JON STEWART: They keep hitting you on the experience thing — when are we going to see the clips of John McCain’s screwups in the last eight years?
HOWARD DEAN: There’ll be a lot of time for that.
JON STEWART (in exasperation): When? December?
“For chrissake let us in! These laws are f-cked”.
It was 2am in Denver, and every source of booze had just dried up on the stroke of the clock. Everywhere. Even those old stand-bys, tacky casinos and table dance clubs, had brought down the shutters. Dave, an English journo, and Virgil to my Dante or vice versa in this trek through this gasping nighttown, had cracked as a neon cactus light had winked out in the window of the High Sierra Club just as we’d approached. We were now attracting the attention of the thirty or so underoccupied machine gun toting officers who had been deployed to guard the Hyatt. A taxi pulled up. Dave rushed over.
“Quick where can we get a drink? Where are the drinking clubs?”
The driver, a tall thin black man who looked like he’s seen much, with a crucifix swinging from the mirror, stared long at us and pulled off without a word. Dave collapsed in the street.
“What is wrong with these people?”
It’s a fair frikking question with wide application. With a convention that doesn’t wrap up until nine thirty at night, and another hour or so to file, the rest of the night, for delegates and journos alike, has been a scramble to slide into whatever parties are closest to hand. Though word on the street is that the party scene is but a shadow of earlier conventions — due it is said to the Obama campaign’s stern position on the lobbying industry, usually the host of the best shindigs, who have as one told the party to go eff itself.
The swirl is at least as important as anything else going on, since the various do’s run by state parties, congress/wo/men, progressive groups etc etc, are where a whole bunch of deals are made for the next slate of up-and-coming candidates. That’s the story anyway. The reality of course is that the Convention has become that most dangerous of things, a celebration at the wrong end of the campaign. Just as people should be gearing up for the long final slog, what occurs instead is a bacchanalian release, leading to one’s unconscious being convinced that the contest is already over, and has been one.
Dave and I had trekked through a half dozen of these the night previous, most of them round the “five points” area east of downtown, an area whose gentrification process, the number of bullet holes in windows would suggest, was yet to get into full swing.
Down one end of it, the hottest ticket of the night, was the “One” party — the charity so dominated by celebrities that it has improbably managed to build sneaking sympathy for pandemics — being hosted by Kanye West and Bono, with the full deal, searchlights on trucks outside, a full phalanx of doorbitches, the woiks. We’d attempted to get in by attaching ourselves to a groupblog, party insurgency, called “The Momocrats”, a group of a dozen or so rather comely women who focused on parenting, childcare etc issues, and who had received a bunch of invites out of the blue, for reasons that were obvious to everyone except them. Alas, when they reached the head of the queue, they weren’t on the list, leading to the suspicion that in the interim someone had sussed that they were spoken for. Politics? Showbiz? Each is the shallow end of the other.
There was nothing for it, but to move next door to the Bus Project party, being run by an Oregon-based grassroots movement, with free organic vodka and the band PA powered by stationery bicycles.
“Ah,” said Dave.
“The loser’s club. These are my people. Now I feel at home.”
As monocyclists of a feral disposition weaved between sharp operatives in suits and women in pearls, I decided to test the collective mood of the party at a time when the McCain campaign had cut a six point lead to zero over six weeks. Judging by the responses there was a lot of koolaid being thrown down with the vodka.
“Look I think we’ve seen this before — the polls aren’t really reflecting the people we’re signing up,” said one ageing hippy.
“Besides the McCain ads are so stupid”, added a bright-eyed in a retrochic ballgown, barely covering an arm tattoo which appeared to be a line portrait of Virginia Woolf surrounded by a crown of thorns.
It was more of the refrain I’d been hearing all week, both on and off the record — an unwillingness to admit that the challenge being faced, to concede the real appeal of McCain to the broader America, or the fact that the Obama campaign had been thoroughly bested week on week after he returned from Berlin.
But hey, this was a pretty hippy place right — positive energy is kinda their job. The next stop along the way, a governor’s reception of a new england state at a bar named “Fado”, the Portugese term for songs about loss and death — surely things would be a bit more hard nosed there? To test the field Dave and I pocketed our journo IDs and appointed ourselves official caterers, but even then the party line held solid. An old new england kingmaker, a man whose life had been the minute tracking of polls, analysis, gave the same story:
“See ya can’t look at the national polls, you gotta look at the state by states.”
“But even state by states show gains in the midwestern swings falling away too.”
“Well dammit you can’t believe these polls — the mood is there.”
What the hell was going on? Was it, here, the Jameson’s whiskey, which was lying around in bucket-size jugs? Was it the sheer impossibility of thinking about what would happen if McCain does win?
“Vad you seem to need,” drawled a beefy German beside me, an old SDP hack who transferred to the Greens a few years back, and who had been slumping lower in his seat as the argument progressed.
“Vad you need is Gramsci’s optimism of the heart and pessimism of the head.”
“That’s very interesting — I’ve never heard of that.”
In the corner of my eye, I could see the German, ever so slightly, roll his.
And by then it was chucking out time, just as, after ten hours listening to and writing up the same speech, we were starting to get juiced.
“Christ I have to get a drink,” said Dave.
“Not because I’m an alcoholic, though I am, but because this feels like 1992.”
Who knows, I thought, as I hit the Howard Johnston Motor Inn a half hour later, and bribed the night clerk to sell me a full mug of whisky from the locked restaurant bar. Maybe you have to have this sort of attitude at a convention, maybe it’s the place for it. After all, Hillary and Bill had just done their bit, and a rosy glow was rising from it — and everyone whether they’d admit it or not, was nervous as hell about the Obama appearance coming up the next evening.
But the German’s morose point about Gramsci, and the sort of resilience that allows one to think clearly about the process by which you are getting your arse handed to you in instalments was a million miles from what I saw across the vast hoedown of Wednesday night in the mile-high city, a sort of blitheness less suggestive of the PCI and more of REM and “Shiny happy people“.
If the Democrats lose in November it will be because of what I saw here — this deep deep unwillingness to fight an election with the population you have, not the population you want, this killing, smug, superior, unwillingness to get down to it. And nowhere to marinate such thoughts away, just a few shots of hundred pipers, and a repeat of The Daily Show, displaying it would seem the only sign of intelligence in the whole damn town.