Tuesday, Aug. 13, 1996
What unites us is more important than what divides us. This hoary sentiment, sampled and played repeatedly during the convention session today, happens to be true as it applies to all of us gathered in “America’s Finest City.” Everyone at this convention, delegate or media hound, is here because he or she likes to talk. The laconic need not apply. So my day starts with talking about the convention, on the radio.
Actually my day starts with a meal, lunch at a restaurant on the edge of the city’s bustling old-towny Gaslamp District. Here’s a tip: If you want to get a table during a convention, go to a restaurant in the gentrifying district that’s on a block still in the process of upscaling. One block north, the trats and ristos are cheek to jowl, and jammed with patrons. But I’m in a little French place, unfashionable to begin with, and there are still pawn shops on this block, and a few of the bums that didn’t get shipped up to L.A.
Talking on the radio, something that now turns out to be part of my daily schedule, promises to team me with Phyllis Schlafly, a potential out-of-body experience if there ever was one. The “first lady of conservatism,” as Pat Buchanan called her last night, only turns out to be a phone guest. The people I share a panel with are the head of Planned Parenthood Republicans and a Log Cabin (read: gay) Republican. I make the large gesture, and offer them something they won’t be getting from the podium in Convention Hall: tolerance.
Everyone goes from interview to party, honing their lines. The pundits are practicing their insights on each other, seeing what angle will not make their colleagues roll their eyes with disbelief at some outbreak of naiveté. I’m trying out on the radio things I’ll attempt to get said later tonight on Politically Incorrect. Such as: The Republicans are proud to have finally found an issue that Bill Clinton can’t co-opt: tax cuts, personified by the choice of Kemp. But I have friends in the Democratic Party who tell me Clinton was alarmed at the poll numbers over the weekend, and is planning to dump Gore and make Jack Kemp his running mate, too.
The radio show takes place at the Marriott, the official convention hotel. This is where you go to pick up your free copies of the WashingtonPost, the L.A.Times, and, if you get there early enough, the New York Times (all gone by midafternoon). Everybody wants you to read their coverage, and for a newspaper junkie, a truly free press is reason enough to come to one of these events.
Some newspapers really want you to read them. There is a corkboard hanging over the urinals in the Marriott lobby men’s room, and front pages of the four sections of USAToday are pinned to the cork. Being able to read USAToday while peeing is the ultimate marriage of form and function.
A consultant who tells me he’s the guy who thought up the idea of Geraldo doing O.J. every night also says that Republican conventions are normally full of “repeaters,” but this year is different. A state governor of his acquaintance complained that, despite being the head of the delegation, he didn’t know half of his delegates, and had to introduce himself to them. We are chatting in the lobby to fill time until the afternoon (prime time) session gets under way. Incidentally, here’s how small a town San Diego is: After lunch, I find a parking space, on the street, no meter, less than a block from the Marriott-Convention Center complex. No, I’m not telling you where. Find your own parking space.
Inside the convention hall, the air conditioners must think we’re all high-tech machinery. It’s really cold in here. Actually, I’m betting convention managers, like Letterman’s producers, keep the house frigid to encourage audience response. Because this is a TV show, and being around it is as exciting as being around a taping of Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper. There is a vast conspiracy in the news business, all right, and it involves the pretense that this is a news event. There’s even a TV show announcer on the hall PA, sounding nothing like the crazed heart-of-the-country voices that used to ring out in convention halls.
The early part of these evenings is overcompensation time. Last night’s Buchanan rally began with an invocation from a New York rabbi. Tonight begins with an Indian in full headdress leading the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ll bet Hitler never thought of getting a Jew to lead the singing of the HorstWessel song. Then a 10-year-old African American boy sings the national anthem. I’m in the back of the hall, with the guests, when Mary Fischer, the AIDS woman, speaks. Yes, I know, the way she was standing with the young girl AIDS victim looked eerily similar to the way ventriloquists stand with their little wooden friends, but the occasion was moving, nonetheless. She got what sounded like a big hand on TV, but the folks in the cheap seats saved their applause for the introduction of the next speaker, the governor of Ohio, a victim of nothing but Ohio.
I figured I’d see Nancy and Colin Powell on tape, so it was on to PoliticallyIncorrect, where I shared the stage with Orrin Hatch, Susan Molinari, and Debbie Norville. The producers are walking on eggshells before the show begins. I ask one of them if they mind me handing a rolled-up something to Rep. Molinari and saying, “Somebody gave this to me, I think it’s oregano, but could you give me an expert opinion?” Word comes back that Scott Carter, the producer, was asked how far we could go tonight, and his answer was, “Not very far.”
I probably wouldn’t have done it anyway. I share a side of the stage with Susan Molinari, waiting in the wings with her, sitting beside her, and I like the woman. She’s nervous, full of apprehension about this bout of verbal hot-oil wrestling the night before the Keynote Address. Orrin Hatch, who they thought would be a strait-laced Mormon, does everything but put a lampshade on his head. The audience is so jazzed to see real show business down here that they’re louder and more responsive than even a Texas crowd. We do an hourlong show, and they’re screaming and hooting and laughing throughout. They’re definitely working harder than we are.
The evening ends for me with a party sponsored by George magazine at the zoo. Little tigers and a tree kangaroo are paraded past us as we enter. It’s a media crowd, probably a rerun of last night’s CNN party. The Washington guys (and gals) end up talking with each other, trading nuggets. The political press buys into the convention myth because, basically, they get to move D.C. somewhere else for a week. It’s like Dave or Jay doing a sweeps week on location. Same show, new set. No, I do not meet John Kennedy Jr. But, on the other hand, I still haven’t met Michael Kinsley, either.