One thing I haven't had much of since I've been here is a sense of how the press is covering this event -- not the quantity of coverage (how many hours an evening), but how they're interpreting it.
Mostly, that's been a matter of the priorities I've given myself, though a relative lack of Internet access has played a role as well. Yet one thing I've heard a lot is this sense that this convention is brimming over with anger and anti-Bush rage and that the organizers are busy tamping it down and doing all they can to keep a lid on the rage.
I haven't see that.
From Republicans this is spin, which is fair enough or at least understandable. From journalists I think it's just laziness or an unhealthy addiction to conventional wisdom. This is my third day now milling through the crowds, listening to conversations, talking with activists and elected officials. And the impression I have is almost exactly the opposite.
This is my third convention. I was at both in 2000.
The Republican convention four years ago was a brimming, often angry convocation. Some of that perception is undoubtedly a product of the prism through which I view these things. But I don't think that's much of it.
Bill Clinton had driven the GOP crazy for eight years, particularly during his second term -- not because of his failings but because of political resilience in spite of them. Partisan Republicans had never really accepted or I think understood how or why he had gotten reelected in 1996. And again and again -- particularly during the Lewinsky mess -- he seemed to rise from the dead. Impeachment was about righteous indignation (or self-righteous indignation, depending on your viewpoint) in spite of political good sense.
Finally, in 2000, with Clinton barred from the ballot, they had their chance. And the backdrop of those pent-up frustrations were ever-present in the hall. Confidence mixed with the animus. But the latter was a constant subtext, though the convention planners went to great lengths to keep the DeLay types under wraps and position Governor Bush as set apart from the partisan antagonisms of the late 1990s.
I remember one speech, perhaps it was Cheney's, I'm not sure. And in that speech there was one rallying cry or veiled remark about Clinton's 'character problems'. And the crowd erupted not with applause but with a sort of rumbling, growing roar that didn't stop.
The Democratic convention in 2000 wasn't the same sort of affair, but it was an angsty setting in its own way. There was a left tired of biting its collective tongue through eight years of Bill Clinton. There was the Gore-Clinton tension, the Gore-Bradley tension, the endless intra-Gore-camp rumbles, and a certain malaise born of having the protection of the presidency for eight years. The party was an odd mix of indifference and near panic. And that, in turn, made the party message-wizards more inclined to dish out red-meat on then-Governor Bush.
This convention is very different from both. There was a mood of anger and frustration and even rage during the Democratic primaries. But not here. In the next post I'll try to give my take on why that is.