Monday, August 30, 2004

I'm in Madison Square Garden sitting in the press section watching what amounts to the opening ceremonies of the Republican convention. There are lots of serious pieces posted over at, and you should go there, but I have some shallow observations about what's going on:

(1) Madison Square Garden is a pit. Unlike the gleaming new Fleet Center in Boston, the Garden feels ancient and dilapidated--and not in a charming way.

(2) If you were going to be charitable about the set design, you might call it minimalist. If you were going to be a little more forthright, you would say that it looks cheap and off-the-shelf. Everything in Boston, from the backdrop to the placards with the states' names on them, was a tiny work of art. Everything here looks as though it's made of cardboard and plastic. Also, many, many fewer balloons. (What is CNN going to do?!?) Does any of this matter? Of course not. But I'm just saying.

(3) To fill the time between speakers in Boston, the Democrats did a series of "Switch" ads, featuring testimonials from Republicans who said they were voting for Kerry this time around. Here, there are a series of man-on-the-street interviews from young women with RNC microphones who resemble the peppy cub reporters you see on small-town local newscasts.

(4) We aren't yet at the main event for tonight--Rudy and McCain--but there are a lot of empty seats.

(5) All of which brings me to one of the big questions about this week: What effect are the protesters having? I've debated this back and forth with colleagues, and most of them say the protesters hurt Kerry and help Bush. Their rationale is as follows: The protesters are the face of the Democrats this week, and the GOP has effectively labeled them "Democratic protesters" in most news accounts. Calm, in-control grownups like Giuliani, McCain, Cheney, and Bush are the face of Republicans. Advantage: Bush.

This may be so, but I'm not convinced. Boston had the feel of one big party. Walking the streets of midtown Manhattan, there's tension. Almost every aspect of the convention is tied up with the notion of confrontation. I think that takes a lot of energy and can't help but sap Republicans who have come here from across the country. As the week goes on, instead of building to a crescendo, they may just get tired of having New Yorkers shouting at them on the streets telling them to "go home" (I've heard that) or snickering behind their backs in restaurants (as happened to me tonight).

This isn't a party so much as an extended high-school cafeteria show-down. And the delegates I've seen around town don't look like they're having the time of their lives. At least not yet.

On the other hand, Angie Harmon is slated to take the stage in a few minutes, which makes this entire thing a success in my book.


Anonymous said...

I have some simple minded advice. Wear a smile.
Nothing will enfuriate your detractors more, or encourage your peers more.
It's contagious. Keep smiling during the convention even when they're yelling or snickering!

Anonymous said...

I'm an ambassador from the Host Committee working with some of the delegations from the Midwest and so far all of their comments to me have been positive. We've been cautioning them not to wear their RNC credentials when not in MSG itself, just to cut down on the incidents, and after Day One of the convention, I haven't heard any negative remarks.

I keep telling them the really rude people are all from New Jersey. Don't I wish.