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Remembering Why I Don't Do Conventions

The last time I went to a national party convention was 1992, and I vowed never to go to another. But when Tina Brown asked me to “do” the conventions for her soon-to-start web site, I suddenly couldn’t remember why. What could be nicer than to be in the middle of the action, representing what is bound to be a “hot book,” and yet with no actual deadlines or obligations -- other than sharing my thoughts on no fixed schedule with Washington Post readers?

Well, one answer is home, watching it all on C-Span. There are all sorts of reasons people might not be enjoying themselves here. They might have been Hilary supporters—they might even be Hilary, or one of the disappointed Veep hopefuls. Or they might just be one of the thousands of journalists here, all chasing after the same negligible story. And, unlike 1992, there are now blogs by the thousands as well. My sources tell me that Obama will probably get the nod on Thursday evening. Get ready: it will be “historic.” In his speech, Obama will attack John McCain, George W. Bush, and Republicans generally. He will promise to end the war and improve the economy.

But enough inside dope. I had forgotten the curse of status anxiety. (Not that I care, of course.) A political convention, even that of the party of the people, is a festival of doors within doors. And the badge you wear around your neck tells the world how many doors you are authorized to pass through even if you’re in a Starbucks far from the convention site. Do you have a Hall pass or only an Arena pass? What? Only a PERIMETER pass? My dear!

Passing out the passes is always an occasion for much bustle and self-importance. (Cell phones are another post-1992 development that makes things worse: self-importance is now portable and universal.) This kind of pass must be collected every day, that kind is good for the whole week. A parking pass? You must be joking. Those applications were due weeks ago.

The desk where you collect your press credentials was supposed to close at 5 on Sunday. So I was pleasantly surprised to find it still open at quarter-to-six. Even more pleasantly surprising was the friendliness of the fellow at the computer. It was almost as if he was importuning me, not the reverse. My name? Not on the list. But no problem—just sign here anyway. Your driver’s license? No—what for? (Good grief, I thought. Someone call Homeland Security.) And here is your badge that will get you into all of our events. And here is a ticket to a party. We hope you’ll attend the governor’s press conference tomorrow.

Wait. The governor? Is this the DNC press credentials office? Why no, it’s just the state party of New York. Mr. Friendly directed me to the place where the real press credentials were handed out. Or rather, weren’t handed out. They had closed at 5 as promised.

Then there is the question of hotels. How far is yours from the convention arena? Mine is so far that it is even beyond the range of the shuttle bus system, forcing me to rape the environment by driving 40 minutes or so each way every day like some kind of Republican. Actually, my hotel is at the airport. When Denver International Airport opened some years ago, it was so far from everything that supposedly it was impossible to return your rentacar with a full tank of gas. In the years since, a few sprigs of commerce have sprouted, and the misleadingly named Days Inn Denver Business Center is one of them.

Finally, there is the question of parties. Were you invited to this one or that one? I ran into a friend who claims to be throwing the best party at the convention – it’s such a hot ticket that a former cabinet member has been begging for admission. My friend says he’ll get a ticket to me. I hope he doesn’t plan to leave it at my hotel.

By Michael Kinsley  | August 25, 2008; 12:00 AM ET
Categories:  Kinsley  | Tags:  Michael Kinsley  
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Only a PERIMETER pass? My dear!
Don't feel bad. Those of us at home don't have even that.

Posted by: Olive | August 25, 2008 7:56 AM | Report abuse

Tell 'em you're the Kinsley of the "Kinsley Reports", those two sexual revolution making books on human sexuality.

That will get you invited to parties.

Posted by: AsperGirl | August 25, 2008 9:02 AM | Report abuse

I love your writing. I laughed all the way through.
Your irrelevant perspective is just what is needed at these pontificating events.
It is too bad these are very serious times and Bush or his ilk have to go. The country can't stand another four years. The land has to lie fallow to rebuild for the next Republican rape.

Posted by: jetcitysteve | August 25, 2008 9:08 AM | Report abuse

First I read in one of your pieces that you listen to hours of conservative radio to stay abreast of what's being talked about. Now hanging out at a convention. I love your end product but I would hate to have to pay that price. My sincerest condolences.

Posted by: Tom C. | August 25, 2008 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Fortunately, in this era of conventions as infomercials, I have something none of the press assigned to cover this monstrosity have. I can avoid the canned comments, the cute, the endless repetition of last year's video footage, and the unwarranted hype and BS designed to make me believe that something different or important will stem from either convention.
I have an off button on my television. I plan to use it aggressively.

Posted by: slenon | August 25, 2008 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Olive - I have a "TV pass" that not only gives me access to a great view of the convention, but I can jump the line for food and rest rooms.

Posted by: Craigjjs | August 25, 2008 11:38 AM | Report abuse

She spells her name with two "l"s, Michael.

Posted by: David | August 25, 2008 1:06 PM | Report abuse

I have never attended any of the conventions or the fanfare that seems to go with them, and no, after reading this commentary, boy am I glad! Thanks for the laughs!

Posted by: jazziladee | August 25, 2008 3:08 PM | Report abuse

I hear you. I used to cover college sports, and I'll still string a game every now and then. Press passes are all about status. Screw the fans and the booster clubs and the season tix they proffer for unfair sums. The new season ticket is the press pass. Find any box in any D-1 College football game and you'll find more fans than working press.
As for me, I love the idea of live events -- beats paginating on deadline any day -- but I'm also a little nervous about being in crowds.

Posted by: Worthy Evans | August 25, 2008 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Now Now Michael... don't be making Republicans out of everybody that doesn't use public transportation. You'll lose a lot of votes that way! ;-)

Posted by: RIck | August 25, 2008 5:30 PM | Report abuse


I'm hoping you meant "irreverent" instead of "irrelevant"!

Posted by: ObamasnoOsama | August 25, 2008 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Sorry we failed you, Hillary. We should had worked harder - we should had worked smarter. Now we must accept Obama (the modern JFK) as our Commander-In-Chief, tutored by Biden (our new Dick Cheney) ... then again, perhaps not ... and I do approve this message.

Posted by: Louie | August 25, 2008 7:10 PM | Report abuse

It's somewhat comforting to see someone such as ObamasnoOsama pick up on what appears to be a gross error in diction on the part of Jetcitysteve. On the other hand, only a sports writer such as Worthy Evans, who owns up to being one once in awhile, could use, and get away with, such a non-word as paginate. "Paginate" - meaning what, to pageant?

Posted by: henryhump | August 26, 2008 2:17 AM | Report abuse

Well, well, Mr. "henryhump", it's always SO
good to be reminded that people such as you
represent the typical lame-brained, nearly
illiterate, and obviously ill-informed (or
ill-educated) present-day American citizen.
You might consider getting out your Webster's
dictionary (if you even OWN a copy), or
perhaps go to (MUCH easier for
a nitwit like you), and look up the words
"paginate" and "pagination". I can assure
you both that "paginate" IS a word, and it
has nothing to do with pageants.
WORD TO THE WISE: DON'T post comments if
you don't know what the hell you're talking

Posted by: mstreet2 | August 27, 2008 2:54 AM | Report abuse

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