The first day of the Democratic National Convention in Denver opened with an informative NPR report on how political nominating conventions evolved from being actual contests to coronations -- shows that many believe have dubious news value. Essentially, after disastrous 1968 and '72 gatherings, the last one including George McGovern giving his acceptance speech well after midnight, Democrats decided on a process to deliver a nominee to the convention and in turn make the convention a big ad for their guy or gal.
So, if the DNC is a show, what was Monday's show?
The Cosby Show, according to Rev. Eugene Rivers on the 5 p.m. edition of MSNBC's Hardball. In an interview with Chris Matthews, Rivers said presumptive nominee Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, Monday night's speaker, had to work to make Americans as comfortable with their family as Bill Cosby had made the nation with his fictional upper-middle class, African-American family in the 1980s. "They are the Huxtables," Rivers declared.
Or, is it the Clinton show? CNN's Jack Cafferty expressed exasperation at all the attention being paid to primary runner up Hillary Clinton, her ex-President husband Bill, and their contentious supporters saying, "I hope I see some Barack Obama over the next four days."
~ Rachel Maddow, MSNBC's new 9 p.m. host, introduced "post-rational" as a phrase to describe disgruntled Clinton supporters threatening to disrupt the convention and vote for John McCain. We'll see how that catches on.
~ The big news story of the night was that the Obama and Clinton camps were trying to work out a roll call that would make both happy.
Or, the Kennedy show? One surname that wields more power in the Democratic party than Clinton is Kennedy. And while Clinton "news" kept rumbling under the proceedings, it was Kennedys that preceded Michelle Obama on stage. Specifically, it was Sen. Ted Kennedy, just a few months removed from surgery for a brain tumor. That he occasionally halted or fumbled a word reminded us he was still battling back and that being on that stage was of paramount importance to the party's elder statesman. That was punctuated by his invocation of his brother's torch and Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream imagery. It was also the first time that action on the stage was more compelling than the talking heads on cable news. OK, it was substantially more compelling than that.
Interesting that Kennedy's speech, strident in its liberal politics, even drew praise from the Fox News crew. Chris Wallace said it brought a tear to his eye, just a moment after being reminded by Brit Hume how he had mocked Teresa Heinz Kerry in 2004, saying he was waiting for her to break into Don't Cry for Me Argentina, after her convention speech for husband John Kerry.
It wasn't the Jim Leach show: The former Republican congressman from Iowa's speech was billed as an aisle-crossing moment, but the the news nets quickly pulled away from his dry remarks.
No, it was the Obama show: The video preceding Michelle Obama's speech had the line of the night from Michelle, recalling meeting her future husband at a law firm: "Who names their kid Barack Obama? So, I figured this kid has to be weird."
Obama's speech made the Obamas seem like the great American family, more real than the Huxtables, with a dad who carefully drove their first child home from the hospital and lived like most anyone else. It was punctuated with a cheesy moment where Barack Obama appeared from Kansas City via satellite feed. But if the script called for making the Obamas seem like a regular family, it succeeded. Affirmation of that came on Fox News, not from a quippy Wallace, but from NPR contributor Juan Williams, who said, "Given all the tensions in black America over families, and to see that positive image there for everybody to see . . . man, that's just awesome."
In the end, night one felt as warm as The Cosby Show, though post-show reviews generally called for something closer to Celebrity Smackdown the next three days.
On the Charlie Rose show, there was unexpected humor when ABC News contributor Matthew Dowd poo-pooed the idea of presumptive Republican Presidential nominee John McCain picking his one-time rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, as his vice-presidential running mate. "Mitt Romney has no Elvis," Dowd said, "and John McCain needs a little Elvis on his ticket."
Clinton, Kennedy, Cosby and Elvis. Maybe this wasn't such a bad show.
I'm off to listen to some Mojo Nixon, and contemplate whether Romney is the new anti-Elvis.