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The Grand Finale in Charlotte

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Everything and everybody hits the wall as a national convention approaches its crescendo, diminuendo, and all the riffs in between -- all crammed into its grand finale: a nightlong recitativo with Wagnerian trills -- a cross between Ravel's "Bolero" and Little Egypt's hoochie-coochie.

For this is the way a national political convention ends, this is the way a national political convention ends, this is the way a national political convention ends, not with a whimper but a bang. Lots of bangs.

Which brings us to -- there's no avoding him -- the Hon. Joe Biden, vice president of the United States and shouter-in-chief. Talk about a ring-tailed roarer of a speech: If he had deliberately aimed to raise the volume and lower the level of public discourse in these kind-of-united but always raucous states of America, he could not have done any better. Or any worse. If there were a picture next to the noun dem-a-gogue in the dictionary, it would be his.

The crowd inside the arena loved it, loved him, loved itself. You could almost see the delegates hugging themselves. At last, their fondest hates and fondest loves, namely for the other party and their own, had been expressed. Loudly. "Four more years!" the chant began. "Four more years!" What a prospect to relish: Four more years of Joe Biden shouting at us. (Do the children have to hear this?)

But then came the maestro himself, the great orchestrator who would find the lost chord, the Toscanini of this show who would elevate its tone and turn all this rhetorical mayhem into mellifluence -- the one and only Mr. Cool himself, detached as ever but always, never forget it, just one of us. Just one of The People, as Evita Peron used to say. He stepped to the rostrum, the pandemonium slowly ebbed, and at last the great crowd grew quiet. At last it would hear from the man himself, the man whom this whole show had been about, and who began by assuring us it wasn't about him at all. It was about us. How about that? We built this after all.

It was Chesterton who, on getting his first glimpse of Times Square, with all its blinking lights and neon dazzlements, commented: "What a garden of delights this place would be for anyone who couldn't read." What a stirring, inspiring sight a national political convention might be if only it were conducted wordlessly, without all the requisite mandatory platitudes, beatitudes and just attitudes.

If you could somehow blur this president's words, smooth them to an even glossier finish, they wouldn't get in the way of his beautiful delivery, the soft jazz of his cadences, the muted rhythms of his performance. All quite lovely, even restful, assuring, soothing. There were no jarring discords in this score, no irksome details about just how his Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, was working out, or just how effective all those stimulus packages had been. Those got only a lick and lots and lots of promises.

It was only when you forced yourself to pay attention to the words, the words, the words, and asked what they meant, if anything, that hope faded and change became a thing of the past, forever postponed. As best I could make out the president's meaning through the verbal haze that covered any sharp edges, he was going to do all the things in his next four years in the White House that he had promised to do during the first. Just give him another term -- and be patient.

There was no hint here of what Martin Luther King Jr. used to call the fierce urgency of Now, which would only have interrupted the smooth flow of his rhetoric, and spoil what restaurant critics insist on referring to as the ambience. No meat and potatoes here, only dainty, tasty viands served with his usual assurance. Never fear, the real food, the actual sustenance, the payoff, will come later. Sometime. Someday. Bye and bye, there'll be pie in the sky. Just bear with him.

But just us as justice delayed is justice denied, promises postponed become promises broken. No one, at least no one in authority, dared ask: "Where are the jobs?" The latest unemployment report would arrive next day, like the morning after the night before. But till then, the speaker's voice lulled. And a nice voice it is, like a siren's call.

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