Monday night was over before it started. Sure, there would be Hillary, delivering a singsongy speech with all the oratorical music of a Boeing jet engine. Sure there would be Bill, requiring the Jaws of Life to pry his fingernails from the podium. But my hopes for truly fine TV were dashed once Loretta Sanchez took herself out of the speaker lineup, thus eliminating any chance that she'd tear into Al Gore's bad-Spanish-speaking ass for hypocritically scotching her Hispanic fund-raiser at the Playboy mansion. (Let's not forget that Hugh Hefner helped give Jimmy Carter the presidency by publishing his "lust in my heart" interview in 1976, which of course went unmentioned in Carter's Irving Thalberg Award film that night.)
Alas, Sanchez said the hoo-hah at Hef's had drawn "too much attention" to her; viewers, perhaps, by now believed that she would actually herself strip nude but tastefully! at the podium. Nonetheless, the Democrats trotted out its otherwise unbroken lineup of female congresspeople, and it's testament to the enduring sway over the party of Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court appointment power that none of them raised a peep about being segregated in one block like some "Babes of the Senate" spread in the August issue.
Which left the cable networks for most of the night covering the Rage Against the Machine concert outside the Staples Center ("Does that qualify as a mosh pit?" asked Fox's Brit Hume) and trolling for celebrities to fill the space between Michael Beschloss segments. All but PBS, which wouldn't air Melissa Etheridge singing "America the Beautiful" but did air a slick DNC video about a welfare mother who opened her own business that, apparently, does not count as a packaged showbiz event.
In fact the public-TV network was single-minded in its determination to air every speech by every party hack who got near the mike from 8 to 11. This, evidently, is the missing "public service component" bemoaned by The Washington Post's Tom Shales and other crab- apple advocates of universal convention coverage: the urgent obligation to provide valuable airtime to two money-glutted parties to show free ads and the somnolent dronings of state assistant attorneys general. I say ABC deserves a government subsidy for airing Monday Night Football, which with Dennis Miller probably featured more trenchant commentary than three cable-news networks combined.
If the parties do want to guarantee more coverage from the networks in the future, here's an idea: all-celebrity delegates! It worked, anyway, for New York Dem delegate Christie Brinkley, who apparently is "active in [her] community on environmental issues," and thus got interviewed on the floor by MSNBC strictly, of course, for her political expertise. The august Ms. Brinkley sputtered that Al Gore should run two ads a day demanding regular debates from George W. Bush, who is "trying to cheat the American people" of political dialogue. Claire Shipman, in the best line of the night, dryly thanked her for her "very profound yet simple political advice." Later, Cher, endorsing Al Gore on "Larry King Live," said "I'm not speaking out as a star... I'm speaking out as an American." (Honey, if you feel the need to say that you're speaking out as a star.)
Late in the evening far too late the party presented its own stars. In a monumental failure of symbolism, Hillary Clinton was introduced to the strains of "New York, New York," an anthem of carpetbagging a song about leaving your real home to move to New York and become "king of the hill, top of the heap" overnight. Finally, serial convention filibusterer Bill was introduced by a greatest-hits film in which, evidently, he was elected president, comforted the nation after the Oklahoma City bombing, was reelected, and achieved world peace. (Did they leave anything out?) He took up several minutes of network prime time being filmed walking down a hallway and soaking up cheers, leaving approximately five minutes to say something nice about the man trying to succeed him as president before the nation got drowsy.
He got around to that about 11:20, to the consternation of nightly-news producers who lost a night's ad revenue. Al Gore, he said in a speech punctuated with some unfortunately familiar-looking finger-wagging was a profoundly decent man who loved his children, a leader who understood the challenges facing America in the twenty-first century. Al Gore put people above partisanship. He was born in Tennessee, in the wagon of a traveling show. His mama used to dance for the money they'd throw.
Or something like that. Somewhere in there, I might have dozed off and dreamed about Cher.