The Magazine

Amateur Hour at the Fleet Center

What happened when the cameras weren't on.

Aug 9, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 45 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
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But the delegates' attention is elsewhere. They are transfixed by a deeply bizarre video playing on the enormous monitors behind the podium. Clips of firemen fighting raging blazes are interspersed with shots of IAFF members happily waving Kerry-Edwards signs and cheering. A perky musical soundtrack accompanies the video. No one seems quite sure whether they should be pumped up, or sobered by the challenges our nation faces. They opt for polite applause as IAFF president Harold Schaitberger takes the stage.

THE DELEGATES, to their credit, grow ever more inattentive to the amateur hour speakers as the week progresses. They mill around chatting and taking pictures of each other's growing collection of anti-Bush buttons and pins. By Wednesday, they rouse themselves to cheer only on rare occasions. When the name of their own state is mentioned from the podium, most delegations manage at least a feeble hurrah. The exception is New York, whose delegates are apparently too cool to show up before 9:00 P.M.--ever.

The only other way for the B-team at the podium to get a reaction is to say something particularly outrageous about the president. Mayor Donald Plusquellic of Akron, Ohio, for example, asks the delegates to "think about it, our kids are being driven in school buses over bridges that are in danger of collapsing." It's unclear why this would be Bush's fault, but the delegates give Plusquellic their best "we-hate-Bush" cheer.

In a similar vein, nearly every African-American speaker over the course of three days utters some version of the line: "Every vote counts and every vote must be counted." This means at least a dozen daily uses of the line. No one quite comes out and says, "Republicans are racists who rig elections," but the message is clear, and the delegates cheer mightily.

And then there is the glorious moment, at around 6:00 P.M. on Wednesday, when amateur hour at last achieves the exalted Menckenian heights of self-parody. David Paterson, New York state senate minority leader, is trotted out to the podium. He is from Harlem, he is black, and--wait for it--he is blind. He is the personification of the minority constituency trifecta, and the crowd loves him. "I've been waiting for this moment for 40 years," he says. And then he tells us that he has "a vision for New York state." Seriously.

After the raucous round of applause for Paterson, my spirit is broken. I don't even have the oomph left to pay attention to Dennis Kucinich, who is scheduled for 7:45, right before the 8:00 cutoff, when the amateurs finally cede the stage.

As I stagger out of the Fleet Center, clutching my laptop and my jar of salsa, I breathe in the cool evening air, thankful to be free. But then an icy fear grips my heart. The Republican amateur hour is only four weeks away, and someone will have to be there to bear witness.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.