Before The Speech

Light, heat, and drama before Clinton took the stage

The big news, and I use that word loosely, last night was all about The Speech. From about 20 feet above stage level, I watched the speech from the print press riser. None of the scribes alongside me had a honest head-on view of the stage—those seats, not surprisingly, go to the TV cameras and photographers.

The print section was littered with advance copies of Clinton’s speech, and several glowing laptops revealed stories already written, with a few TKs waiting to be plugged in once the deed was done. The journalists held applause and cheering, but when Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer got off a few good laugh lines (like: “We simply can’t drill our way to energy independence, even if you drilled in all of John McCain’s backyards, including the ones he can’t even remember”) there were smiles and chuckles.

Watching at home, you might have missed that quip, and the rest of the bolo-and-jeans wearing Schweitzer’s pleasant-up-front-singeing-in-the-back speech. MSNBC chose to feature a floor interview between David Gregory and Arizona Governor Bill Richardson, which focused heavily, as if to tee off the night’s big event, on his Obama-endorsing “Judas” moment, and residual animosity between the Clinton family and their old cabinet crony.

Because really (and CJR will have more on this later in the day) that drama, and related strains—the PUMAs, the polled working class whites, the ex-Hillary voters, the Lynn Rothschilds—is the story the press just can’t quit.

And, so, when Schweitzer shoved off—despite the crowd’s enthusiasm, you could feel the networks’ lust for a vaudevillian-elephant hook—the stage was clear for the big event. (Literally—like a dropping piston, the speaking podium slipped below podium level.) A few photographers in exile in the print section hoisted their stadium-sized cameras to the ready, only to have the lights dim and the Chelsea-narrated video retrospective roll.

And then, the Best Political Team on Television, ensconced on the CNN convention floor set moored along the Pennsylvania delegation, put down their BlackBerries and turned around in their chairs to watch. It’s been a good year of Clinton-Obama drama, with a few boiling months right in the middle. And at this apogee moment, even if you are a television professional, why let a monitor intermediate?

As the video wrapped up, Chelsea took the stage with a hand held microphone. Now we had genuine Clinton blood up there. Bright white “Hillary” signs carrying the legal disclaimer “Paid for by Obama for America” (how far we’ve come!) had been dispatched by DayGlo vest-wearing volunteers across the floor. Chelsea called for her “hero” to take the stage, and a human flash of a suited man rushed out to take the baton-microphone off the scion’s hand, so mother and child could hug for the cameras, the crowd, and the crowd watching courtesy of the cameras. The white signs—blinding when compared to Obama’s sedate blue—flashed through the arena. Cameras clicked at a furious pace, to a thunder that can maybe only be topped by doubling, or tripling the crowd.

Which is exactly what Obama plans to do tomorrow night before some 70,000 attendees, and a likely 30 million viewers at home. Good thing there’s a Skycam.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.