Dispatch from Boston – Updated Daily

This page will be updated regularly as the convention continues.

July 27 –

The Earth Moved

* Political conventions are part merry-go-rounds, part treadmills, where one keeps going around in circles and seemingly finds oneself still in the same place. There are dozens of events going on at any given moment, but they are spread all around a city, with no apparent center. Half the time when you find the place, it is so crowded that it's hard to move; the rest of the time the door is already closed, over subscribed, or more typically there is a magic guest list, or a special credential needed, and there are more people standing outside than on the inside. Then there is the constant talk of where is every one going next, or what party might be interesting. Doesn't sound like too much fun, does it? Bottom line, unless you are a masochist, or are one of the big donors, media stars, or part of the behind the scenes veteran staff who always manage to have the right ticket, you are not missing much by not being in Boston.

One party on Monday that was crowded, but had great food, took place at the fabulous house of Kathy Douglas Stone – the widowed wife of legendary Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas – at 12 Lime Street on Beacon Hill. The party was thrown for Environment2004 and the Apollo Project. With some hand wringing about how Kerry seems to be to close to Bush on issues like Iraq and trade, the environment sticks out as one issue where the differences are vast. And with the Apollo project's big picture vision for energy independence over the next decade achieved via massive investments in alternative energy technology that will keep jobs staying home, it is one of the few areas where Democrats and progressives are thinking big. Environment 2004 is essentially a marshalling of enviro donors and leaders highlighting the environmental stakes and the failures of the Bush administration. Another way of looking at it is this is the environmental team in waiting should John Kerry win in November.

To try to entertain oneself at these parties, one game is to figure out what is the strangest, or most unexpected happening or visitor. For this event it was the appearance of conservative John McLaughlin of the McLaughlin Report, and the a surprise appearance by singer Carole King – "Who Made the Earth Move...." Sheila Jackson Lee, Congresswomen from Texas had some sharp words for the audience, while the crack song writing team and long time activists from Hollywood, Alan And Marilyn Bergman, made the scene as well. The young liberal MSNBC commentator Flavia Colgan regaled a small group about her short lived days on Fox News dealing with the right wingers, in light of the great success of Robert Greenwald's film "OutFoxed." Only problem is now Clogan is sometimes pitted against another member of the conservative lunatic fringe, Anne Coulter.

Undercurrents

* There are always undercurrents going on at political conventions, conversations that don't usually make it into the media and become part of the general cocktail chatter, but contain the juice of what makes politics interesting. One topic that's running below the surface is what happens to the Democratic party should John Kerry lose. Sunday's interesting, but slightly off base New York Times Magazine article by Matt Bai about "open source Democrats" and a new wave of donors and thinkers in part emerging from the Dean campaign who appear ready to toss off all of the old bad habits of the hopelessly passe Democratic leadership – including John Kerry by the way – has created lots of buzz.

Another lurking topic is the party stinker Ralph Nader. Some people are trying to get others to deal with the possibility that Nader, despite problems getting on the ballot, and controversy about taking Republican money can still be the skunk at the party in November.

A group called Uniting for Victory, a gaggle of savvy progressives, issue advocates, and Democratic pros has surfaced, and are making it their job to keep reminding others that the Nader problem isn't going away. In fact, reading between the lines of polling research presented by the ever-brilliant Stanley Greenberg, the more candidate Kerry runs to the middle, the more there's no contrast between Kerry and Bush on Iraq and on trade issues, the more votes Nader could pick up in November.

The Nader voter has shifted. He/she is no longer progressive and long time fans of Ralph. Most of these people have seen the damage of their ways and have gone pragmatic. The newer Nader voter is more Blue collar, and anti establishment and very hard to reach through normal liberal and progressive issue networks. The see little difference between the parties, are very anti corporate, and are angry about job losses. They feel that Nader is the only candidate who favors returning troops from Iraq, and of course on that they are absolutely correct. Greenberg points out that the economy is currently a more dominant issue than Iraq, and Bush has to win this debate to get re-elected, but Iraq could keep on returning to the top of the agenda, should violence persist .

One bright sign for the anti-Nader types is that recently the Nader vote was drawing 3-1 from Kerry voters compared with Bush voters , but that margin has shrunk to 2-1 . Greenberg sees in his polling that attacking Nader seems to work, and that a key strategy for the future could be linking Nader with the anti-immigration policies of Pat Buchanan and the Independent party, combined with emphasizing the back-room Republican support for Nader, which undermines the argument that Nader is different than the other candidates. That is unless you have a way to convince Kerry to be more progressive economically and differentiate himself in some way from Bush on Iraq and Israel... although the chances of that seem pretty slim.


July26 –
*To attract a crowd of TV cameras in Boston, celebrities make a big difference. In fact some are suggesting that celebrities have taken over the Democratic Party, and are using up the oxygen of elected officials. This was certainly the case on Sunday, when Comcast sponsored a panel aimed at young people. The event took place at the tony Charles Hotel, which is where the Clintons are staying. The guests included Danny Glover and Ben Affleck, two of the smartest celebrity progressives, along with a somewhat reactionary comedian, D.L. Hughley (Soul Plane), who went out of his way to buy into the terrorist fears, and also wanted the audience to be clear that whatever the gays are fighting for, it is not civil rights, and that civil rights are the province of blacks.

Fortunately, Danny Glover fired back. He responded that whoever is being abused, be they gay or black or female, that it is a civil rights issue. Affleck, drawing laughs from the crowd, said that even though he recently decided not to get married, he believed that gay people should have the right if they wanted to.

The panel also included MTV's Gideon Yago, Amber Tamblyn of "Joan of Arcadia," and the vice mayor of Cambridge, Mass., Marjorie Decker, all of whom had interesting things to say, though the real wisdom came from the young people in the audience. They asked tough questions about the failed Leave No Child Behind Act, and how oppressive mandated testing was discouraging students. Another 16-year-old described how a local restaurant owner was harassing students, calling them Osama bin Laden's daughters, and asked them, "Why do you look so sad? Was it because Saddam Hussein was captured?"

Ben Affleck had a nice response with his account of visiting the troops in Iraq. He had to take a flight from Kuwait to Bahrain, and he ended up being the only person on the plane who wasn't an Arab in headdress. Affleck said he ended up being singled out and was the only one searched on the plane, to which he responded, "No, you don't understand, I am trying to stop terrorism."

*One sign that politics has changed at national political conventions is the lines. You had to wait more than an hour to get credentials for TV media, but on the print side it took 30 seconds. The Nation's Washington correspondent John Nichols lamented that this meant that localism – meaning covering the convention for local folks back home – was being lost. "It's all become a four-day infomercial," he said.

*Despite all the talking heads, movies are still in the mix in Boston. Michael Moore is arriving on Wednesday to screen Fahrenheit 9/11, probably much to the chagrin of the Kerry people. According to super-publicist Ken Sunshine, Fahrenheit broke the $100 million mark this weekend. Sunshine also added that Moore will be cutting his Boston convention visit short, because Moore will appear on Jay Leno on Thursday night. Danny Schechter's Weapons of Mass Distraction documentary was being screened in north Cambridge (just outside of Boston), while the American Prospect was holding three screenings of the second-hottest documentary in the country, Robert Greenwald's Outfoxed.

*Reports of Boston being a police state apparently are not exaggerated. Despite the complaints from Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole – who says she wants to avoid the appearance of a police state, and is an advocate of community policing (she described her approach as "gradually enforced strategy," rather than "overwhelming force" strategy) – it's hard to escape the fact that the largest security force that ever descended on Boston is here and visible. There are cops and police dogs, the main arteries are going to be shut down – the main artery through north-south Boston, known as the Big Dig, will be shut from 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. from Monday through Thursday. A blogger for Logical Realism noted that the protest zone was striking. "With one glance it's easy to see why it's been described as an internment camp, surrounded with high double fencing topped with barbed wire, and nestled under the abandoned Green Line tracks," the blogger writes.

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