Convention Diary: Like one giant, unashamedly cheesy corporate awayday

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The Independent US

Conventions are truly cheesy. If it's not "We are family" or "Shout" between speeches, it's Willie Nelson, or swaying in the dark with lighters, or singalongs with Carole King. Will the music be any better at the Republicans' bash, I asked a Republican observer. "Oh no," he said cheerfully, as he swayed along to Kool & the Gang, clearly enjoying himself.

Conventions are truly cheesy. If it's not "We are family" or "Shout" between speeches, it's Willie Nelson, or swaying in the dark with lighters, or singalongs with Carole King. Will the music be any better at the Republicans' bash, I asked a Republican observer. "Oh no," he said cheerfully, as he swayed along to Kool & the Gang, clearly enjoying himself.

At least that's one thing the two parties have in common: a dreadful taste in music. I wonder what Sean "P Diddy" Combs made of it. As he and his bevy of minders wandered the floor, they looked like they'd turned up at the wrong party.

One of the pleasures of a convention is to be able to travel the length and breadth of America in the space of a few yards. The man from Tampa, Florida, claims the election will be decided in his district. The folk from Tennessee are buoyed. "You know whaaat," says a lady with a Nashville drawl, "George Bush has been coming out to see us mighty often. He shouldn't need to, but he's worried." Next door is a lady from Spokane, on the Canadian border, who claims to have been following Kerry for more than a decade.

There's certainly no shortage of confidence at this convention. The corridors behind the stage, where 30 years ago the party bosses would have met to hammer out the deals, are nowadays full of signs already printed with the names of the candidate ready for distribution.

¿ A convention often feels like some kind of giant corporate awayday, designed to build team morale. One person who certainly wouldn't be invited to any company picnic, though, is Michael Moore, who has enjoyed rock-star status all week. He crept up behind Bill Hemmer, the cherubic-looking anchor on CNN, during an interview and said: "American lives have been lost because you failed to do your fucking job."

Hemmer's response was to try to get Moore on air, presumably because the maker of Fahrenheit 9/11 was a hot topic rather than because he wanted to give him a wider audience for his views on CNN. But Moore had moved on.

¿ The motto of Fox News is "We report. You decide". Yet the network cut out early from both Bill Clinton's and John Edwards's speeches, while the other three networks stayed with them to the end.

The award for political brilliance goes to Bill Clinton for his line about how he, Dick Cheney and George Bush could have gone to Vietnam but didn't, while John Kerry did. In that one sentence, Clinton simultaneously closed the door on his own military-lite background, demonstrated that Kerry was a genuine military hero, and turned the draft-dodging allegations on Bush and Cheney.

Not for 36 years have Democrats spent so much time talking about military matters. And they are having a much better time of it than they did in 1968. "A party that tells you that they have a monopoly on the defence of our nation is committing a fraud," thundered Wes Clark. A new breed of Democrats has been born: the liberal hawks.

¿ The award for political ineptitude goes to the Democratic National Convention Committee. Al-Jazeera forked out for a "sky box" so they could get a clear view of the stage. They hung out their sign, like all the other TV stations, only to discover in the morning that it had been removed. When asked why, the DNCC said this was a political convention, not designed to advertise media outlets. But what about the ABC, Fox News and CNN signs?, al-Jazeera asked. The DNCC then said the sign had been removed because it was right next to the spot where John Edwards was sitting. As I was leaving, I bumped into the al-Jazeera correspondent, who was still trying to locate his sign.

Tom Carver is Washington correspondent for BBC2's 'Newsnight'

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