Thursday, July 29, 2004

IN THE HOUSE. I don't have an Internet connection inside the FleetCenter, so I can't do any real-time blogging. But I thought I'd bang out a few observations for later upload. I'll skip Kerry's speech tonight and deal with that in the morning.

8:10 p.m. I've been here for about 15 minutes, high above courtside, stage left and slightly behind the main podium, surrounded by folks from Slate and the New Republic. If anyone tries to leave, he or she won't be able to get back. Slate's Tim Noah has already tried. I am trying to limit my liquid intake.

Wesley Clark is speaking, and he delivers a speech heavy on militarism and patriotism. "The flag!" (Wild cheers.) "Enough is enough!" "Under John Kerry ... we're going to attack and destroy terrorist threats to America!" "America! Hear this soldier! Choose a leader! ... Protect our liberty! Renew our spirit!"

8:18 p.m. Joe Lieberman arrives, to the strains of Neil Diamond's "Coming to America." He manages not to say, "Is this a great country or what?" He does say of Kerry and Edwards, "They're not just going to win the popular vote, as Al Gore and I did. They're actually going to get to take office."

8:39 p.m. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is speaking: "Hope really is on the way." Groan.

A few minutes ago we got an advance copy of Kerry's speech. It's l-o-n-g.

I thought it was funny when they played "Mr. Big Stuff" for Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell last night. But why are they playing it for Pelosi?

8:42 p.m. Willie Nelson and an African-American choir sing a song that appears to be called "The Promised Land." No, not the Bruce Springsteen song of that name.

Kerry's speech is embargoed, but I'm not posting this until after he delivers it, so what the hell. It looks like his refrain will be "America can do better. And help is on the way." Gee, what happened to "hope is on the way"? Has it already arrived?

8:46 p.m. Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright is speaking: "He [Kerry] will use intelligence to shape policy, not twist intelligence to justify policy."

9:02 p.m. Kerry's speech is good. And harsh! If his delivery passes muster, it's going to give him a big boost. Check this out: "I want an America that relies on its own ingenuity and innovation - not the Saudi royal family." Look for Prince Bandar to start spinning on the No-Spin Zone, like, tomorrow.

9:06 p.m. Carole King comes out to sing "You've Got a Friend."

9:11 p.m. John Kennedy on the video screen while his voice crackles over the PA system: "Let the word go forth from this time and place ..." The reaction is pretty tepid, and it occurs to me that the whole JFK thing is starting to sound like my parents' invoking Franklin Roosevelt. Except that FDR had only been gone 20 years when I was 10. If you're 10 today, JFK has been gone for nearly 41 years.

No wonder Bill Clinton got a bigger hand than JFK when Clark started rattling off a list of "great Democrats."

9:12 p.m. They're projecting on the screen pictures of Republicans who are planning to vote for Kerry-Edwards.

9:17 p.m. The late Texas congresswoman Barbara Jordan appears on the big screen.

9:21 p.m. Out come Andre Heinz, Chris Heinz, Vanessa Kerry, and Alexandra Kerry. Of the two daughters, Vanessa goes first. "There was not one moment when he doubted his ability to win," she says. Really? Not even in November and December? It's probably true. Politicians are a different breed.

She also says that when he told his dying mother that he would run for president, her response was, "It's about time."

Alexandra tells the now-familiar story of her father administering CPR to Vanessa's hamster its cage had fallen overboard during a boating trip. "The hamster was never quite right after that, but he lived." She also recalls what he told her when she was an angst-ridden 19-year-old: "Remember that you're alive and that you're an American. Those two things make you the luckiest girl in the world."

9:36 p.m. The video begins to play. Fortunately, I can watch it on a TV in the press row in front of us. It's short - less than 10 minutes. Your typical gauzy bio with vaguely patriotic music in the background.

It accomplishes the important task of going over his war record and anti-war activism, since Kerry himself is only going to talk about that a little. But wait! Network coverage hasn't kicked in. But wait again! They probably wouldn't have carried it anyway ... on Tuesday, I had to switch to C-SPAN to watch the Teresa video. What can I say? I like videos.

9:47 p.m. A video on the Worcester fire, and Kerry's involvement in the aftermath.

9:50 p.m. The crews of Kerry's two swiftboats come out. The biggest hand is for Jim Rassmann, whose life Kerry saved - and who, in turn, saved Kerry's campaign when he surfaced in Iowa last January. "Nobody asked me to join this campaign. I volunteered," says Rassmann, a Republican.

Rassmann introduces Max Cleland, who receives a hero's welcome.

9:56 p.m. Cleland begins speaking from his wheelchair. He talks about being elected to the Georgia state senate in 1971, a young veteran missing three limbs, and seeing Kerry on television. "He put everything I was feeling into words," he says. "Even before I met John Kerry, he was my brother."

10:02 p.m. Cleland has entered the main part of his speech, just as the networks join us. Tells a story about pressing a Bible into Kerry's hand at Kerry's South Carolina campaign kickoff. "My fellow Americans, John Kerry has never let me down, and he won't let you down, either."

Kerry will be at the podium in a few moments.

11:34 p.m. Just made it back to the filing center. Instant grades: A-minus speech; solid B delivery. Much more tomorrow.

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