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DNC DAY 5: It's 5 O'Clock, Do You Know Where Your Enthusiasm Is?

Hour after hour of pro forma took a toll on Democratic delegates

Issue: "Life after Clinton?," Aug. 26, 2000

In LA, convention proceedings began at 1 p.m. and ran until about 8 p.m. local time. Afternoon sessions were pretty much pro-forma: various Democratic dignitaries who had to be given stage time, even though no one really wanted to listen to them. Then, at 5 p.m. the beginning of prime time on the East Coast things moved into high gear. In theory, anyway. The problem all week was that the boredom of the afternoon sessions usually spilled over well into prime time, without a clear indication that something exciting was about to happen. (Sending Christie Brinkley out to lead the Pledge of Allegiance hardly counted as attention-grabbing.) Thus, on Thursday night, it was nearly 6 p.m. before the delegates really got into things. During a tribute to the Gore family, a fiddler took the stage and fiddled enthusiastically, sending several Oregon delegates into the aisle for some square dancing.

Then things came to a screeching halt. Al Gore let it be known well in advance that his speech would be heavy on policies and specifics. Sensing trouble, perhaps, convention planners scrambled to come up with somethingóanythingóto generate the warm, fuzzy feelings that voters and TV viewers seem to want. The solution: Sending eight Friends of Al out on stage to talk about the person behind the plastic fade. Perched awkwardly on risers that looked like 1970s dorm furniture, eight people among them an author, a climbing instructor, and a former aideótook turns telling their stories.

As the stories dragged on, delegates eyes glazed over. In the press area, reporters started reading magazines or flipping through TV channels. Where's the hook? a woman from Time magazine called semi-softly. Drag them off.

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When the segment was finally over, the fiddler started again. But the two women from Oregon remained in their seats. All the fun had been sucked right out of the hall.

Credit where credit is due. Even among liberal pundits, Al Gore gets a rap for being wooden. When he tries to show emotion, critics say it looks forced and artificial. But the emotion he showed as he took the stage Thursday night certainly looked genuine from a few feet away. After entering the arena on the floor level, high-fiving and shaking hands as he made his way to the front, he mounted the platform to the sound of deafening cheers. The swirling lights, the waving flags, the applauseóit was all for him. After eight years as an understudy, the moment seemed to overwhelm him, and the emotion was evident on his face and in his body language. Time will tell how he fares in the spotlight. But for this night, at least, it was hard to begrudge him the moment.

Tipping the scales. The only other moment of sheer joy on Thursday night came when Tipper Gore made her first appearance. Looking fabulous in a blue pantsuit, she took the stage as a live trio played Turn the Beat Aroundóa song old and safe enough not to require a warning label, evidently. But instead of getting right to her speech, she thrilled the crowd by boogeying to the music for several minutes. It was a great moment for the delegates, but it wasnít quite as spontaneous as it might have appeared: Even before she began her moves, the podium was slowly being lowered slowly into the platform, allowing her to dance unimpeded across the stage.

Star gazing. A big commotion overtook in the hallway of the Convention Center. A big crowd gathered. TV spotlights shone. Reporters zeroed in, sensing a story, or at least a good quote. Was it Joe Lieberman? Tipper Gore perhaps? Would you believe ex-supermodel Christie Brinkley, tossing her hair and showing lots of teeth as she explained why she decided to come to this convention as a delegate: something about her fear that the Republican Party would allow the NRA to come in and operate out of the Oval Office.

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