US Presidential Elections: Chicago Diary: Syrup and corn for the masses

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Americans have rarely been accused of having a sense of proportion but even by their standards the Democratic convention has seen an extraordinary juxtaposition of highs and lows, of the sublime and the embarrassingly, cringingly inept. We're talking about the speeches here, which ranged on Tuesday from the magnificent oratory of Jesse Jackson to the syrupy gush of the debutantish Tipper Gore; from the hard intelligence of Mario Cuomo to the banalities ("My parents didn't start with much but they believed in the promise of America"/"I miss my mom") of the "Keynote Speaker", the Indiana Governor, Evan Bayh. It's like going to a music festival and seeing Placido Domingo, the Bay City Rollers and Eric Clapton all on the same stage.

The holiest shrine in the building, the Bulls' locker room, has been converted into a reception room for party grandees to wine and feed friends and benefactors. A photographer is on hand to take souvenir shots of the guests posing next to a jersey worn by Michael Jordan, whose poll ratings leave Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in the dust.

Intelligent people are orchestrating all this, supposedly to maximum manipulative effect, deep in the bowels of the Chicago Bulls' basketball stadium, the United Center. The National Journal says a Harvard lawyer, Vicki Radd, desperately applies a final polish to the speeches in the dressing room of the Luv-a-Bulls, the dancers who entertain basketball crowds during the television commercial breaks. Room 56, the ushers' changing room, has a mock podium and teleprompter so that Hillary, Jesse et al can rehearse their speeches under the watchful eye of a Washington Svengali who specialises in dramatic pauses and "applause lines".

The Democrats may be America's version of the people's party. But at this particular party there are two classes of people. The United Center is a sports arena, and ordinary delegates chow down like regular Bulls fans. True, beer has been banished, but the refreshment stands offer all the kosher dogs, nachos and French fries you can handle, washed down with Coke. Delegates stagger into the arena balancing bucket-sized containers of popcorn. How different upstairs in the corporate boxes where the fat cats play. Someone has to pay for Bill Clinton's $70m (pounds 46m) campaign and on the second level you can glimpse those who do. No popcorn here, just deep armchairs and whiteclothed tables groaning with beer and Martinis. In politics as in life, you get what you pay for.