Wednesday, Aug. 28, 1996
A morning run along Lake Michigan is clearly the activity of choice at this convention. You can spot more luminaries on the jogging path than in the convention hall itself. And what’s more, they’re in their underwear!
Yesterday, as I was pounding the pavement and trying to convince myself that the view of the lake mitigated the ordeal, I found myself abreast of Federico Peña. We ran side by side for a mile or two, exchanging personal news and whatever tidbits of gossip we’d managed to scrounge. It was a pleasant encounter, but vaguely unsettling: You don’t expect to see the secretary of transportation on foot.
And today, going through the same process, I was hailed by Heidi Schulman, Mickey Kantor’s wife, power-walking in the company of a prominent California politico I’ve met three or four times. He clearly didn’t have the vaguest memory of having met me. Perfectly understandable in an ordinary person, but a serious flaw in a politician. I know this to be the case because, although I found his forgetfulness perfectly understandable, it also annoyed the shit out of me.
And then, perhaps a mile on, was Paul Begala, working up a Texas-sized sweat. He was gracious enough to change direction and run with me awhile, and eventually even switched off his sports radio. But then it emerged that he had an agenda: He wanted my opinion of a joke he had written for the first lady. My opinion: Good joke. I even laughed while running, something Gerald Ford could never have managed.
Speaking of joke writing, I also stumbled across Mark Katz yesterday as he attempted to gain entry into my hotel (I’m obviously not the only one who’s had credential problems). He’s supposed to be helping out with the vice president’s speech, leavening it with some humor, but found himself barred from the hotel by security personnel. Security at the Sheraton is awfully tight, since the first and second families are staying here (if I have to endure one more deep cavity search, I swear I’ll start taking it personally). Anyway, Mark must have finally made it in–I don’t want to think about what lengths he had to go to in order to convince the Secret Service of his essential innocuousness–because he phoned me a little later and invited me up to the vice president’s floor to lend a hand.
All that was needed were two simple jokes, one for the vice president, one for Tipper. No problem, you’d think. At the top of his form, Mark is a virtual human joke machine, and working together, he and I have generated scores of lines in an afternoon, some of which were even usable. But maybe we’ve just ground out too many damned Al-Gore-is-boring jokes over the last four years. Because a small group of us sat there in the speech-writing room for over an hour yesterday and produced virtually nothing, scratching our heads and staring disconsolately at the ceiling, waiting vainly for the divine afflatus to pay a visit. We eventually started to get giddy at the very fact of our own incompetence. “Al Gore is so boring, he’s … REALLY BORING!” was one attempt that reduced us to helpless, teary-eyed, stomach-clutching hilarity.
Thank goodness my contributions are pro bono. If I actually got paid for this work, I’d feel terrible.
Elizabeth Drew made a characteristically shrewd observation the other night. We were standing in the middle of a party, chatting inconsequentially, when she suddenly narrowed her eyes and said, “I just noticed something. There are a lot fewer cell phones here than in San Diego.” This was quintessential Elizabeth, who would have been a welcome guest at 21B Baker Street.
What one extrapolates from her observation may depend on personal bias, but I can’t help feeling it suggests something important about the differences between Republicans and Democrats.
It puts me in mind of something our assigned driver told Laura and me during Inaugural Week almost four years ago. He was a man who had driven in the previous inauguration as well, and he said, “You know, it’s different this time. Republicans just hand you their bags. With Democrats, you have to ask.”
Speaking of security (yes I was, several paragraphs ago): Here’s something unexpected I saw this morning while eating my buffet breakfast in a very public section of the lobby. Without any fuss or to-do, Chelsea Clinton arrived at the hotel. Sure, she had a few people in tow, but they were few, and no one was murmuring into a wristwatch as the group strolled across the lobby. She was even carrying her own backpack. What made this especially interesting is that I seemed to be the only one in the vicinity who noticed. She and her party just walked toward the elevators without attracting any attention at all. It’s a sort of “Purloined Letter” approach to security, and it might be just as effective as brute intimidating force.
I finally got to the convention hall today, putting those new credentials of mine to the test. And they worked like a charm, I have to admit it. I wandered the corridors, hung out in the WashingtonPost headquarters with Richard Cohen, and grabbed all the freebies I could get my hands on. But good as these credentials may be, they don’t do everything. As I was walking down one corridor, I saw a sign for the NewsHourwithJimLehrer office. Thinking I’d drop in to say hello, I started to enter the room, but a guard stopped me. Did I have a NewsHourwithJimLehrer pass? he demanded.
I admitted I didn’t. “But I won’t be long. I just want to say hello.”
He grimaced, concentrating hard. Then he said, “Who’s that?”
I swear he wasn’t kidding. But I couldn’t help laughing anyway. It seemed to me to be the equivalent of wondering what Lou Gehrig died of.