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Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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Published: Monday, 8/2/2004

No drama, but hardly conventional

BOSTON - One down, one to go.

It's true that these conventions are mostly political theater, at least in terms of what goes on in front of the television cameras. And because of the primary election system, it is also true that there is no longer any drama at these gatherings. They have become, well, just conventions.

But its not like it's a bunch of washing machine salesmen getting together to compare stories from the road or to hawk their wares. The subject is the U.S. presidency, the most important public office in the world, and the business of every American. For that reason, even though there is no suspense, these extravaganzas will always be significant events.

Some have complained that they have become glitzy commercials for one candidate or the other, but that is not a complaint I share. Not that I don't agree. They have become glitzy commercials, and this one was produced largely in Hollywood. But given the current state of disinterest in public affairs, it may be OK that politics tries some packaging.

Just as long as it's not all empty calories. And there was plenty of meat to chew on here this week.

Thursday night, I watched the speech of John Kerry from a skybox high above the convention floor at Boston's FleetCenter. The signs waving like a roiling ocean from one side of the hall to the other, and the balloon and confetti drops after, were a hopeful sight, an inspiring sight.

All politics aside, this was an American event, as will be the one next month in New York. You get tired working one of these things, but you never tire of the spectacle.

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What helped make this event special was the building, which replaced the Boston Garden, the old home to the basketball team that I grew up loving and cheering for every time they pounded the Lakers, or whoever else was their victim in their long string of victories of the 1960s.

The walls of the FleetCenter are covered with the memories of those days, and it was easy to get distracted. Photos and jerseys of Havlicek, Russell, Jones, and those who came later: Parish, Cowens, and Bird.

Politicians here were marveling about how being in Boston brought reminders of greatness centuries ago. My memories were of Boston greatness much more recently: when the Celtics reigned.

And so it will be again next month, as Republicans gather in Madison Square Garden, site of the amazing championship won in 1971 by the New York Knicks, largely on the courage of Willis Reed and the skill and tenacity of Walt Frazier, another childhood hero.

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Thursday's acceptance speech of the Democratic nomination by Mr. Kerry was preceded by a tribute from a dozen men who served with him in Vietnam, including Jim Rassman, the Oregonian who was with Mr. Kerry's crew on a swift-boat patrol one day when he was dumped overboard into a river during an attack. The man was saved after Mr. Kerry turned his boat around to retrieve him, though they were still under fire from both shores.

Mr. Rassman spoke briefly but eloquently about Mr. Kerry Thursday, a far cry from his rambling tributes in packed high school auditoriums in the days leading up to the Iowa caucuses.

Then, he had just recently contacted Mr. Kerry, who had been struggling in the polls and trying without progress to catch up to Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Mr. Rassman, a Republican, volunteered to do whatever he could, and the Kerry campaign put him on a plane. The contact developed into an important campaign juggernaut that helped overwhelm the anti-war candidacy of Mr. Dean, and turned the tide in the primaries. Jim Rassman's phone call was a big reason Mr. Dean made his speech this week on Tuesday, not Thursday night.

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Never missing a moment to push her pet issue, Ohio state Sen. Teresa Fedor held a news conference here to talk about - you guessed it - voter-verified paper audit trails for electronic voting machines. This time it was a little different, as she had the support of Mr. Dean, who appeared at the event, as did U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

Later that day, delegates gathered in the hall to cast their votes for the party nominee using a state-of-the-art computerized touch-screen voting system, one that had no paper audit trail. It's a good thing Dennis Kucinich didn't ask for a recount.



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