DNC Diary Day Zero: The Face Of Disappointment
Monday, September 3rd, 2012. Here in Charlotte, the Democratic National Convention hasn’t officially begun yet. As far as I can tell, there's even less reason to subject myself – or you – to the scripted proceedings at this convention than there was to watch Clint Eastwood rail against the emptiness of a chair in Tampa. We already know what it's like to see Saint Barack wax messianic in a football stadium filled with Obamaniacs. That’s so 2008.
No. Like everyone else from Chris Matthews down, I’m here for the parties. And today – Labor Day – all of downtown Charlotte is a party of one kind or another. A whole section of downtown has been transformed into a kind of State Fair/flea market/political rally that stretches on for blocks. Ice cream. Inflatables. Balloons. Vendors selling scarves and gyros and NumNum sauce. A climbing wall. A gyroscope to make the kids dizzy. A juggler. Dan the Pig Man. People in Obama t-shirts. A campaign organizer speaking on a stage. And – yes – there's Matthews Himself, being swarmed like an honest-to-god celebrity, his pants leg still stained and damp from four years ago.
But this bread and circuses, as exciting as it may be to all the Joe Q Plumbers out there, is not the sort of thing I’m going to waste my time on. I am a journalist, after all, and as such I've earned access to a more exclusive gathering. I head to Politico’s cocktail hour – held nightly at both conventions – and pretend like it ain’t no thing when the woman at the front desk remembers my name from Tampa. I am known here. I have arrived. (“Don’t let it go to your head, Kotecki!” an email from the NSFWCORP headquarters warns me ... ”We’re watching you!”)
I'm here in search of the Great Journalistic Disappointment that Politico itself—and Conventional Wisdom along with it— has warned me to be on the lookout for. Obama has been a “conventional president,” according to Politico correspondents John F. Harris and Jonathan Martin (hereafter: the two Johns). From the Washington Post (“Obama did not change Washington”), to The Huffington Post (“The Same Old Game”), the sad clowns of political journalism honk their tragic horns Obamawards. My editor Mark Ames calls it “Disappointment Porn.” He wants to do a series called “Faces of Disappointment: How Can The Media Possibly Go On?”
I soon learn that the best way to meet people at a Politico party is to open my laptop on a high table and look busy. It makes the other hyper-ambitious party-goers nervous. The fact that I worked for Politico back in 2008 (there's your disclosure, media ethicists!) helps oil the wheels.
I talk to Jonathan Pontell. He’s a political commentator, the author of the book “Generation Jones” about the generation between Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers. He does not appear particularly disappointed. He’s looking for “A-listers” to interview for a new project about how Ryan’s budget will affect Generation Jones. He asks me if I know of any A-listers at this party. I recommend he try looking at the Huffington Post Oasis.
I talk to an intern for the New York Post from Quinnipiac University. She is disappointed, but mostly because she works for the New York Post. She was assigned the job, she started today, and she is very liberal. When her friend suggests that this convention is “already better than Tampa,” she volunteers that this is “because we’re Democrats.” It’s a Bircher’s nightmare come true: The Liberal Media Elite right in front of me, dispensing with journo objectivity as soon as the coast is clear. I ask her if she’s even old enough to be drinking at Politico’s open bar. She insists, almost too firmly, that she’s about to turn 22.
There's been a lot of huffing from the likes of David Carr and Jeff Jarvis about what a gargantuan waste of money it is for so many media organizations to send so many reporters to cover so little excitement. CNN has its “CNN Grill”, Huffpost has its Oasis and here I'm standing in the Politico Hub. These are not cheap affairs. I ask one of Politico's senior sales people if the “Hub” has achieved whatever goal a “Hub” is supposed to achieve.
“Making money?” he says. “Yes.”
“You mean like the BAE Systems cocktail?” I ask.
“If people like you remember that, we’ve done our job.”
Apparently, while the Hub is promoting the Politico brand and providing a backdrop for the site's live broadcasts, it’s also a moneymaker in its own right. Consider the cocktail menu: The DIAGEO Captain Coca-Cola, the Intel Fusion, the BAE Systems Countermeasure (Johnnie Walker Black Label, sweet, dry vermouth, a dash of orange bitters garnished with a lemon twist). Booze, soft drinks, computer chips, and defense contracting. Mission accomplished. I happily imbibe.
I talk to Chris Faraone of the Boston Phoenix. Regular readers will remember that in Tampa, Chris and I shared an awkward moment when we discovered that we’d been both been chasing the Tedd Webb story. By now, though, we've practically become brothers in arms. He tells me he’s got some lefty journalist friends who “love to troll parties like this, looking for which politicians are talking to lobbyists or whatever.” Good tip! “I don’t give a fuck,” he clarifies. “I just want to troll the whole fuckin’ thing.”
I talk to an official from the Democratic National Convention Committee, who didn't ask for anonymity but I'm giving it to her anyway. She has been living here in Charlotte since May and says she’s “never been more homesick.” She shows me pictures of her cats. She says she has “nightmares” about a cable feed not working. She’s pushing now through the home stretch. “I will cry during Obama’s speech,” she says. “And I’m not even a big Obama fan … he’s no Clinton.” She’s looking forward to Bill Clinton’s speech on Wednesday. I’m starting to miss Tampa by this point ...
Suddenly, still chatting with the Democratic official, I'm attacked – the only word – by a drunk woman, armed with big metal disk earrings.
“Katie,” she answers. I hadn't asked the question.
“Who is the governor of North Carolina?” she asks, adding that she is a “super Politico fan,” and also a Charlotte local. She's touching my shoulder, and regarding my wedding ring with a professional eye. “You're super cute ... and super married,” she says.
“What do you do in Charlotte?” I ask.
“How old were you when you got married?” she replies.
Even BAE's countermeasures couldn't stop this girl.
I ask her again and she puts a finger to her lips: shhhhh. “A little bit of this and a little bit of that.”
“You don’t want to tell me what your job is?”
She does not. Technically, everyone here pretty much qualifies as a “whore” so I suppose it doesn’t matter what label she puts on it—some of us are media, others “issues managers” or whatever it’s called.
I report all of these conversations to my editors. They seem sure Katie was a hooker. They also urge me to continue searching for at least one authentically-disappointed journalist, as the media promised. I decide that it's time to hit the next party.
I've scored a VIP pass to see The Roots. VIP in this case means a crowded balcony view and free appetizers. I scan the crowd looking for the “Face of the Disappointment” as per my assignment, but all I can see are hundreds of DC/Manhattan types basking in the volume of the opening band and drinking from yet another open bar.
But then ... when I least expected it ... there he is: The Disappointed Journalist, in the person of Slate’s David Weigel. He’s disappointed that this convention is a waste of everyone's time.
“The RNC had some real drama,” says Weigel. “There were 300 Ron Paul supporters. It was fun.” In contrast, “everyone here is young and sexy and they all support Barack Obama.”
Weigel is interrupted by a wall of pure noise: the Roots have walked on stage and the crowd is going apeshit. Young and sexy Obamaniacs may make for a disappointing political story. But, hopped up on free booze, they're ready to party like it's 2008.