Last week, a truck from New Jersey heading for Connecticut with a load of propane gas, sprung a leak on the George Washington Bridge. It stopped. Traffic on the bridge stopped and by late afternoon traffic all over the city had stopped. The city came close to the dreaded "Gridlock."
Gridlock occurs when nothing moves, when everthing's stuck, when, in the case of traffic, cars move into the intersection, block it and then can't get out. It's a traffic term, but it could be used for other things as well. It's not a bad way, in fact, of looking at the Democratic National Convention.
It seems that everyone is stuck. It seems that they have been holding firm, not only politically, but institutionally as well. This thing, this contest, was over a long time ago. Edward M. Kennedy, having lost most of the primaries, was not last night and has not been for some time a "contender." It was that simple. The math was that brutal.
You would be forgiven if you did not know that. The story had not been reported that way. It had, instead, been reported as if there were some doubt about the outcome, as if the fight over the rules of some plank in the platform mattered at all. It doesn't. What matters is better schools or cleaner air or cheaper energy or that most awful of issues, the disposal of toxic solid waste matter. What does not matter is the rule about a so-called open convention.
The debate over the rule seemed to progress for its own sake. It was politics for the sake of politics, a kind of going through the motions that was without substance and without meaning. It seemed disjointed, unassociated with what's going on in the rest of the country. It was, in short, something of an insult and it is understandable if you did not watch the thing on the tube. It had precious little to do with your life. No one would feel better because proposed rule F(c)3 went up or down.
People have been arguing about the rules. People have been arguing about the seating. People have been talking about the platform. They have talked about floor passes and, of course, the differences between Jimmy Carter and Teddy Kennedy. Here they seem cosmic. In real life, they are not and it took Ted Kennedy himself some time on the campaign trail to figure out what they were.
None of this means that what happens here is just some sort of show. To the extent that it weakens or enhances the chances of Jimmy Carter in the fall, the convention is important. Hubert Humphrey lost his race to Richard Nixon at the 1968 convention in Chicago, but even then what split the party at the convention was an issue -- Vietnam. There is nothing like that here.
None of that seems to matter. The delegates are here and they will do what delegates have always done -- what they have learned from watching conventions on television. They will vote and they will wear their funny hats and they will holler. They ought to consider a moment of silence to wonder what they are doing.
As for the Carter people, they are in their element. They love the fight for the sake of the fight.They love to win, but they have proven they have very little idea of what to do after they win. They have been fighting the little fights, jabbing, wearing down Kennedy people. (They won this on points. The KO eluded them.)
With the press, the situation is not much better. The conventional wisdom is that the media run the conventions, that they exist -- almost like some made-for-television Saturday sports shows -- to fill air time. There is probably something to that, but you could not prove it with this convention.
In fact, the opposite is true. The media have continued to cover Ted Kennedy as if he has always been in the race. They have been covering him that way ever since the Democrats moved to Manahattan and it has to be be one of the reasons that Kennedy himself refused for so long to throw in the towel. If you don't quit -- if you are the only other candidate -- you have to be covered by the press. Those are the rules.
So if you went over to Kennedy 'Headquarters, you would have found the press encamped there. You would have found them interviewing Kennedy aids, asking what the candidate would do next, institutionally locked into asking questions that hardly matter. The real questions, questions about options and programs, hardly get asked.
The thing has ossified. It is congested. There are too many journalists and too many delegates and too many polititicans and too few ideas. There is too little space. No room to move. No place to go.
It's already happened -- Political Gridlock.