BOSTON -- Monday night, I ran into Andy McLeod, the Bushies' worst nightmare, wearing a T-shirt and blocking people without valid passes from taking an escalator to the second floor of Boston's Fleet Center. McLeod once worked in former California GOP Gov. Pete Wilson's Resources Department. Four years ago, he was an alternate delegate at the GOP convention in Philadelphia. "That was my last gasp as a Republican, because the party has gone too far right," McLeod tells me. Now, McLeod is an usher at the Democratic National Convention.
McLeod came up from his Florida home to camp at his sister's house in a Philadelphia suburb while he pitches in to help elect John Kerry president. "I'm a centrist," he explains. "I feel strongly about choice and the environment and international affairs."
I have to hand it to the Democrats. They know how to package themselves as centrists, so that even a smart guy like Andy McLeod sees the Democratic Party's platforms as centrist.
The convention is also doing a solid job of conveying to the American public an image of Democrats as regular folk -- with very American weight problems, tacky campaign paraphernalia and an earthy take on issues. I am in awe.
Because, while Republicans have most Americans on board with the big issues (the biggest being that Americans don't want to pay higher taxes to fund a bigger government), the Democrats have managed to seize the squishy middle with issues that the public may not understand.
Bill Clinton delivered a masterful speech Monday night. He made White House policies that represent the middle -- and mirror Clinton policy -- seem extreme and foolhardy. Note how Bubba was disappointed that President Bush withdrew "American support for the climate-change treaty." Clinton seemed so pained, you would never guess that he never put the global-warming treaty before the Senate for ratification. Or that Kerry was one of 95 senators who, in 1997, voted for a resolution that opposed main parts of the Kyoto global-warming pact.
Yet the delegates cheered Clinton, apparently convinced that Kerry is on the right side of this issue -- and Bush on the wrong and extreme side -- apparently unaware that Kerry and Bush hold very similar positions.
I'm not saying the Dems have no big "middle" issues: They have assault weapons. Sen. Dianne Feinstein sponsored the popular assault-weapons ban, which is set to expire this year. Bush says he supports the ban, too, but his failure to prompt Washington to pass an extension of the bill lives on as an example of Bush wrongly putting the interests of his backers before the public will and the public good.
But the rest of this convention is straddle and show. The party is for the war in Iraq but against how it was done. The party is for the war on terrorism and yet against it. Convention speakers say they believe in a positive campaign, while denouncing the opposition as evil, venal and stupid.
If it works, why not?
Democratic Party biggies know they can allow hatemonger Michael Moore to sit in the presidents' box, next to the Carters. They know that Jimmy Carter can imply that Bush lied to Congress and America, and the next day, pundits still will marvel at how unusual party discipline muted fevered Bush-bashing.
Now, Team Kerry seeks to convince America that its anti-terrorist approach is "tough and smart," as Kerry intones in his new TV spots. I love how Kerry can be tough and smart -- yet misled to vote for the war by the "uncurious'' George W. Bush.
The latest big non-story here concerned Teresa Heinz Kerry's telling a journalist to "shove it" after lamenting the incivility in political discourse. It's interesting to note that Heinz Kerry snapped after the writer questioned her about her use of the term "un-American."
Heinz Kerry says she became a Democrat after Republicans questioned the patriotism of Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, a wounded Vietnam vet, because of Cleland's opposition to Bush anti-terrorism policies. Yet, at a press conference Tuesday morning, former Clinton foreign-policy adviser Jamie Rubin would push to implement the 9/11 panel's recommendations because: "This isn't about partisanship. It's about patriotism."
An hour later, I watched the disciplined Kerry say the same words on TV. "This isn't about partisanship. It's about patriotism."
Wrong. After watching the Democrats claim the center, the non-partisan, inclusive center, I've come to believe: This isn't about patriotism -- it's about acting.