THE PLANK AUGUST 24, 2008
The New Republic is a little magazine. We’re proudly cheap, although we don’t have much choice in the matter. Our cross-country flights have connections, at least mine did. I went through Detroit. There are political events that I actually love: The intimacy and elevated stakes and kitschy traditions of the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire primary, for instance. But I have always found conventions to be a bit of a drag. For the press, the excitement revolves around sweaty over-produced parties that can only be entered after interminable waits behind a rope line. There’s the humiliation of watching your colleagues get turned away at the door as they unconvincingly tell a functionary with a clipboard that they are really David Broder. (OK, so that stunt flopped for me once.) But if they aren’t good for much reporting, conventions do make for fine primary anthropology. My flight was a small window into a state’s Democratic subculture. There was Jimmy Hoffa the Younger sitting in first class, natch. I instinctively held a newspaper by my face as I passed him. Eight years ago, I had trailed Hoffa across the Republican convention in Philadelphia. At the time, the Republicans were heavily courting the Teamsters. They gave Hoffa the treatment—a swank party, where some of the Senate’s arch-conservatives overwhelmed him with attention and kindness. I wrote a skeptical, somewhat snarky, account of the Republican efforts. This didn’t exactly endear me to the Teamsters. A few weeks later at the Democratic convention, I saw the Teamster’s flack walking down the hall. Even though he was barking into his cellphone, he turned and began angrily pointing at me. Did I wet my pants? Well, somewhat. After the convention, my dad prank called, telling the receptionist that he was Hoffa and he had designs on separating me from my limbs. That was a good one.As I made my way past Hoffa to my seat on the plane, I began actually looking forward to the coming week. I passed a women showing off the funny hat that she planned to wear on the convention floor. (It had a bridge on top.) There was a stubby women with a red “Department of Peace” t-shirt. I saw former Detriot mayor Dennis Archer and the stewardess wondered aloud if recently indicted mayor Kwame Kilpatrick would be making his way to Denver. All this is to say, if conventions aren’t heavy on news, they make for great people watching and gossip. And while the convention itself is a pseudo-event, every powerful Democrat is congregating in one place. There are interesting panels to attend--conventions can be surprisingly wonky-- and it’s a chance to score interviews. So what will we be doing? I’m going to be moderating a couple of panels and filming some video interviews for our site. Mike Crowley, Eve Fairbanks, and Noam Scheiber will also be out here, blogging like crazy and trying to capture the scene. You'll also see them in the videos that will hopefully be omnipresent on our site. Back at home, our staff writers (you know them well) and contributors (including Alan Wolfe, John McWhorter, Damon Linker, David Kusnet, Mike Schaffer, and Nate Silver.) will be weighing in with their own thoughts. And in many ways, they will be experiencing the convention exactly as it was intended to be consumed.
Let the spectacle begin.