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Commentary: Comparing the Conventions

By Brian Reich

Special to WestportNow

St. Paul, Minn.—Having attended the Democratic National Convention in Denver and now the Republican one in Minneapolis/St. Paul, there is a stark contrast—and not just because the issues and rhetoric are different.

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The Democrats and Republicans throw very different conventions, with very different goals and purpose.

I have been on the road for the past two weeks—first in Denver where I was on staff as a member of the Democratic National Convention’s online content team, and more recently in Minneapolis, where I was attending, and blogging, the RNC as special press, aka credentialed new media.

Why would anyone want to go to both conventions? Lots of reasons, actually: First, I love politics—and national conventions are as big as it gets in politics. 

The best and brightest of the two political parties gather, share their thinking about the state of politics and the trajectory of the current election.  As a longtime political operative, the conventions also present a unique opportunity for me to see old friends and get updates on people’s lives.

Both weeks I have been able to get access to all the media facilities and stars, gaining a different perspective on the proceedings as well as seeing some of my media idols (who I not so secretly obsess about). 

Finally, if all goes as planned, I am able to see/hear/write/offer something interesting that maybe, just maybe, contributes to the discussion this election cycle, helps people to understand the issues, motivates someone to participate or vote, or even does something small to improve the political process as a whole.

Denver vs. Minneapolis:  Denver is a small city, nestled in the picturesque Rocky Mountains, with a decidedly western feel (red rock buildings, old banks converted into restaurants, horse posts left over from the old days, etc).  The view in every direction is stunning.

The air is crisp and clear, the temperatures very warm. The people are incredibly nice. And the city was alive, streets literally filled at all hours of the day, and signs for the convention welcoming delegates at every turn. 

Most importantly, the Pepsi Center was just a few short blocks away from downtown (and even Invesco Field, where Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech on Thursday night, was reachable on foot – though it was a longer walk).

Minneapolis/St..Paul, by contrast is a sprawling metropolis—two cities in fact—separated by highways with flat lands extending in all directions.  There are some beautiful old and new buildings, and some wonderful public art – but for the most part the city seems very plain. 

During the day, the weather has been humid and sticky, while at night the temperatures drop and it becomes chilly.  The streets are eerily quiet, with only a handful of people on any corner and few signs to welcome or direct visitors to any official (or unofficial) convention activities. 

The XCel Center is in downtown St. Paul, more than 10 miles from the heart of downtown Minneapolis—requiring a vehicle (and a good navigator in my case) to find.

And though I know from experience that the residents of Minneapolis are incredible nice, I can’t seem to find anyone who lives locally to ask for directions or help—its all RNC staff and volunteers and none of them seem to be very helpful.

Democratic Delegates vs. Republican Delegates: I find the Republican delegates both more pleasant to be around, and more welcoming of outsiders—though I suppose that would be different if they knew I was a Democrat (or worse, a blogger!). 

I also find the Republicans who have gathered in Minneapolis to be more interested in talking than the Democrats I met in Denver—and more talkative once you get them started.  Interestingly, the Republicans I encountered spend more of their time talking about the Democrats—the latest rumors or accusations about Barack Obama are a popular topic—than about their own candidates or proceedings. 

This is, of course, something the Democrats and Republicans have in common, since the Democrats love to talk about themselves.

The majority of the attendees to the GOP Convention, it seems, are white, and older by comparison to the Democrats – who. it seems, have actually achieved (more this convention than in past years) to build a truly big tent.

Convention Proceedings:  The convention programs differ greatly as well.  The structure is basically the same—real person speaker, elected official or high-profile candidate, video montage, repeat. 

But, the Democrats put on a glossy, glitzy, high-tech show with a sprawling multi-screen interactive stage setup, while the Republicans were more subdued, with a simple stage and a flowing American flag graphic behind most speakers.

(Note: This very basic presentation was not just because their plans had to be changed in the wake of Hurricane Gustav; that was the aesthetic they had planned before the schedule was changed). The Democrats music was loud and raucous, prompting even members of the media (who of course are accused of having a Democrat-leaning bias) to literally dance in the aisles alongside delegates. 

And, on the speechifying and rhetorical front, it wasn’t until the final speech of the second night of convention proceedings that any speaker at the Republican convention referred to the Democratic nominee by name. 

The person who first uttered the word Barack Obama, of course, was former favorite-Democratic-son Sen. Joe Lieberman.  In fact, he used the Democratic nominee’s name twice, in two consecutive sentences. 

Meanwhile, Barack Obama used John McCain’s name four times in his acceptance speech. Joe Biden used John McCain’s name more than a dozen times in his speech at the Democratic convention, even going out of his way to call the senator his ‘”riend.’” 

In fact, with the exception of Bill Clinton’s speech (which focused far more on bolstering Obama’s candidacy than breaking down McCain’s), no major speaker (and possibly no speaker at all) failed to mention McCain by name, and most linked him directly to President Bush and even Karl Rove.

There are other comparisons I could make, some more flattering towards one side or the other, but you get the idea.  The point is, for Democrats last week, and Republicans this week, the convention is the center of the political universe. 

They each have their own perspective on what makes for a good party, and what will present their candidate and their agenda in the best light. They each use the media differently to help tell their story, hoping that the millions of people around the country will get the right message. After all, this is a show. 

Their candidates can do no wrong. Their opponents don’t know which end is up. And by the end of the week, the American people can see that the choice in November is clear.  Well, sort of.
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Brian Reich, son of Ann Sheffer of Westport, is a regular writer and speaker on the issues involving the impact of the Internet and technology on politics, society, and the media. A longtime political operative who was attending his fifth Democratic convention and second Republican convention, he is the editor of Thinking About Media (www.thinkingaboutmedia.com), a blog examining media consumption habits around the world. His book, “Media Rules!,” was published by Wiley & Sons in December 2007.

6 thoughts on “Commentary: Comparing the Conventions

  1. Ms Shepherd is free to argue the merits of her candidate all she wants, and to argue the demerits of the other side if she chooses. But her assertion that people who don’t support her candidate are by definition racists is insulting (as is calling President Bush a Muppet).  By Ms.Shepherd’s logic, anyone who won’t vote for Palin, or didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, is a misogynist. This kind of nonsense is inappropriate.

    Please argue policy, character, and experience. Please do not accuse the other side of base and disgusting motives just because they disagree with you.

  2. This is beyond laughable, I love the way the Democratic convention is contrasted to the Republicans through the eyes of a Democrat. Just some of the highlights:

    Denver – picturesque with old horse post and restaurants made from beautiful old bank buildings…Stunning views in every direction…air is crisp, clear…people incredibly nice…city was alive…

    The Democratic convention – accessible by foot…Dem’s have built a really big tent (more then usual this time)…convention was glossy, glitzy, hi-tech, interactive with waving American flags behind the candidates…media dancing in the isles with the delegates…

    Now the Republicans in Minneapolis – urban sprawl, flat with Hi-ways in all directions, very plain…weather humid & sticky, chilly at night…streets eerily quiet sparsely populated with few welcoming signs…convention outside of city by 10 miles requiring a car with navigation…unable to find anyone to help and the RNC staff not very helpful…finds the Republican delegates more pleasant, however, suspects they wouldn’t be so if they knew he were a Democrat…Republicans more interested in discussing Democratic rumors…GOP is white and old…

    But the funnest thing is how he states that Obama and Biden mentioned McCain’s name many more times than the Republicans have, however, neither Palin nor McCain have given their speech’s yet! Therefore you can not yet make a comparison!

    I guess he missed the part where the anti-Republican protesters beat up the elderly.

    I guess this is how a Democrat tries to be fair and balanced.

    Brian I hear the New York Times calling.

    Now I must hope that I don’t get banned from this site for “hate speech”.

  3. Thanks for the article and I am so grateful that there are real eyes and ears out there to see the truth. The other night a congresswoman was on television spewing some nonsense about how Sarah Palin has more executive experience than Biden and Obama. It was hilarious and as I looked at her glazed-over eyes, I knew that she, along with so many others have totally lost it. What it boils down to is that there are a millions of people in this country that would rather vote for a ticket with an inexperienced small town politician on it than one with a black man. it is plain and so simple. Anyone with a bit of common sense would not vote for this ticket. It’s ridiculous. My seven year old daughter has more international experience than this woman. She just got a passport this year! My kid has had one and used it since she was a year old! What a joke!
    The Republican party has ran this country into this ground and someone, something, anything would be better than what we’ve had.
    Mitt Romney is laughable!! Goodness gracious! He just said that Palin has experience because she’s been a governor of Alaska. Yikes. Oh, she’s going to do great when she meets Putin or has to go to Iran for talks.
    Thanks for your opinions and as you can guess, I’m a Democrat and Joe Lieberman should be ashamed of himself.
    I love this country and it can only get better, as long as we don’t have another four years of the Republican dictatorship.

  4. I guess you have a point your beloved Bill Clinton was a small time politician before he became an impeached President bringing shame to the office, yes those small time politicians never amount to much.

    And exactly what foreign experience does Obama have again, I’ve seem to have forgotten.

    I have my issues with George Bush, but could you please enlighten me to his dictatorship behavior.

    Do you know that your Democrats have continued to fund and support the war contrary to what they campaigned. Ditto for FISA.

    In addition what type of logic, or lack of, do you surmise that if you support a woman candidate you’re only do so to prevent an African American from being President.

    And another thing, do you know what task and responsibilities a Governor has compared to a Senator (hint – as a Senator you only have to push a button to vote if you’re present).

    And a personal note: I really do like Obama, I believe him to be truthful, exciting, an incredible politician and human being, however, I’m not so crazy about his policies and ideology. On the other hand I haven’t been too excited for McCain until last Friday. Now I’m on the straight talk express and the engineer is a Woman. Now I’m excited!

  5. After watching Palin’s speech, I’m even more determined to make sure that we don’t get another Chenney/Bush in office. Senior Muppet George W. Bush has engineered a war that has cost lives based upon trying to avert the eyes of Americans. Having lived overseas during part of the Clinton years and the majority of the Bush years, I’ve seen how our country has gone from being one held in high esteem to one that is considered a parasite. I’ve served my country in the military and am a proud American to the core. However, I know that should hell start giving snowballs chances after the election, we’re out of here.
    Palin supports teaching creationism in schools. Huh? I’m a Christian and I don’t even go to that whacky point. She’s Prolife. I’d never in a million years consider an abortion, but I know that in the case of rape or incest, this should not be denied. The woman has even had a librarian fired because she wouldn’t ban books that Palin deemed unsuitable. We are an advanced nation and moving backwards is not the world I want to live in. Only teaching abstinence in school. Come on. Teaching abstinence only works! Just ask a teenager with AIDS.
    I’m not McCain’s fan, but his choice for a vice president really is a testament to his poor judgement. Anyone would have been better? It truly does scare me that the American people would actually believe an actor playing a role on a stage in front of millions. Speech writers rock but they’re not going to be there in the midst of arms negotiations.
    Bill Clinton was a total sex addict. He got caught. Sad reality but that is the past. Currently, we are living in a tim when millions of Americans are worse off than they have ever been. Fingers can be pointed at both parties, but the vast majority of problems sits like an obese child in the laps of the Republicans currently in office. Oh, what a silly analogy. Have a good night.

  6. As we are in the midst of partisan-politics season, I want to just mention how proud I am to be part of the non-partisan RTM. Regardless of what one thinks about how we vote on the matters that comes before us,  it is clear that there is no Democrat vs. Republican BS going on when the RTM meets to discuss and vote on issues.  And that is pretty neat.

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