LOS ANGELES - Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention was "Liberal Night" typified by the Hero of Chappaquiddick - Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. - revving up the 4,338 delegates with old liberal bromides and crying crocodile tears over "working America."
It was a great pep rally but, as I wandered around a basically bored Georgia delegation listening to the lefties that preceded Kennedy, delegates seemed like the lost souls in Dante's Inferno - doomed to forever listen to the usual cliches from the podium.
"Not much going on to talk about," offered Georgia Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, obviously not wishing to say anything controversial. Nearby, in the true tradition of political conventions, 73-year-old Peach State delegate Maxine Goldstein was entertaining journalists with a toy "Gore for President" train that tooted from atop her festooned hat.
For the Gore campaign train to get out of the station by Labor Day, though, the party base had better be unified - something Republican nominee George W. Bush wrapped up some time ago.
The Democrat presidential candidate faces two challenges to his base: 1) Bush is attracting socially conservative Democrats in droves, ranging from Georgia to Pennsylvania; 2) Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader is causing leftist Democrats to defect, especially in California and Wisconsin. (Even Georgia's fledging Greenies have a candidate running in the November U.S. Senate election, and he could siphon off a critical percentage or two of the vote from Democrat Zell Miller.)
MUCH OF Tuesday night's message was aimed at liberals being charmed by Nader. Speakers were particularly targeting feminists and pro-choice activists worried about the future makeup of the Supreme Court. In turn, the feminists working the floor were rallying for Gore - typified by Georgia delegate Stephanie Stuckey (also a state representative) passing out "Keep Abortion Legal" stickers.
Believe it or not, however, there was grumbling among a minority of delegates during "Liberal Night." U.S. Rep. Chris John, D-La., is a leader of the centrist "Blue Dogs" in Congress. He says, "We have to say (to liberals), `Yeah, you're the core of our party, but we have to open our arms up wide.' I'm sympathetic but I'm also realistic." U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Tex., grumped that "liberals ran us into the minority. What I would say to them is to step back for a moment and ask how us conservatives have felt for the past 15 years."
Stenholm says on the record what several Georgia and South Carolina delegates privately say: Gore and vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman need to better connect with independent voters, particularly blue collar men. The Bush-Cheney campaign believes they will be the decisive swing vote. Stenholm and the "Blue Dogs" are trying to get that point across to cement-headed liberal colleagues.
It's awards time
While attending a posh convention party at Hollywood's Paramount Studios, where the late movie director Cecil B. DeMille is buried in the back, I reflected on the Academy Awards and decided to hand out some political ones of my own:
Best sign award - To two Green Party demonstrators, marching almost side by side down a street near the convention center, with signs reading "Stop Oil Drilling" and "Down with High Gas Prices."
Well-informed Christian award - To U.S. Sen. John Breaux, D-La., for pontificating on fellow senator Lieberman as vice presidential nominee: "I don't think American voters care where you go to church on Sunday."
Best button award - This is a tie between a left-wing demonstrator wearing a blue-and-white Gore-style button proclaiming "Whore 2000" and a delegate sporting a Gore-Lieberman button - with the words in Hebrew.
Best demonstration award - To "Moon the Media." Its protest flier proclaimed: "At exactly 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 15, all protesters at the DNC Protestor Pit drop your drawers and moon the media for its inadequate coverage of real news stories."
Rather biased award - To TV anchor Dan Rather, for ending a broadcast with, "If you like the CBS news, be sure to tell your neighbors."
Best support award - To entertainer Cher, who told President Clinton, "I never voted for you but I would now."
Chronicle columnist Phil Kent writes from the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles this week.