A Confusing Convention - GOP 'Surrounded by the Enemy'

Article excerpt

The CNN Diner is in a prime location in this city. At the corner of 8th Avenue and 34th Street, it sits kitty corner from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station, the Manhattan home of Amtrak, the Long Island Railroad, and an alphabet soup of subway trains. And you can't miss it. The large red CNN logo stands out even in this sign- cluttered burg.

Considering the flood of people that flow past it every day, you might expect the diner to be crammed full of New Yorkers, but it isn't really. And even if a regular Joe wanted to drop in and get the blue plate special he couldn't, because the CNN Diner doesn't exist, really. It has all the trappings of a diner. There are chrome stools and booths, and waiters dressed in CNN aprons and shirts. But there's no real diner - it's more of a VIP/media lounge cum TV-show set.

For the Republican Convention, CNN has rented the space that is normally home to the Tick Tock Diner to use as a studio, where it will carry on some of its programs in a diner atmosphere. Because ... well, why not? Coming soon: the Fox News Jazz Club and Shooting Pool With the News on MSNBC.

But somewhere under the diner's twinkling sign sits the soul of this convention.

Political conventions in 2004 are many things, of course. By now you surely know the litany. They are dinosaurs and old pointless habits and good excuses for journalists to run up expense accounts, but rarely have they ever been Dadaist performance art. Welcome to the 2004 Republican Convention, America's first mainstream postmodernist political gathering. It may not be real or even cohesive, but it's some show.

There are a lot of emotions in the air here. Excitement from the Republicans who feel as though the campaign is turning in their favor. Anger from New Yorkers, many of whom will be happy to tell you how unhappy they are that the Republicans are here.

The prevailing feeling here, however, is just weirdness - from the Bush supporter wearing the "hippies smell" T-shirt to the antics of protesters who flooded Manhattan in a two-mile long march Sunday. In one scene from that protest, self-proclaimed anarchists set their dragon float on fire, but their representative asked press photographers not to take photos that would identify the self- vandalizers by face "out of respect for the anarchists."

Yes, today's devil-may-care revolutionaries have more than just an appetite for disorder; they have representatives who are looking to set the terms of their coverage. …