Peace . . . and Quiet


BOSTON—Notwithstanding all efforts by the media to hype the Democratic National Convention as some weird contest between the forces of civility (the Democratic Party) and the anarchist hordes (anti-war demonstrators), the week-long Kerry gala started off as a big bore.

With choppers hovering overhead, mounted police waiting in the trees, and squads of bicycle cops pedaling in formation up and down the paths of the Common, a few hundred protesters gathered to oppose the war. By mid-afternoon the numbers had grown—The Boston Globe estimated a crowd of 3,000, although that seemed on the high side—as the demonstrators marched through the streets to the FleetCenter.

A New York City ensemble called the Missile Dick Chicks, sporting strap-ons in the shape of missiles, trooped around doing anti-Bush skits at the Park Street subway entrance. (Catch the Voice‘s video of their performance earlier this month in Manhattan.) Bystanders gathered to click photos, laugh, and applaud. Behind them stood a couple of bored military police, drinking water, and a handful of poker-faced cops engrossed in their own conversations.

There was a pro-life rally of young women standing outside on the curb near the Paulist Center, where Kerry goes to church, and a tiff ensued when an anti-war demonstrator assailed a man carrying a pro-life sign. First the media pounced on it, and then the police jumped in.

Here, at last, was a sign of conflict. Not exactly the promised anarchist hordes attacking, but something.

Downtown, meanwhile, around the high-class hotels and the FleetCenter itself, snipers peered down from rooftops, and long lines of cops in helmets and visors could be seen marching in formation—like troops—to positions near the center. The authorities have constructed a cage-like affair to contain demonstrators once the convention begins—a plan that infuriates the protesters.

With the sun breaking through the clouds, and the Boston Common and surrounding gardens all green and beautiful, full of children and their parents strolling about, this was no Genoa. About the only real signs of discontent came from the long lines of reporters lugging heavy equipment, waiting to get into the Center.

Even before the convention officially begins, the Kerry forces, in best approved Clintonista manner, were reportedly readjusting their middle-of-the-road program away from domestic issues to backing the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission—both in an effort to put Bush on the spot but also because reports from the Midwest suggest that John Edwards’s domestic-agenda message is a dud. Everywhere he goes, apparently, Edwards is greeted by crowds who sit silently as he talks about the domestic agenda and then jump to their feet at mention of the Iraq war.

In the beginning, it was widely thought that Kerry’s nomination would mean a reprise of the Kennedy era, and at least something of a return to liberalism, but as it turns out, the nuts and bolts of the Kerry campaign are the old Clinton staff. So it’s Clinton’s former associates within the Democratic Leadership Council who are calling the shots here. Like all other platforms, the party’s 2004 planks teeter above a sea of platitudes, and this one carries the Clinton signature program of the new middle class as the centerpiece. But now, in light of the reception Edwards’s domestic pitch is getting, this may be retooled slightly.