Bush. He was urging his customers to register to vote--and to vote for Kerry. Then he chimes in, "Kerry is weak." Or perhaps he used the term "soft." I don't recall off the top of my head. But either way, his point was that even though he couldn't stand Bush, he admired his toughness.
We did a video report of these interviews and there will be a link to it in my Talking Points column tomorrow. I hope you come to washingtonpost.com tomorrow morning to check it out.


Terry Neal: Well folks, it's been great chatting with you, as always. But I've got to run now. I'll chat with you again tomorrow, same time, same place!



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