Because of an editing error, a quote in yesterday's Style section was incorrectly attributed to Geoff Pigman, a 21-year-old Swarthmore student. The remark was actually made by Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-N.Y.).
We Want Teddy! We Want Teddy!" they chanted in a rainbow of confetti and Kennedy posters, finally drowned out by "Happy Days Are Here Again," which described the frenzied mood of the moment. It has been only 18 months since the Democrats skulked out of Washington, but today, for four full minutes after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) delivered the closing speech to their miniconvention, they seemed to be heading back.
"Only a few months ago, Democrats were scorned and told that our day was done," Kennedy boomed, adding in vintage rhetoric that "the dawn is near, our hearts are bright, our cause is right, and our day is coming again." The crowd, which had already interrupted him with applause almost 60 times, went nuts.
Afterward, the reviews were generally positive. "Good speech," said Rep. Morris K. Udall (Ariz.). "In this format, with this kind of crowd, and the kind of speechwriting staff he's got, nobody can beat him. He's clearly the front-runner."
There were inevitable comparisons to Kennedy's "Dream Shall Never Die" speech at the 1980 Democratic convention, a performance many said was still better than this speech closing the Democrats' mid-term conference. But the Kennedy staff had carefully put out the word that this speech would be "less emotional" than '80, and as Kennedy speechwriter and press secretary Bob Shrum said afterward, "Maybe he finished slightly behind himself in 1980, but he finished way ahead of anyone else."
Not everyone agreed, particularly fans of the speech made by former vice president Walter Mondale on Friday. Still, Kennedy and Mondale came out on top, even as campaign buttons for Sens. Gary Hart (Colo.) and John Glenn (Ohio) sprouted at stands in hotel lobbies. The most telling button, considering the agendas of both the party and the politicians, was a small one that announced hopefully: "I am nearly famous."
The weekend was a three-day dress rehearsal for the convention of 1984, a time of Democratic unity distinguished more by wine than by blood. No one argued and no one yelled. "There's so much harmony in the Democratic party," observed Rep. Jack Hightower, the Texas populist, "that we're all gonna grow mold."
Variously referred to as a "class reunion," "hug-up" or "blip," the conference was short on debate of issues but long on a cocktail party that ran from Thursday to Sunday. By day, national committee members cooed as the group agreed easily to a weapons freeze and no criticism of Israel; by night, at more than two dozen parties, they drank beer from the bottle and ate lobster.
Through it all, seven undeclared presidential candidates kept up a reception schedule that would have made veterans of Ronald Reagan's inaugural pale. Alexander Haig stole some of their headlines midway through; although most of the candidates offered little comment on his resignation, photographers moaned that they missed a great shot when Mondale, in stunned surprise on hearing the news, threw back his head and rolled his eyes.
Before that, D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy sang Stevie Wonder's "The Greatest Love of All," at the Black Caucus Concert on Thursday. The Kennedy children, "little kids," as the family calls them, managed a 3,000-hand receiving line on Friday. Richard Celeste, the Democratic candidate for governor of Ohio, figured he'd done a lot of work by Saturday. As he explained: "If I can develop leads for $50,000 to $100,000 for my campaign, then I figure it's worth it. Now all I've got to do is close."
And Jimmy Carter went fishing. Or as a top aide to House Speaker "Tip" O'Neill said, "He not only went fishing--he left the country to go fishing. Aren't there any fish in the United States? " Except for a brief mention in Kennedy's speech, the name Carter was as scarce as a black tie or tuxedo.
But more than anything else, the weekend of 6,000 Democrats, delegates and journalists was a showplace for strutting and preening, a place you had to appear so as to be seen as part of the game. "It's inconceivable that I wouldn't be here," said a press aide to Walter Mondale.
"If you're not here," added lawyer-lobbyist Tommy Boggs, "you're in trouble."
The Candidates' Feasts
Like warring kings who gave feasts for their courts, each candidate laid out the cheese and the chicken wings. One way to tell the seriousness of each presidential candidate was to size up his cocktail party. Most of the rooms in which the parties were held were sweltering and all were packed; Democrats, in the magnanimous spirit of a party out of power, invited everbody. Mondale's was first, Kennedy's was the biggest, Glenn's was the most elegant, Sen. Alan Cranston's (Calif.) had a rock band and Hart's were the smallest (although he had two). Sen. Fritz Hollings (S.C.) and former Florida governor Reubin Askew were everywhere. Rep. Udall, a member of the presidential sweepstakes B team, had one on Saturday at the top of a skyscraper, provoking Hart to tease: "Now this is class. This isn't Mo Udall."
"Mo, I don't know what you've got up your sleeve, my old friend," Tip O'Neill announced with crowd-pleasing suspicion.
"I wanna be speaker," Udall returned.
An hour later, Glenn's party at the Franklin Institute was well underway. There was a midwestern welcome ("All you need is a smile to get in," said the aide at the door of the museum) and an exhibit that just happened to include a color picture of Glenn after his 1962 orbital flight. There was also an astounding buffet of pate' and cheeses under a marble statue of Benjamin Franklin. The whole thing was paid for by Marvin Warner and Milton Wolf--big-time Ohio Democratic fund-raisers and the former ambassadors to Switzerland and Austria, respectively, under Carter.
"It's not really elaborate," Warner said, adding that "the reason we love John and Annie Glenn's wife is because they have so much stability, so many down-to-earth qualities from a state like Ohio."
Later in the evening, Cranston's party was booming. A rock band called Pocket Change played Top-40 while the guests, many of them Democratic staffers in their twenties, gave the room the feel of a fancy college mixer. Nobody could figure how Cranston, whom Udall called "the thinking man's older candidate," could pull in a crowd that included 21-year-old Washington interns who observed that, rock band or not, it still wasn't a prime place to meet members of the opposite sex. "Asexual," said Susan Melley, an intern with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Is this a good place to be on the make?" said a New Hampshire delegate. "No. There's too much business going on."
Of all the parties, Kennedy's created the most talk, mostly because he served lobster to 3,000 people. Word-of-mouth was that the Friday night "clambake" given by his political action committee and the Massachusetts state party in a trendy shopping mall cost $100,000. But the Kennedy staff said it was closer to $10,000 or $12,000 because most of the lobster and liquor was donated. Asked if that still wasn't a little expensive, a Kennedy aide sighed:
"If we hadn't done it, people would have gone around saying, 'Look how cheap Kennedy is--he's so rich and he didn't even give a reception.' So we gave a reception."
Political gossip was as thick as the traffic, and almost all of it was in the traditional form of who's on first. Issues, as much as Hart wanted to talk about them, were secondary. Hightower, asked by a National Public Radio reporter if he planned to "shake Gary Hart's hand and say, 'I want to ask you a question on the important issues of the day,' " replied, "Of course not."
Everyone had a pet hypothesis. Some of the more prevalent or more bizarre, warbled into gin glasses and network microphones, included:
Kennedy is the easy front-runner, but then, he's been the early front-runner for the past 10 years. More interesting was his participation this weekend; at the midterm conference in Memphis four years ago, he flew in to ignite the crowd with his speech, then left. This time he politicked with as much intensity as the long shots. "One of the things that he learned in 1980 is that he spent too much time deciding whether to run, and not enough time getting ready to run," said Bob Shrum, his press secretary. "Now he wants to be ready to run if he decides to."
Mondale, who had the most to lose and the most to gain, met his challenge with a knockout Friday speech. There had been fears in his circle that he'd be dull, particularly after a speech several weeks ago at fund-raiser Pamela Harriman's Georgetown house in which he, as the talk had it, "laid an egg." But Mondale remained in the "first tier" with Kennedy.
Hart cornered the market on issues, but that wasn't necessarily the best way to take on Kennedy--who, at least as his people say, is also identified with ideas. Some said Hart should have concentrated on a rip-roaring speech. But the Hart people thought "Gary," as they call him, did great.
Glenn impressed many in substance, but was still perceived as stylistically dull.
And finally, the person clutching a Mondale sign on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer was not, as the caption said, Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (N.Y.). It was in fact an 18-year-old Swarthmore student named Geoff Pigman. "Can you imagine going back to school and not only having the wrong name on the picture," said Pigman, who is undecided on a presidential candidate, "but a woman's name?"
Dazzling the Delegates
Clearly the happiest people around were the "participants," a group of 987 delegates who were fed and fussed-over for 72 hours. There was no straw ballot and none of the participants are guaranteed to be delegates at the 1984 convention, but many are influential Democrats in their home states. They got invitations, phone calls and political flattery.
"It's wonderful," Ricky Santell, a California participant. "Everyone wants you everywhere."
Scott Williams, a 26-year-old New Hampshire participant, had a wonderful time. "I would say the Askew people have slobbered over me the most," he said.
"It's like that Barbara Walters interview where she looks at Willie Nelson and asks, 'What's it like to have all this?' and he says, 'It ain't bad.' Well," said Carmen Perez, the southern vice-chair of the California Democratic Party, "This ain't bad."
Heading for the Doors
After Kennedy's speech ended at lunchtime today, the place immediately cleared out. There may even have been more agitation in the rush toward the doors than the Democrats had seen all weekend.
"We didn't suppress," said Gene Eidenberg, executive director of the Democratic National Committee, explaining the efforts for unity when a party is out of power. "This wasn't wired. What you see here is 1,000 Democratic politicians who came up with the same idea. When you don't own the loaf, there's no sense cutting it up."