LOS ANGELES-- In a decided rebuff to the notion that there is something describable as Clinton fatigue, the current president of the United States woke up slumping delegates at the Democratic National Convention here Monday night with a rousing address recapping his administrations achievements and sharply rebutting Republican criticism.
On the evidence of the evening, the aforementioned term-- a favorite of political pundits-- may have to go into retirement before Bill Clinton himself does. Clearly, hes not tired, and people-- at least the ones in the jam-packed Staples Arena here and, most probably, a good many of those watching on home TVarent tired of him. Certainly the Tennessee delegates here who filled their front-and-center just-under-the-podium seats were roused as Clinton remembered aloud his administrations achievements and talked up the prospects of both wife Hillary Clinton, the New York Senate candidate who had preceded him with her own well-received speech, and Vice President Al Gore, who was scheduled for his own, crucial turn at the podium on Thursday night.
Clinton got some of his best response with such lines as, "Let's remember the standard the Republicans used to have for whether a party should continue in office. My fellow Americans, are we better off today than we were eight years ago?" As the crowd roared in appreciation of his irony, he answered his own question, "You bet we are!
If Clinton got the delegates blood stirred, it was the mission, on Tuesday night, of U.S. Rep. Harold Ford of Memphis, the conventions keynoter, to keep it circulating. As several of the Tennesseans present here have commented, the saga of Ford Jr. is virtually unique in politics, a profession that depends on patient waiting -- often for years at a time -- on the advent of opportunity, usually in the form of some grueling, long-odds struggle for office. Iron Butt stuff.
Its a different scene for the 9th District congressman, both an electrifying orator and, as a certified black centrist (a term used two years ago by the New York Times to describe him), a prize exhibit for the national party-- particularly in this year when the rival Republicans are making concerted efforts to display their own newly found diversity. Ford has an impact like that of the entertainment figures who have been visible fore and aft at this convention-- and maybe a chance of short-cutting the time-serving process altogether.
Ford chatted with Tennessee reporters Monday about his prospects. If this is the trajectory Im on, I like where Im going, he said with a disarming frankness. He recalled that he had deliberated for a lengthy period last year on making a race for the U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent < b>Bill Frist and that if he had, I could probably not have been keynote speaker or [state] co-chair of the Gore 2000 campaign. (He shares the latter honor with former Governor Ned McWherter and former state party chairman Jane Eskind.Ó)
Asked whether he was nervous about his opportunity, the 9th District congressman said, Im nervous about the teleprompter. As you can tell, I like to talk. Ive never had to write a speech or read a speech before. He said hed received some advice about speech content from people in the [Gore] campaign and the DNC [Democratic National Committee].
In a preview of his speech earlier, Ford had promised that the speech would attempt to tell the "compelling life story" of fellow Tennessean Gore. Ford said that, as the youngest serving congressman and as an African American, he would be in a position to use his primetime spot to explain to the country how far the nation had come.
"Al Gore entered political life not in search of a career, but because he heard a calling. Ford said the speech would send a loud, clear signal about Al Gore's public life and how he has always looked ahead with vision. . . .At every point in his public life he has always been a leader. I'm going to humanize him and show America why they should not be looking back to the Bushes.
In his talk with reporters Monday he compared the careers of candidates Gore and George W. Bush, both sons of established public figures, but said that one, Bush, had strived to protect those on top of the montain, while Gore attempted to help others climb that mountain. And, he said, as someone who grew up a few blocks of the site where Dr. Martin Luther King made his mountaintop speech [at Mason Temple, downtown, on the eve of his assassination in 1968], I have a real attraction to that metaphor.
The connection between the locale of this convention and the historic nature of this show-biz company town was dramatized for Memphians by several events as the week got under way. On Saturday night, a number of early arrivals, like Lois Freeman, betook themselves to the Mandeville Canyon estate of Hollywood producer Ken Russell for an opening-night soiree, where they rubbed elbows with such Tinseltown luminaries as Brad Pitt and his new bride, Jennifer Anniston, Angie Dickinson, Michael York, Whoopi Goldberg , Gregory Peck, and David Brenner.
On Monday night, Shelby County Democratic chairman David Cocke and Gore cousin Dawn Lafon, who teaches Latin at White Station High School, were invited, along with Gore intimates and fellow Memphians Jim and Lucia Gilliland, to watch the presidents address in a special box just under that of former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalyn Carter -- the best seats in the house, said Cocke. They sat elbow-to-elbow with model/actress Christie Brinkley.
Sunday saw some of the, rubbernecking the protesters in Pershing Park across the street from the downtown Regal Biltmore - site of the 1937 Academy Awards show, according to a souvenir photograph in each hotel room, and the temporary abode of most of the Tennesseans. At that stage of the game, the protesters were part of the entertainment. Not so much later on, especially when bus schedules to and from the arena were interrupted by demonstrations and by massed formations of the LA police, who were out in force, determined-- as various commentators in print and on the tube kept observing-- to overcome the shabby image of recent corruption scandals with a show of effectiveness at crowd-control.
Later on Sunday night, following an official Tennessee reception at the California Science Museum, most of the Tennesseans went to an affair at an amusement-park area on the Santa Monica Pier, sponsored by the conservative congressional Blue Dog caucus. That event was complicated by such factors as a crowd overflow, leaving many of the Tennesseans shut out of the action by a zealous security effort.
Mounted patrolmen kept at bay several large knots of protestors, who chanted such slogans as Al Gore, Corporate Whore! and generally taunted the delegates. State Gore 2000 official Janice Lucas of Memphis made a hasty exit from the affair, saying as she went, Ive never been so harassed in my life. That kind of experience, the tightly packed nature of the crowds, and the generous amount of moist and clumpy waste dumped on the beach by the officers steeds all dimmed the luster of the event somewhat
Memphians had conspicuous roles at the convention. House Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry was scheduled to be one of the speakers placing Gores name in nomination Wednesday night (along with the vice presidents daughter, Karenna Gore Schiff, who logged some time locally a few years ago as an intern at WREG-TV, Channel 3). State Representative Carol Chumney and State Senator Steve Cohen each had input on the official proceedings as members of the convention platform committee.
Chairman Cocke, not for the first time, pitched Cohen on the idea of running for Shelby County Mayor when the office comes due again in two years, and Cohen, not for the first time, said hed give the idea serious consideration.
One of the most eagerly sought-after artifacts of the convention pre-existed it by a few days. The New Yorker last week published a lengthy analysis of Gore, written by Nicholas Lemann, which in great detail documents the existence in the vice president of two personalities, the famous wooden political or public one and a private one, rarely revealed but captured in the article in detail, which runs to intellectual and logical clarity, almost to a rarefied extreme.
Only a copy or two of the magazine Ð quickly gathering a reputation as definitive on Gore - arrived in Los Angeles Ð and there was a lengthening waiting list among Tennesseans who wanted to see for themselves.
Lemann, incidentally, is a New Orleans native and a relative by marriage to Memphis lawyer Jay Linde, who was in Los Angeles doing ad hoc work for Rep. Ford. Another Memphian, businessman Pace Cooper, has a well-known cousin-by-marriage, too - vice-presidential nominee Joe Lieberman.
One of the most unexpected-- and cryptic - remarks made at this convention came from State Democratic chairman Doug Horne, a genial East Tennessee mega-businessman whose public remarks are often unscripted and who told Tennessee delegation members at their Monday breakfast , When I was a young man, I did some of the stuff George W. Bush is said to have done. The remarks, part of a generalized stream-of-consciousness in his welcoming remarks to the delegation, were a propos no particular issue.
And later he announced that state Gore 2000 official Lucas had advised him that he really hadnt done what George W. Bush did in his youth.
Still later, Hornes wife Brenda told a reporter, He didnt do anything that bad after I knew him, or Id have put him in Time-Out real quick! TV commercials on behalf of the U.S. Senate candidacy of Democratic nominee Jeff Clark were scheduled to begin running this week, Clark and partner/campaign manager Joe McLean said at the Democratic National Convention here Monday.
The commercials, on the theme, They Said It Couldnt Be Done, focus on Clarks underdog role in the Democratic primary and now against incumbent Republican Bill Frist. The 30-second spots were scheduled to start on Tuesday of this week and run through the convention during coverage of convention events on CNN outlets in Tennessee.
Coincidentally, Clark and McLean were having to say, on another matter, that it wasnÕt done. This-- or rather, thes- -- were harassment allegations made in the past by two of Clarks students at Middle Tennessee State University. Featured in a Nashville Tennessean story Sunday, the claims were made by a female student, who said in 1997 that Clark had entered a supply closet where she was taking a test and sexually harassed her by putting his crotch in her face, and by a male student, who accused Clark of profanity and sexist and racist comments in class.
Theres no there there! Clark insisted to Tennessee reporters at the convention after the delegation breakfast Monday. And partner/manager McLean said, Were not talking about that any more! And, in truth, the 1998 claim by student Thomas West was undercut somewhat by a finding of the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of that "we could not find a witness who was willing to corroborate his story." And the other claim, made in a 1997 campus police report by studentLori Ann Parr, who alleged that Clark came uncomfortably close to her when she was taking a make-up test in a supply closet in 1996, never was the object of legal action.
Even as Democrats from Tennessee were making news in LA, Texan Bush decided to make some in Tennessee, arranging to speak in Bartlett at 11 a.m. Friday at Brother International Corporation, 3131 Appling Road. (This news was featured on the Flyers website, updated daily, at www.memphisflyer.com.)