Right in the middle of the Buffalo Bratwurst line at Denver's Pepsi Center, it occurred to me that the Democratic National Convention is like South By Southwest with suits and ties, multiplied by 10.
As with South By Southwest, there isn't any one convention experience. There are tons of sanctioned and unsanctioned events all over town, from Political Karaoke to a Rock the Vote concert featuring Kanye West to protest gatherings (at designated, far-from-the-arena sites, of course), Discobama at a dance club called Shag Lounge, and all sorts of parties and small-scale caucus meetings. Oh, and the delegates pick a president on Wednesday.
The convention is also a testament to the great American spirit of shameless entrepreneurship. Carlos Blanco came in from Austin to peddle his "Bye Bye Bushie" playing cards downtown, Kristen Hamill modeled and sold flip-flops with Obama's head on them, and James Donnelly arrived from Asbury Park, New Jersey to market dunce caps designed to "deprogram right wingers" outside the Convention Center.
The Convention Center was a hub of major activity, some of it pretty unsettling. Operation Rescue had three trucks parade down 14th Street with huge billboards on the sides depicting aborted fetuses. In front of the Convention Center, anti-choice activists bellowed into a megaphone that a "vote for Obama is a vote for murdering children." Onlookers couldn't help but be distracted by the fact that a priest hectoring the delegates was wearing black crocs, definitely a comfortable footwear option if you're planning to tell a bunch of strangers that they're all going to rot in hell.
Inside the Convention Center, Tom Brokaw signed copies of his book, Boom: Voices of the Sixties and posed for pictures, while the real action happened at caucus meetings. My favorite one was a DNC Youth Council session hosted by actress Kerry Washington (CurBlog will try not to swoon here) and including Black Eyed Pea hat-fancier will.i.am. His music may be deeply cheesy, but i'll say this for the lower-cased pop wonder: he's no political dilettante. He showed a real command of environmental issues, and he deserves some credit for using part of his obscene fortune to buy an electric car.
Of course, the Pepsi Center highlight was Michelle Obama's evening-closing speech. Part of me wishes that political families didn't have to sell their personal stories to us, but having said that, she did an admirable job. Her speech was everything Teresa Heinz-Kerry's 2004 address was not: gracious, concise, humble, and warm. Did I mention that it was concise? When the kids came out to join her, and Barack dropped in from Kansas City via an overhead video screen, it was almost too much. This was the greatest charm offensive from an American political family since John-John crawled under JFK's desk. Do you think Barack and Michelle will consider adopting us?
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