Appreciation for political oratory comes in all forms. During the speeches by Al Sharpton and John Edwards on Wednesday, for instance, the delegates' emotional responses to their words were palpable. As I left the Fleet Center there was a unanimity and upbeat giddiness in the air. Delegates seemed to have been genuinely moved by the speeches and to feel that the party had had a very good night.
As I exited the compound at about 11:15 p.m. I found myself walking next to a trio of familiar faces who had emerged from one of the side doors: Brit Hume, Fred Barnes and Mort Kondracke -- Fox News all-stars all. To my amusement, Kondracke was carrying a Kerry-Edwards sign, and talking about carrying it on the plane back to Washington as a souvenir.
The chance encounter brought me back to four years ago at the Los Angeles Democratic convention, when I had run into Sean Hannity immediately after Al Gore's acceptance speech and he had been cock-a-hoop at what he perceived as a massive mistake by the V.P. "Gore blew it -- he just won over the entire McGovern vote!" So I was aware that the off-camera reactions of conservative commentators can provide a fascinating barometer reading. A misfired Democratic speech is no cause for concern to them. A speech that they think might have connected with Middle America is much more troubling.
So I was fascinated to see that Hume and Barnes in particular looked so glum. Did they perceive that Edwards may have "made the case" to swing voters?
Saying hello and reintroducing myself (I'd met all three men during the 2000 conventions), I fell into step with them as they walked through the light drizzle toward their waiting limos.
"Why the long face, Brit?" I asked. He didn't pause a beat. "I've never experienced a more emotional political night in my life," he said in deadpan style. "Edwards' speech was the most emotional thing I've ever heard in my life. When I heard John Edwards talking about mothers sitting at their kitchen tables I was moved. My heart was moved ... my bowels were moved."
I was somewhat flummoxed by this response, and it was unusual enough that I instantly hit the mental "save" button. I'm not accustomed to hearing about the bowel movements of TV personalities, so the precise wording burned itself into my mind (and five minutes later into my notebook).
"What about you, Fred?" I queried. Hume answered for the moody-looking Barnes. "Al Sharpton's speech got him," said Hume, adding that when people examined the transcript of Edwards' speech they would find that it was lightweight.
At this point Hume changed the topic and asked me (as an Englishman) to clarify a point of English grammar that was apparently on his mind. He asked me if it was correct that the royal park in London was known as "St. James's Park" (with a possessive "s" at the end), as distinct from "The Court of St. James" (singular), part of the official title of the American ambassador to Great Britain.
Intrigued by his interest, I was happy to confirm his understanding. But why this curiosity? Perhaps there's an ambassadorship in his future? Brit Hume as ambassador to the Court of St. James -- it was an idea that moved me. My heart was moved ...