BOSTON - "If you've got a beef, we've got the bun."
So might go the motto for convention week as Democrats raise the torch for America's poor, tired and ticked off masses.
Between protesters, barricades, riot police and bomb-sniffing dogs, sections of the city feel like old East Berlin - without the charm. Or Epcot on acid. Never have so many diverse peoples had such a bad trip on such a happy day.
On Sunday, a coalition of protesters was let out of its "cage" - a cyclone-fenced holding area designated for the aggrieved - and allowed to march down Portland Street toward the FleetCenter convention area.
A ragtag assortment of humanity, many sporting long, gray ponytails, they were a cornucopia of complaint, marching for everything from repeal of the Patriot Act, to Mumia's freedom, to hands off Venezuela.
At a nearby intersection, 25 or so pro-lifers threw themselves to the ground and assumed the fetal position inside body outlines chalked on the pavement, while a man with a megaphone explained that each body represented thousands of children killed by abortion. A small army of riot police stood by as reporters, photographers and videographers crowded around to capture the vignette on an otherwise sparse news day.
Meanwhile, at Copley Square, which is bordered by several hotels housing state delegations, practitioners of a meditation and exercise technique called Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong (but you knew that), were demonstrating against China's torture of Gong followers.
A parade that circled the square featured beautiful Asian women wearing traditional garb performing fan choreography and a float depicting torture victims in bloodied white pajamas. According to pamphlets handed to anyone making eye contact, China has detained or imprisoned thousands of Gong disciples, whose "crime" is aspiring to Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance.
All good traits during a political rally that is posing as a positive momentum-building march toward regime change by cheerful, diversity-affirming Democrats, who are for The People, unlike those war-mongering, swaggering, elitist Republican cowboys.
It is a tall order in the midst of so much anger and protest to be Positive! But that's the order of the day. Hold the negative on Bush, affirm the positive about John Kerry and John Edwards. Howard Dean, not known for his coyness, told Florida delegates at a Monday breakfast that he was struggling:
"I know I'm not supposed to bash Bush," he told the early-morning crowd, "But it's going to be very hard."
As it must be for most Democrats, who face a double challenge this week and in the coming months of spreading the message of a candidate they're not passionate about, while building momentum on an underlying, if not overt, negative.
Edwards and Kerry can grin until Crest stocks break the sound barrier, but their ultra-brite smiles can't conceal the party-seethe beneath the surface. As students of Nurse Ratched know, repressed anger is a tricky rascal.
But the biggest road bump - and the telling-est irony - may be selling the message that John Kerry is the people's candidate. Kerry may be a lot of things, many of them admirable, but a billionaire's husband whose Swiss boarding school masters worried about the Kerry boy's "excessive amounts of self-confidence" is no more Of The People than George Bush is Of The Prairie.
And though Edwards can part the kudzu and speak down-home, he can't single-handedly solve the Democrats' authenticity problem. You simply can't fake authenticity.
Bill Clinton was a lot of things, not all so admirable, but he was the real deal when it came to The People. He didn't have to fake the schmooze or ask directions in the trailer park, while Kerry is the awkward white boy who whiffs on the high-five.
An on-line photo series of Kerry's life tells the story: here's Kerry gazing pensively; here's Kerry thinking deeply; here's Kerry sketching on Cape Cod. What, no penning poetry while stroking the pet poodle?
Fast-forward to Monday night's Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway Park, and here's Kerry tossing the first pitch to a soldier, a National Guard veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. Nothing contrived about that!
Americans love theater as much as anyone and expect a little choreography with their conventions. But they also possess a highly evolved sense of malarkey and know when something's phony. In the end, authentic anger may play better in Peoria than pretend populism. At least it's real.