The road this week to Charlotte, N.C., was paved with misconceptions. At the Democratic National Convention, mine included expectations for a cab on a rainy opening day, as I spent an hour outside my motel with a trio of button salesmen down from New York, waiting and waiting.
It was my ninth national political convention, so I should have known better. Even in a huge city like New York, a political gathering like this can turn life upside down. In Charlotte, the small but vibrant “jewel of the South,” demand for rides to the convention far outstretched capacity. So the button men and I bused it.
Another misconception came in the form of commentary leading up to the DNC, with predictions of malaise and disappointment, since it could never hope to match the mania of Barack Obama’s historic 2008 White House run. It was another misconception shattered, as any delegate could have told you.
The experience of delegates arriving to nominate President Obama for a second term was mostly ecstatic, regardless of rain, heat and seeping humidity. That’s what it was like for Glendale’s Juliet Minassian, 50, the only Armenian American in the California delegation, who arrived from Iran 15 years ago, and told me, “This is the very little that I can do for the country that I love.”
Or Mark Gonzalez, 27, a first-time delegate from Eagle Rock, who sat in the California section in a stylish bow tie. “When you come to something like this and you represent your community, your town and your state on a national level, it’s such a big deal,” he said. “I signed President Obama’s nomination papers this morning, and it was such a thrilling feeling.”
And there was 16-year-old Harrison Cameron, a volunteer whip from South Pasadena handing out signs in the convention hall, who found himself at the center of the Democratic universe for a week. His fascination with politics continues, despite his discovery that facts and arithmetic are not especially important in the debate. “Even if you know everything about one situation, everyone still thinks you’re wrong,” Cameron said.
The handful of delegates who griped about the photographers and reporters blocking their view of the stage missed an essential point: Without media coverage, these political conventions would be pointless and would never take place. It is a media event first and foremost, the days long past when individual delegates could truly make a difference in the outcome.
In the Time Warner Cable Arena, several generations of Democrats cheered and clapped on cue for the cameras, but the feelings seemed genuine. Immediate reviews of the Charlotte confab were positive, even from Republican talking heads Joe Scarborough and Alex Castellanos, who declared the event essentially over after Bill Clinton’s stirring speech on Wednesday.
By contrast, California’s former Gov. Gray Davis called the previous week’s Republican gathering “a Leave it to Beaver convention,” more reflective of the previous American century than this one. “The ‘50s were a fine time in my life, but you have to move on,” Davis told me. “We have to lead into the 21st century.”
Helping the Dems do that in Charlotte was not only a contingent of younger delegates swept up by the 2008 Obama campaign, but a convention spectacle that included live performances by Mary J. Blige, Foo Fighters and James Taylor. Good taste in music is no guarantee of good government, but it does suggest genuine connection to the cultural here and now, where the rest of us live.
The Friday national jobs report put a damper on those good feelings, with unemployment just barely nudging downward to 8.1%, but the party at least found reason to celebrate and put a spotlight back on a hopeful future.
STEVE APPLEFORD is the features editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.