Belmont Club

All The World's a Stage

The cardinal rule to enjoying stage magic is not to get close enough to see the stains on the stage curtain or the joinery in the props.  It ruins the effect. The same is true in politics. The view of the DNC convention — or any other convention — from the TV screen is one of magnificence, grandeur and lofty ideas.  Close-up it is dealers in the next motel room and hookers in the lobby. Journalists covering the convention see what things look like for the help.

I can’t speak for the delegates or ther foreign dignitaries, but many of the journalists I have spoken with here are appalled at the accommodations in Charlotte to which they were assigned by the DNC. National Review was assigned to two Knights Inn properties. Everyone who saw them fled immediately across state lines to an available Marriott in South Carolina rather than stay there. As one of our political correspondents reported:

The Knights Inn was the worst hotel I have ever seen, and I’ve stayed in many bad motels in my life. Two guys were dealing drugs in the room next to me, and a prostitute was working out of the parking lot. And this was in the early afternoon. The room itself was dirty, full of other people’s stuff, etc. I have never requested a hotel change in 3 years at NR. This was the first time I felt absolutely compelled.

Nor was National Review singled out. Staff members from Politico and the Hill abandoned their assigned hotels, too. Staffers from the Hill found refuge in a cheap Microtel and considered it a comparative oasis.

Tucker Carlson, editor of The Daily Caller, told me that the Quality Inn his staff was assigned to was “the worst hotel you can imagine.” TripAdvisor carried these recent reviews: “barely a Bates Motel,” “scary area and parking lot,” and “the worst.”

But it’s out of sight and therefore out of mind. In modern politics everything is subordinated to the Image. Even the choice of venue is critical, as the Daily Mail reports. Worried that they might not pack an outdoor auditorium with enough supporters to give a good impression, DNC organizers may move things to an indoor auditorium to avoid the dangers of ‘severe weather’ — and bad optics.

Democrats are poised to avoid the danger of President Barack Obama accepting his party’s nomination before a partially-empty stadium by shifting his speech to an indoor arena and citing ‘severe weather’.

The Obama campaign have been working desperately to ensure that the 74,000-seater Bank of America stadium in Charlotte would be filled.

Buses for students from across North Carolina and even members of black churches in neighboring South Carolina have been arranged.

Footage of rows of empty seats at the stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers, as Obama speaks on Thursday night would be politically disastrous – an enduring image of the contrast between his campaign of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ in 2008 and his dour, negative struggle for re-election in 2012.

Now, it looks like the weather has come to the President’s rescue.

The candidate himself is behaving like a show horse before the final exhibition. The New York Times has a story describing a president who fills every waking moment with card games, golfing afternoons, basketball games and gym routines — and every opportunity to practice his oratory — in an unending quest to make himself the most interesting man in the room.

As Election Day approaches, President Obama is sharing a few important things about himself. He has mentioned more than once in recent weeks that he cooks “a really mean chili.” He has impressive musical pitch, he told an Iowa audience. He is “a surprisingly good pool player,” he informed an interviewer — not to mention (though he does) a doodler of unusual skill.

All in all, he joked at a recent New York fund-raiser with several famous basketball players in attendance, “it is very rare that I come to an event where I’m like the fifth or sixth most interesting person.” …

For someone dealing with the world’s weightiest matters, Mr. Obama spends surprising energy perfecting even less consequential pursuits. He has played golf 104 times since becoming president, according to Mark Knoller of CBS News, who monitors his outings, and he asks superior players for tips that have helped lower his scores. He decompresses with card games on Air Force One, but players who do not concentrate risk a reprimand (“You’re not playing, you’re just gambling,” he once told Arun Chaudhary, his former videographer).

His idea of birthday relaxation is competing in an Olympic-style athletic tournament with friends, keeping close score. The 2009 version ended with a bowling event. Guess who won, despite his history of embarrassingly low scores? The president, it turned out, had been practicing in the White House alley.

When he reads a book to children at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, Mr. Obama seems incapable of just flipping open a volume and reading. In 2010, he began by announcing that he would perform “the best rendition ever” of “Green Eggs and Ham,” ripping into his Sam-I-Ams with unusual conviction. Two years later at the same event, he read “Where the Wild Things Are” with even more animation, roooooaring his terrible roar and gnaaaaashing his terrible teeth. By the time he got to the wild rumpus, he was howling so loudly that Bo, the first dog, joined in.

Anything so that on the Day, on the Hour, he can fill the stage with that limitless perfection that only he can generate. Yet despite the intensity of these exertions the president is disappointed to find himself in a close contest with Willard “Mitt” Romney. Puzzled at how anybody so perfect can be neck and neck with someone called Willard, or worse yet Mitt, Obama has manifested an open contempt toward his political rival. The NYT continues:

As far back as 2008, Mr. Obama’s assessment of Mr. Romney was scathing. On the day Mr. Romney dropped out of that presidential race, Mr. Obama told reporters that the former governor was a weak candidate who made “poorly thought out” comments (the compulsive grader again). He savored Mr. Romney’s stumbles in the Republican primaries this time around, an adviser said, professing wonder that it took him so long to lock up the nomination. …

He recently began preparing for the presidential debates, reading up on Mr. Romney and his positions. One danger is that he could sound grudging or smug by indulging in his habit of scoring others (as in, “You’re likable enough, Hillary,” one of his worst debate moments from 2008). As he slashes into Mr. Romney’s arguments, he sometimes cannot help letting crowds know what he thinks of his rival’s political skills.

“He’s shooting for a Tony,” one of his aides joked. “(He has already won a Grammy, in 2006, for his reading of his memoir, ‘Dreams From My Father’ — not because he was a natural, said Brian Smith, the producer, but because he paused so many times to polish his performance.)”

But does the constant search for applaus and the almost mystical insistence on in his own superiority reflect real confidence or the compulsive need for reassurance? Is Barack Obama Joe Louis or Primo Carnera, whose life was fictionally portrayed in the movie The Harder They Fall? Is he really the Greatest or just a chump built up by promoters against patsies now headed, for the first time in his career against a rated boxer?

The New York Times article on Obama says it depicts a man who hates to lose. “As he faces off with Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, Mr. Obama’s will to win — and fear of losing — is in overdrive. He is cramming for debates against an opponent he has called “ineffective,” raising money at a frantic pace to narrow the gap with Mr. Romney and embracing the do-anything-it-takes tactics of an increasingly contentious campaign.” But all champions know what it is to lose. The NYT profile may also be the portrait of person who terrified of taking a punch; a man whose pain and disappointment threshold is exceedingly low and therefore must convince himself that when it comes, it will be nothing.

President Obama has asked everyone to believe in him. But does he deep down believe in himself? The contrast between the artificial glitter of the Presidential stage and the fleabag reality of the convention is suggestive. While it is disappointing to get too close to the stage and see that the king’s crown is made of cardboard there is no harm in it. Stage kings are in the business of illusion, not reality. It’s a different matter when you look too closely at a real-life president and find cardboard. Or maybe illusion is real life? Remember, it’s ok if you just don’t stop believing.

Just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world
She took the midnight train goin’ anywhere
Just a city boy, born and raised in south Detroit
He took the midnight train goin’ anywhere

A singer in a smokey room
A smell of wine and cheap perfume
For a smile they can share the night
It goes on and on and on and on.

Don’t stop believin’
Hold on to the feelin’
Streetlights people.

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