Manufacturing sincerity - people's party stages a calculated shambles

Sketch - Mary Dejevsky
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The Independent US

Big hugs in front of cameras are problematic in politics, as a certain Monica Lewinsky showed. But that did not prevent Al Gore striding out on to the podium to sweep his daughter into his arms after her big speech on Wednesday night. It was Gone with the Wind meets family values, a supremely scripted surprise that tugged at the heartstrings and took already fired-up Democratic delegates by storm.

Big hugs in front of cameras are problematic in politics, as a certain Monica Lewinsky showed. But that did not prevent Al Gore striding out on to the podium to sweep his daughter into his arms after her big speech on Wednesday night. It was Gone with the Wind meets family values, a supremely scripted surprise that tugged at the heartstrings and took already fired-up Democratic delegates by storm.

In its calculated spontaneity, Mr Gore's "Hollywood moment" was typical of the past week's show at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where the Democrats used the Republicans' slick stage management of their Philadelphia convention as a stick to beat them with. "Let's be honest," said vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman in one of the most felicitous lines of his speech on Wednesday. "We may be near Hollywood, but not since Tom Hanks won an Oscar has there been that much acting in Philadelphia."

Night by night, Democrats mocked the discipline that had kept the Republicans "on message". They scorned the Republicans' "Minstrel Show" of ethnic diversity that put many times more black and brown faces on the stage than there were in the hall. "Let's face it, folks," said the party's chief fund-raiser, Terry McAuliffe, "they pretended to be Democrats." The real Democrats, on the other hand, were just being themselves, in all their chaotic diversity.

While the Republican women speakers were all in a uniform of pastel skirt suits, the Democrats offered a riot of styles; skirts and trousers, jeans and cocktail dresses. Be yourselves, the motley crew of Democrats were encouraged: "We are the people, not the powerful; we are what the other party pretended to be."

This made it all part of the show when things sometimes went wrong: the prepared videos did not always function; nor did all of the microphones. Some of the "ordinary" people brought to the platform to tell their stories were under-rehearsed, a few losing their thread. No matter: this was all grist for the mill of genuineness. Even the most stage-managed move - the forests of coloured placards waved by delegates during speeches - had a certain primitive charm.

All of this, of course, took time. So while the Republicans kept rigidly within their prime-time TV slots, the Democrats ran consistently over, on the first night by a massive half hour. The Republicans called foul, claiming a deliberate grab for airtime. The Democrats protested their innocence; and who, after all, was to tell? In the stage-managed shambles of LA, the self-described party of the people could play it both ways - and it did.

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