Kathmandu August 22:
The Democratic National Convention ended last night with what our columnist Frank Bruni called the speech of Joe Biden’s life. “It was a forceful speech, above all because it was a direct one, not ornamented with oratorical curlicues but animated by his messy experience in this unpredictable world,” Frank wrote. He quoted Biden on pain: “the deep black hole that opens up in your chest — that you feel your whole being is sucked into it.” The speech, Frank wrote, “had enormous credibility because it had enormous heart.” And the speech was direct in another way, too, in projecting the primal strength of a dad whose child wakes up from a bad dream in the bleak hours of the night. Biden promised to protect America “from every attack. Seen. And unseen. Always. Without exception. Every time.” He promised, in a time of darkness, to be an “ally of the light.” For this week’s Sunday Review, between the end of one virtual convention and the beginning of another, I asked Carl Hulse, the paper’s chief Washington correspondent, if he wanted to write a personal history of convention-going. What do we lose when the stage is shrunk to a laptop screen? It was actually our columnist Maureen Dowd’s idea. I didn’t know this, but Maureen and Carl are close friends and convention sidekicks.
They met in ’86, when Carl was covering D.C. for some Florida papers owned by The Times. “I had a small office off the main Washington bureau,” Carl told me. “Maureen was surprised when she saw me on the plane for Bob Graham’s Senate campaign. She had assumed I was the bureau accountant. She sent me out for Doritos anyway” — and a six-pack, Maureen interjected — “and I’ve been doing her bidding ever since.” From the July 22, 1988 edition of The New York Times.The New York Times They haven’t missed a convention together in 32 years. Carl said Maureen’s convention chronicles set the standard for convention diaries, “an approach that has often been duplicated but never replicated.”
Maureen called Carl “the Dean Martin of conventions; everyone knew him and he knew every hot party we could go to ferret out news and color.” He would drag her along and, eventually, she would drag him out again. The two — and the writer Frank Rich made three — were always on the hunt for the telling detail. “We’d get excited by the smallest nugget,” Maureen said: “Tipper Gore revealing to us in ’92 that Hillary would tell her what she intended to wear ‘and I wear the other color’; the Hollywood producer of Bill Clinton’s second convention show telling us that the D.N.C. logo had been designed by graphic artists who worked on the titles for ‘Jurassic Park.’” Maybe the most shocking convention moment they shared, Maureen said, was when news broke during the 1996 convention that Dick Morris — the guru who was responsible for Bill Clinton’s convention theme of family values — had “sucked on the toes of a $200-an-hour prostitute and allowed her to listen in on his conversations with President Clinton.” At least, she added, “that was the craziest moment until Donald Trump’s Disturbia convention in 2016, when he said — not presciently — that he would rescue America from ‘death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.’”
Through rousing speeches and falling balloons, they would “sit in the press seats and trade observations, some of them about the convention,” Carl said. This time, “our bon mots are being traded by telephone, email and text. We are as virtual as the conventions themselves. Maybe we will have a last hurrah in 2024.” You can read Carl’s essay about conventions today. Look for Maureen’s on Sunday.