Can Dems Rally Crowds: No They Can't!


Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (D-Mont.) does a great, if unintentional, Lewis Black imitation, which was a breath of fresh air at last night’s Democratic convention, except that he continued to speak past 10:30, by which time Chelsea Clinton was supposed to have introduced her mother and Hillary Clinton was supposed to have begun healing the party.

But Schweitzer called on everyone, including those in the "cheap seats", to "get off their hind ends" and make some noise. They did, and seemed relieved to finally have someone who understood their desire to do so.

Earlier, Pennsylvania Sen. Robert Casey, who identified himself as son of the late Pennsylvania governor of the same name (it was governor’s night, apparently) had suggested that the country couldn’t take four more years of Bush policies, but only four more months. "Four more months!, four more months!," the crowd began to chant, only to have Casey step on the line in his haste to continue his prepared speech.

Then, former Virginia Gov. John Warner gave the keynote address–which Fox, alone among the cable news nets did not air. He came to a point where he, too, said that four more years of bush policies was unthinkable. But instaed of recapturing that lightning in a bottle, he snuffed out the crowd’s attempt to repeat the line as he continued with his prepared speech.

It is astounding to me that convention speakers are not trained to pick up on the kind of "call and response" line that can get crowds fully engaged.

"No way, no how, no McCain," said Hillary Clinton, once, and then did not repeat a line tailor-made for repetition. Clinton was dressed in a Denver Bronco-orange suit against a Denver blue stage background (Obama will accept the nomination Thursday at the Bronco’s home, Invesco Field).

She thanked her "Sisterhood of the traveling pants suits." But she also gave her ringing endorsement of Obama and said her supporters must do the same.

Her speech occasionally seemed to stray into what would have been her own acceptance speech, talking about all the things she had run to accomplish, rather than sharing that laundry list up front with Obama.

She also stepped on the poor "Call/response" starved crowd when it wanted to chant "no" each time she ticked off a criticism of Bush policies. Then she repeated the phrase "keep going," without allowing the crowd to echo or anticipate the call. Incredible.

Seems to me there is an opportunity for someone to launch a school for convention speakers, the first rule being to be ready to capture a moment and use it to your advantage rather than run from it like it was a maniac with a chainsaw.

For example, here’s a free phrase for Senator Joe Biden in his speech Wednesday night: "No he can’t."

Barack obama’s catchphrase, of course, is "yes we can." So, Joe, when you light into McCain Wednesday night, finally throwing some red meat to the crowd, say something like "Can John McCain solve our unemployment problem?," then answer quickly: "No He Can’t." Then, say: "Can he salvage failed foreign policies?" Then pause and lead the crowd in the response. Then say, oh, whatever you want, but make the phrases balanced and parallel, have them endable in "No he can’t," and let the crowd in…."

I don’t know if it was a coincidence, but CNN aired a McCain spot criticizing Obama and did not include the banner graphic that had festooned the bottom of a similar ad the night before and which at least one person had criticized as potentially confusing. It might have been a local spot, but the screen was squeezed with borders around it about the same dimension of CNN’s squeezing of the picture to fit in its convention graphics. So, I would like to think it was CNN making the right call….

I don’t know whether it was just my TV set, but CNN, MSNBC, and even Fox, which was the pool feed for the convention, seemed to be carrying the speeches on a tape-delay, since it was about seven seconds behind C-SPAN’s coverage. The broadcast nets, by contrast, appeared to be within a couple of seconds of C-SPAN….