George Packer’s Eyes

When being at the convention does matter

George Packer says the convention is better on TV, but he proves himself wrong with some irresistible on-site observation and flow-like-a-river prose:

Between the reporters and the delegates there’s a kind of invisible wall, as if both groups are too shy or distracted or indifferent to talk to one another. But around the makeshift stages of the news networks, which rise out of the convention floor, there’s always a traffic jam of delegates who have stopped to look at James Carville and Alex Castellanos and Anderson and Campbell, and watch the network stars speculate about what these same delegates might be thinking.

It’s lyrically fueled but efficient, this image. Moving on, Packer describes first his descent into the convention pit to hear Hillary Clinton’s speech, then the speech itself, showing us, if we’ve forgotten, why good journalists should be at political circuses like this:

With my precious floor pass on display around my neck, I waded into the sea of people down by the Michigan delegation to hear Hillary Clinton’s speech. She made her case up front: you couldn’t find a crack of resentment in her remarks about Obama. But the thrust of the speech wasn’t her support for the man. Her purpose was to remind the assembled delegates of their party affiliation. This was the speech of an old-time Democratic loyalist, and her theme of standing up for the low-wage worker, the sick woman with no health insurance, and the injured vet was Democratic red meat. She was saying: I don’t care what you think of our nominee—remember who you are.

It’s certainly not that someone watching Clinton speak on TV, far away from Denver, couldn’t have registered the same insight and written about it, perhaps more quickly. It’s simply that first-person, or in-person, writing is always more evocative, more exciting for the reader, and if you can be an eye in the crowd and register the insight, then you’re a step closer to the journalistic goal of entertaining and informing (which, given the incessant interchange between farce and banality—and the occasional moment of significance—at political conventions, seems hard to accomplish at the same time). The 15,000 can fight it out for the last press seat available in Invesco, but here’s hoping Mr. Packer made it in tonight.

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Jane Kim is a writer in New York.