09/27/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Conventioneering: Wednesday, August 27

Wednesday, August 27

1:34 am MST - There is malice, pure, like the platonic form of anger, that can drive a person wild. The easiest way to see it: reject someone from a party when he's three sheets to the wind. Being a gentleman, I stuff this fury under the surface so that it can emerge, years from now, when someone I love does something trivial. That's what makes America great... or abusive and angry. Anyway, it's a good strong strategy.

Before the rejection, I spent the evening at a small piece of Los Angeles transported directly to Denver: the Screen Actor's Guild party. Stuffed full of lovely women with artificially enhanced breasts, preposterously lavish hors d'oeuvres - including fresh oysters (one thousand miles from their homes), and occasional celebrity sightings (Ben Affleck hovered near the back). It was an event that could only be ruined by someone giving you a ticket to a party across town that has a bouncer who turns you away. Oh well. Bedtime.

9:15 pm MST - Barack Obama is pretty much a rockstar. When he arrived in Israel on his recent trip abroad, the Daily Show joked 'he made a brief stop in Bethlehem to visit the manger where he was born.' No one would make that joke here because we are afraid to expose what many of us think.

And how could we not see Obama as the democratic party's Messiah? The man appears from nowhere to bless his running mate without anyone having an advance notion. Biden's speech was lovely - though it bears noting that the tragic, beat-up-as-a-kid-wife-in-hospital-look-at-my-Irish-Catholic-mother Biden is more moving and appealing than attack Biden. The only thing that could overshadow that speech would be, say, a Maury-Povitch style surprise guest ('you mention that Obama's a great man, well Joe, we've got a surprise for you right here in the studio'), which is of course what happened.

Obama, of course, didn't really need to say anything. He could just bask for a few moments and then retreat in preparation for his own big night.

7:35 pm MST - Things done for 'the greater good' or 'in the name of truth' so frequently end up harmful that there is a full literary sub-genre devoted to characters who come to despise themselves for what they have done in the name of deeply held beliefs. Think of Kurt Vonnegut's 'Mother Night,' a novel with the immortal wisdom "be careful what you pretend to be, because in the end you are who you're pretending to be."

It's wisdom that politics could use. Bush may well have objected to slamming gay marriage for political gain in his private conversations (in fact, he did in 2000), but he's no less of a shameful bigot because he was initially reluctant to unleash the tactics he did.

It's a theme that the Dems tonight could keep in mind as well. John McCain is not George Bush and while hammering home the theme 'more of the same' makes solid political sense, the speeches that got under your skin and brought you to your feet were the ones based in reality. Sure, slam McCain for his dramatic reversal of character since winning the nomination, but call it what it is and don't pretend the years of Bush-McCain strife didn't exist.

The speech of the night award goes to Kerry for this reason. I admit to ridiculous bias on this point. Kerry was my first candidate and I was heartbroken when he lost in '04. But my bias aside, he wins because he took an apathetic crowd and turned us.

The applause was tepid when he arrived on stage. Delegates where chatting with one another. But he used his attack dog position - the theme of the night was 'fuck you McCain,' though the DNC would probably phrase it differently - to elicit pathos. This audience remembers '04 with fury. He talked about the John McCain who was a maverick and the tragedy of presidential politics that turned that man into a cardboard cutout. Here's a favorite blurb:

"Candidate McCain now supports the wartime tax cuts that Senator McCain once denounced as immoral. Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCain's own climate change bill. Candidate McCain says he would now vote against the immigration bill that Senator McCain wrote. Are you kidding? Talk about being for it before you're against it."

My understanding is that I am one of the relatively few people in the country who saw this speech because the news and cable news (there's a difference) cut away to their pundits or sponsors. It's a shame. Kerry left the stage to rapt attention and standing applause.

3:09 pm MST - Women in congress are here. And they have about the best snack food available. That's what I learned today from House Majority Leader Pelosi's event celebrating women in Congress. My celebration took the form of gluttony.

Apart from the petit fours, the joy of the event came mostly in the form of people watching. Along with speaker Pelosi were the twelve other congresswomen, Annette Benning, and Theresa Heinz Kerry.

12:04 pm MST - On the way back from the political briefing this morning, a man in front of a local bank held a sign saying 'Jesus Saves,' prompting the obvious question 'how much and at what rate of interest?'

We were also accosted by peaceniks on the way back, who forced pink buttons reading 'I am a delegate for peace' on me. I assured them I was not a delegate, but this made no real difference.

Let's get to some dirt though: what are the strategists thinking? There was a political strategy briefing this morning. Among the key points: there are now 18 states that the campaign considers contested, four of those - Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Michigan - are states that Kerry won in '04. The remainder include old standards (Florida, Missouri, Ohio, New Mexico, Nevada); some states that have been moving our way for some time now (Colorado, Virginia); and a bunch of states that seemed pretty untouchable last election (Georgia, North Carolina, North Dakota(!), Alaska, Montana, Indiana, and - most absurdly - Alaska). Obama is essentially mounting a campaign for a statewide office in each of these places and all are within close striking distance.

On the defensive end are Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, and - sort of - Maine. All of these are states that McCain is leaving uncontested for the present, but are close enough that things could shift pretty dramatically if Obama gaffes or slides a bit in the polls. Maine and Nebraska are both a touch odd in that they split their electoral votes by congressional district. So it's possible that McCain could pull an elector from Maine or Obama one from Nebraska.

Obama's running massive campaigns in all these states (and smaller campaigns in the others). In some - Florida or Ohio, say - his campaign structure is what it would be if he were running in only that state (for Senate or governor, say). He has offices everywhere with enthusiasts manning his phones and knocking on doors, trying to persuade on a person to person level.

But what will it take to win these suckers (the states not the people)? Well, if we're lucky, there's the youth vote. Hunter Thompson prophesied the youth vote in '72 and by the time those voters started making a difference, their moniker no longer fit. McGovern himself, the 'most decent man in the Senate' was at the Pepsi center (for the Coke-sponsored convention) last night walking around like a ghost of past hopes. The youth vote has been waiting in the wings for forty years now, but indications are that it might finally enter the fray. We youngsters like inspiration and Obama has the potential to deliver it. Obama's enthusiastic supporters - as opposed to merely 'eh?-what-the-hell' supporters - number in around 52%. McCain zealots are about half that, around 28%.

But here's the rub: Obama's numbers are dropping. He's gotten kicked around a bit in the past few weeks of news and people - me included - need a hope-refuel. Obama has that remarkable potential to sound like a preacher or a prophet or a messiah like he did in Boston. Or to pull his listeners through complexity, like he did in Pennsylvania. The question is can he do both this Thursday: inspire the legions of college-students, high school dropouts, and other recently-eligible voters and also convince the CNN/Fox News junkies that he has the brain power and gravitas to lead better than our old (key word) friend McCain.

It's going to be a fight through election day either way, but the next couple days can give his massive state campaigns a shot of adrenaline that sure couldn't hurt.