Convention countdown: Will anyone be watching?

Stephen W. Stromberg
June 30, 2004 8:29PM (UTC)

Will Boston in 2004 turn into another Chicago in 1968 for the Democrats? Probably not, but there is a storm brewing between Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and the Boston police union, which is threatening to picket the Democratic National Convention next month. John Kerry has already said he won't cross any picket lines -- and the union has promised not to keep him from accepting the Democrats' nomination. But after Kerry sided with the union this week, refusing to cross the line to speak with the nation's mayors (who were none too happy about his choice, by the way), Menino attacked the Kerry campaign, calling it "small minded" and "incompetent." Menino unloaded this zinger at Kerry in his exclusive with the Herald: "Maybe they should use some of their energies to get their message across to the American people instead of trying to destroy the integrity of someone who is on their team." This on top of reports that major portions of Boston's city center will be locked down in the first post-9/11 presidential nominating convention and that Boston stands to lose money by playing host to the Democratic delegates.

But even if the Democrats don't get their act together in time for their big moment, not many Americans will be tuning in to most of the convention, anyway, thanks to the major networks' decision to scale back TV coverage. We can still depend on C-Span for "gavel-to-gavel" coverage, but the major networks will reduce their live broadcasts of both parties' conventions to a mere three hours over the last two nights -- just enough to squeeze in the speeches of the presidential nominee and his veep pick. This could be bad news for Kerry, who needs the national stage to define himself as a politician and as a person to voters still hazy on his record. But Republicans would like to showcase their early speakers, too, like Arnold Schwarzenegger and John McCain, to show off the cuddlier side of the GOP.


What will Americans be missing, unless they tune into cable? Bill Clinton will speak on the first night of the Democrats' convention and liberal lion Ted Kennedy will follow the next night. If this seems familiar, that's because Al Gore used the same lineup for the 2000 convention. On the Republican side, prominent, popular Republicans like Schwarzenegger, McCain and George Pataki top the prime-time list, ensuring that, like in 2000, this year's Republican convention will be another finely-crafted piece of political theater.

But the Republicans will have problems of their own. Massive counter protests are planned for their August-September convention in New York City. And word is that the city's host committee is having a tough time recruiting enough volunteers to work the event, and that local liberals are planning on signing up to fill the empty slots. Why? To not show up and leave the Republicans hanging, of course.

Stephen W. Stromberg

Stephen W. Stromberg is a former editorial fellow at Salon.

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