Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Furrowed Brows in Austin

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Furrowed Brows in Austin

Article excerpt

Conventions aren't just celebrations of party identity or excuses to party. They are, in a larger sense, temporary, make-believe worlds. They're giant multilevel political terrariums where the outside world seems more remote and irrelevant at each deeper step.

The host city is the top level. The participating hotels and events are another. The surrounding media halls are still another. And at the very heart of it all is the convention arena itself.

There is nothing like seeing a speech in the arena. The crowd enthusiasm, the lighting, the smoke can make a political speech into a true event - an exciting moment. And that in itself is proof of the artificiality of it all. Get 12,000 people chanting rhythmically and you can even make four days of C-SPAN seem riveting - which is essentially what conventions try to do.

Conscious of this effect, several journalists decided to watch Al Gore's acceptance speech in L.A. from the media lounge, on TV, rather than the hall - this of course had nothing to do with the free food and drink.

As the speech began, snickers were audible and by the halfway point, they began to approach laughter. One journalist labeled it a disaster. And as we left the viewing area, it was easy to think that Mr. Gore, whom the media had charged with giving the "speech of his life," had failed.

Inside the Staples Center cocoon, people may have been "raising the roof," but this was largely written off as wishful thinking.

Then the interviews with independent voters far away from Staples began to roll in, and the polls began to move. One poll moved Gore from 16 points down to one point up, another from 10 down tosix up. The verdict: While Gore's hour-long acceptance speech may have been low on rhetorical flourishes, it may have actually accomplished something with voters.

What happened? All last week in L.A., any Democrat who could find a reporter to listen said the reason Gore was trailing George W. Bush was that voters had no idea who Gore was. Once the voters got to know him, they said, the polls would shift.

This idea wasn't completely discounted by reporters at the breakfasts, lunches, and briefings where it was floated. …

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