Democratic Convention Diary: Monday
Robert G. Kaiser & Lucian Perkins
Monday, July 26, 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 Monday, July 26 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.
Robert G. Kaiser: Hello everyone. This is our first cell phone chat owing to the tight security that surrounds the Fleet Center -- Boston's convention hall this week -- where I have been waiting in line for 20 minutes to be admitted to the press area. The line moves steadily but a little more slowly than at National Airport. But thanks to the miracles of modern technology we will begin this chat by telephone.
Which speakers at the convention are the most worrisome to the DNC, i.e., which have the most potential to highlight a controversial position or strike an unflattering tone? Obviously there's concern in some circles about Heinz Kerry, especially after this morning, but what about Gore? Holmes Norton? Any speaker who might feature an extended discussion of gay rights (the Wisconsin rep)?
On the flip side, which speaker are you personally most looking forward to hearing, do you think will be the most electric?
Robert G. Kaiser: We have the impression that convention organizers have been working hard to eliminate surprises from all convention oratory. A good source told me some weeks ago about negotiations between the DNC and former president Carter for example. So I would be surprised if anyone departs from the script this week. I suspect that the speaker who may worry the Kerry campaign most is the hapless Al Gore who has been given a few minutes on the program tonight. Gore of course endorsed Howard Dean days before and he has become an unpopular figure in the Party.
There is only speech here that really matters - Kerry's acceptance speech on Thursday night.
What is it you try to capture in your diary and in your pictures.
Robert G. Kaiser: Well. We're experimenting. We want to share the experience of being here, but also to find interesting and perhaps even significant things to report. We welcome your suggestions! You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or here.
This morning I was watching coverage of the convention preparations and a pundit (Michael Wolf) said Kerry had to be careful about looking hypocritical for claiming to be a defender of middle class and poor Americans because he's rich, Ivy League, etc., etc.
My question is: then who should do it?
Our history is full of elite ultra rich Americans who defended the poor and middle class successfully... remember the Roosevelts (FDR and Teddy) just to name two.
I hope you understand what I'm trying to say. I've heard this statement against Kerry alot and more than anything else I wish pundits would think outside the box a little and come up with something new, fresh and thought provoking instead dumbed down, flip, cute comments that ignore history.
I'd appreciate any comments you have.
Robert G. Kaiser: thanks. as I read your question, but before I got to your third paragraph, I was thinking, FDR. Of course rich people can champion poor people. And poor people can champion the rich, too. In America polls have long shown that many people who are not rich still favor tax breaks and such for rich people, because they themselves expect to be rich next year! It's part of the American dream.
Just out of curiosity -- how many press from abroad are covering the convention? I understand that even Al Jazeera is providing coverage of the event.
Robert G. Kaiser: I don't know, but there are thousands. And sadly, the Department of State has this year not funded its typical foreign press center to help those reporters get around and figure out what is going on. To me this is a ridiculous example of cutting off noses to spite faces. According to today's Boston Globe, this will save about $50,000. But it will guarantee worse, and more hostile, coverage of the convention by foreign reporters, I'd bet.
Usually polls don't really matter until after Labor Day. Do you think that is still true this year?
Robert G. Kaiser: In fact, polls after Labor Day can be misleading too. I have been writing about the 1980 polls (including a Washington Post poll) that showed Jimmy Carter ahead of Ronald Reagan on the very eve of the election--which Reagan won handily, a 9.7 percent margin in the popular vote and an electoral landslide.
Earlier polls are "important" in that they show us the relative strengths and weaknesses of the candidates before the formal campaigning begins. This years' polls show Bush to be weak for an incumbent. They show him to enjoy only small advantages over Kerry in only a few categories; Kerry actually scores higher than Bush on questions like which candidate is closest to your own views, or which candidate do you expect could do a better job on the economy?
This is one reason why the Democrats gathering here are so hopeful. According to a poll of the delegates in today's Globe, 97 percent say they expect Bush to win in November. I'd eliminate a few points for normal home-team enthusiasm, but that's still a remarkable figure.
What events are you planning on going to today?
Lucian Perkins: I just returned from a dedication of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. Later today I'll stop by the Protest pen, to see what is going on there. And then tonight will cover the opening of the convention.
How are Bostonians dealing with the traffic situation?
Robert G. Kaiser: I have no good info on this, but the radio here reports all kinds of disruption for commuters this morning. Maybe Lucian, who went off to photograph an event he will tell you about in a moment, can add some more.
A main interstate, I-93, is closed in the center of town, as is a key commuter rail station, North Station, which is now part of the Fleet Center. So a lot of Bostonians have taken the week off and gone elsewhere.
Lucian Perkins: Actually, my event was walking distance from the hotel--Thank god. There is definitely a lot more security and traffic around here today, but I can't say how it is affecting Boston as a whole. Maybe, a reader from Boston can help us answer that?
Do you feel Kerry has to hit a home run with his acceptance speech Thursday? If he doesn't what are the political implications?
Robert G. Kaiser: Certainly a home run would help him a lot. As we've said here before, the acceptance speech and the debates (three are scheduled between Bush and Kerry, one between Cheney and Edwards) are likely to be the most important events of the campaign, and to have the biggest audiences of any political happenings this year.
What did you two think of Kerry's surprise appearance at the Red Sox game last night?
Lucian Perkins: I wish we would have been there. But the party we went to last night for George McGovern was very interesting. Photos will be posted today and Bob already has a story on it.
I see that humorist Dave Barry and a crew from Comedy Central are there. Have you run into them? How target rich is the humor environment at the convention?
Lucian Perkins: We'll keep our eyes open for them
It seems like some journalists are finally admitting there is a liberal bias. For example, Evan Thomas of Newsweek magazine said on "Inside Washington" that the media clearly wants Kerry to win.
It's nice to see some journalists finally admitting what many have long suspected. But is anything being done about it? Is anyone being told to tone down their biased coverage?
Robert G. Kaiser: I haven't read Evan's piece, so won't try to comment on it, but let me, for the umpteenth time, try to address the underlying point. We live in ideological times. Many Americans, including I suspect this questioner, assume that the ideological "bias" of various individuals has a great impact on how the world works. I disagree.
Post reporters, for example, don't discuss their personal views. Many of my colleagues, with whom I have worked in some cases for decades, have successfully hidden their personal political preferences from me. For example, the splendid Dan Balz, our lead political reporter, has been my deputy when we ran the national news department together, and my colleague for 26 years, and I have no idea how he votes, or how he might vote this year. I know you find that hard to believe. That's because you live in a different world than we do.
Journalists may or may not have personal ideologies--some, like our editor, Len Downie, seem genuinely not to have one at all. But even when they do, and of course many do, good journalists don't let their views affect their coverage, and, more importantly, don't think the purpose of journalism is to affect the outcomes of the disputes we write about. Most citizens are interested in outcomes; most good journalists are interested in how the outcomes are achieved, and why.
Journalists do have a widely-shared ideology, as Len Downie and I wrote in our book, THE NEWS ABOUT THE NEWS. It is the view summarized in the old saw that a reporter's job is to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." We do favor the weak against the strong in many situations; we think it's news when powerful people stick it to weak people. Is that "liberal"? Some think so. I think it's what the First Amendment is all about.
Are the bathroom facilities for the media as bad as some have reported?
Robert G. Kaiser: Hey, a portapotty is a portapotty.
I know many will say Clinton will outshine Kerry but the guy is the master at communicating Democratic positions. Like him or not, he's got the touch. Clinton will outshine many when he gives his speech. As for the Republicans, it's McCain in my book. Not so much for the quality of his delivery but the way content can stir your patriotism.
Robert G. Kaiser: thanks for the comment.
We have heard a great deal about the poor bathrooms available to the press. Is this really such a big deal?
Robert G. Kaiser: no
Quote from you:
"This is one reason why the Democrats gathering here are so hopeful. According to a poll of the delegates in today's Globe, 97 percent say they expect Bush to win in November. I'd eliminate a few points for normal home-team enthusiasm, but that's still a remarkable figure."
I'm assuming you meant to say KERRY, not Bush, right?
Robert G. Kaiser: Yikes, yes, of course. They expect KERRY to win. I apologize.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
Before it starts; how much of a bump do you expect the Democrats to get from the convention?
It seems that more and more people are dissatisfied with Bush, but not necessarily going toward Kerry. Therefore, this opportunity to introduce himself seems to me to have the opportunity to gain a lot of support because there is a significant percentage of voters who are looking for an alternative to Bush, but don't know much about Kerry yet.
What's your reaction?
Robert G. Kaiser: Republican strategists have been telling us, spinning us, that if Kerry doesn't come out of Boston with a double digit lead, he is in trouble. I'd say that the reverse might be true. Michael Dukakis, whom we saw last night at a party for George McGovern, came out of his convention in 1988 with a 16 point lead over George H.W. Bush in the Gallup Poll. And he lost badly in November.
My sense of the dynamics this year is that Kerry is trying to establish himself as an acceptable, non-risky alternative to a president who is not popular, and whose policies are not popular (according to the polls). This was the challenge Ronald Reagan faced in 1980. Reagan didn't "close the deal" with voters until the very last days of the campaign, maybe the last hours. I think that if Kerry is to prevail this year, the pattern might be very similar. If it is, the polls will remain even into the fall, maybe right up to election day.
Of course every race is unique, and no historical model will shape this year's campaign. Kerry and Bush will do that.
What did you two do last night?
Robert G. Kaiser: Please read the first diary entry, which I hope my colleagues can link to here. I described the party we went to last night.
What have you seen so far from the "Progressive" wing of the Democratic Party (Kucinich, Dean, MoveOn.org, Michael Moore etc.) ?
Lucian Perkins: We plan to see Howard Dean and Michael Moore at some events tomorrow.
Lucian Perkins: I've covered Clinton a number of times and have always been amazed with his "magic touch." A good example, was a speech I covered that he gave to students at Moscow University in Russia in the early 90s. He won them over by not only his grasp of their history and problems, but an empathy for what they were going through to readjust their lives after Communism.
Robert G. Kaiser: We're working with new software that allows us both to reply to the same question. I guess Lucian (who is in an undisclosed separate location--well, his hotel room) wanted to add this to my reply to an earlier question, which I forgot to leave him room to do under that question. So here is his view of Clinton the speechmaker. And I agree with it.
washingtonpost.com: Convention Diary
San Francisco, Calif.:
With no debate allowed on issues (e.g. the platform) what does a typical delegate do during the day? Are speakers who appear outside of prime time of interest to the attendees? Or is it just connect and party?
Lucian Perkins: Good question. We'll explore this during the week.
Robert G. Kaiser: Yes we're beginning to talk to delegates today, and will try to get you some very concrete answers. One thing I can report from visual evidence already: they go shopping, they go sightseeing, and they party.
Given the uproar over Teresa Heinz-Kerry's mild rebuke of a hack journalist and Vilsack's wife's decade old complaints about the decline of proper grammar, I have to wonder, is the media just bored because nothing has happened yet or are they reaching out for the stupidest scandals they can as retribution for having to sit through these four-day infomercials with limited bathroom facilities?
Robert G. Kaiser: Enough already about the bathrooms!
Yes, the media in Boston are a flock in search of a story. This is a risk for the Democrats. They hope to fill the void with their speechmaking that begins tonight.
Alexandria, Va. :
Do you think Theresa Heinz Kerry's telling a reporter to "shove it" will hurt Kerry at all?
Robert G. Kaiser: No
For the record, I came into the city to work from the south mid-morning, and the only noticeable differences in the commute were fewer people on the train and visible police at every station. Even in the city, the T was very bare, and the only noticeable disruption in Back Bay was another day of protests by the Falun Gong/Chinese dissidents. (Do they have anything to do with the DNC, other than looking for some attention?)
I'm sure this is all very different the further north you get, and perhaps it will get worse as the afternoon progresses. So far so good.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for that. The Falun Gong demo is part of something larger that I'd like to know more about. They were demonstrating all over downtown Washington on Friday. Their big demo here yesterday was gruesome, and impressive. (Gruesome because they dressed up a lot of live people as victims of torture, saying this was the treatment Falun Gong adherents are getting in China now.)
As your message indicates, traffic is light here because so many Bostonians are elsewhere this week.
Royal Oak, Mich.:
"Gore of course endorsed Howard Dean days before and he has become an unpopular figure in the Party"
I'm pretty active in Democratic circles in Michigan (in fact I'm running for office myself) and I don't think what you said about Gore is true. I also don't think we think of him as 'hapless.' Michigan still loves Al Gore -- we enjoy the new, looser variety!
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for your comment. The Globe poll of delegates I referred to earlier asked which living Democrats they "most admired." Clinton got 31 percent. Hillary Clinton Got 13%. John Kerry got 14%. Al Gore got 4%.
Are there any critical stories on John Edwards? I can't imagine there aren't any negatives in his background that journalists can't dig up. The coverage just seems too fawning.
Robert G. Kaiser: From memory I can't name one for you. Edwards' treatment in the press reminds me of Jimmy Carter's 30 years ago, nearly. He is not a typical pol. Reporters who look into his years as a plaintiff's lawyer discover that the cases he took usually involved weak and abused members of society for whom he often won big settlements, and the clients give him glowing testimonials. Indeed, he used their comments in TV commercials that helped him defeat Sen. Lauch Faircloth in North Carolina six years ago. He went into politics after a teenage son was killed in a car crash.
In other words, the Edwards narrative seems to appeal to people, including I guess the journalists who have written about him. Of course many stories, including many in The Post, point out his notable lack of political experience--none whatsoever before be became a Senator in 1999.
Defining moment for Kerry:
I watched the Bentsen-Quayle debate ("I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine..."). Kerry needs a defining statement or quote like that to come out of this convention.
Robert G. Kaiser: You mean, so the Kerry-Edwards ticket can be triumphant the way the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket was? I don't see your parallel. And who remembers Lloyd Bentsen today?
You wrote, "We do favor the weak against the strong in many situations; we think it's news when powerful people stick it to weak people. Is that "liberal"? Some think so. I think it's what the First Amendment is all about."
Please remember, many of us view the media as one of the "powerful people" and don't appreciate having them dictate reality to us. Also remember, the weak vs. powerful canard has been used by just about every demagogue since the beginning of time. It doesn't excuse biased reporting.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the comment. NOTHING excuses biased reporting, I absolutely agree with that.
At this point in the electron process, is there really any merit to polls other than to sell news coverage and give commentator something to pontificate on? Look at Iowa's outcome.
Robert G. Kaiser: I'll stick by my answer above. Iowa is a caucus state, where polls are notoriously difficult. But even there, some polls picked up the last-minute move away from Dean and Gephardt, and to Kerry.
If your question is, can early polls help us know who will win, the answer of course is, no or not much.
Royal Oak, Mich.:
That doesn't mean Democrats think he's hapless! It's a poll that asked a specific question. He'll get a standing ovation.
Robert G. Kaiser: As a tribe, the Dems (like the Repubs) are loyal to their own. I'm sure he'll be cheered. But it isn't hard to get into a conversation with a Democrat who will soon admit that Al Gore ran a truly awful campaign in 2000, and couldn't win his own home state, and couldn't carry Democratic states like West Virginia whose voters made Bush the president. Hapless is obviously my word, and you are certainly entitled to reject it, but you surely know as well as I do that many Democratic pols were eeeenormously relieved when Gore dropped out of the race this time.
Have you talked to any of the credentialed bloggers in Boston?
Robert G. Kaiser: No, we're talking to real people.
CHEAP SHOT! Sorry, couldn't stop myself. But we're not here to interview other journalists OR bloggers. Nor do we expect to be giving many interviews ourselves, except to readers of this forum.
Re: defending the rich and the American dream:
Thanks for answering my question earlier. You said many poor promote tax savings for the rich because they hope to be rich one day. How true! Just as many of the previous generation's ultra-rich remember their struggles. Maybe that's why the best defenders of the poor come from those previous generations!
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for posting.
How was the dedication of the garden for Rose Kennedy?
Lucian Perkins: Dedications can usually be very boring. But this one was quite moving. Half the audience seemed to be members of the Kennedy clan. And with all the grandchildren, nieces and nephews running around, I suspect that the Kennedy name will have a major impact on our society for years to come. The photos should be posted later today.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks to all for taking part. We will be adding to our convention diary today and tonight, and we'll be back tomorrow for more questions.
Lucian Perkins: Off we go in.
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