In addition to their regular blogging, Tumblr convention correspondents are each writing a feature about the experience. Here’s Bobby Finger on what you missed by missing the Republican National Convention.
The elevator in Tampa’s Rivergate Tower bounces occasionally in the most anxiety-inducing manner. On the 9th floor, where Politico’s Hub was located, its floors are exposed cement — untreated and unpleasant. The lucite furniture is temporary, as are the crowds. But the view? The view is magnificent. Outside, drenched in a sunny blanket of humidity that seems to cover the entire city, the Republican National Convention is underway. Standing in the middle of the most important event of the election cycle thus far, I feel not just out of place, but from another world. I clutch my phone while leaning against the windowpane and see thousands of credentialed people on their way to do … what, exactly? I have four days to find out.
I understand the “business.” Delegates from each state come together and nominate their candidate of choice. (It’s all very formal — what with the “ayes” and such.) Then, after famous people of varying backgrounds tell us why they love him, the nominee speaks to the public during a grand, balloon-drenched finale in an attempt to make the public want nothing more than mark his name on a ballot in November. But you all know that. You’ve watched the news. You’ve gazed hypnotically at the fifty shades of gray in Romney’s streaks. All that makes sense. It has a purpose: to nominate a presidential candidate.
But what about everything else?
On Tuesday morning, my colleagues and I snaked through Tampa’s confusing highway system until arriving at Channelside, an open-air mall housing a bowling alley, MSNBC’s tent, and a Hooter’s, among other things. While I sipped free coffee provided by Morning Joe and took advantage of the wifi, various MSNBC personalities and correspondents came and went, both interviewing and being interviewed. “These people need to be here all week to report on the convention activities from the ground,” I thought as Lawrence O’Donnell and Chuck Todd walked past my table. But what Lawrence, Chuck, and countless other journalists were covering were the meat-and-potatoes events that took place almost exclusively on the convention floor, and I only had credentials for the appetizers. For the remainder of the week I would have to explore the outer dark. The periphery.
During the convention, this periphery (the streets surrounding the Tampa Bay Forum) was transformed into a maze of police barricades, orange cones, and temporary fencing straight out of a city planner’s incepted nightmare. They were the streets I would wander for the next few days -– where I would attend parties, brunches, luncheons, and various other events that required nothing more than an RSVP. Though I wouldn’t be running into Mitt, Paul, Clint or The Chair, these events were still technically part of the convention and were put on by various important groups and important people — or, at least, names that sounded important and people who appeared to be dressed importantly. (It’s amazing how a glossy, official-looking lanyard can increase your perceived notability by at least 12 notches.)
So there I was, surrounded by lanyards and free booze, ready to figure out why all of these people travel to places like Tampa, FL every four years. While observing my surroundings and the people who scurried around inside them, I noticed some trends and suddenly began to make sense of it all. Why were all these people here? There appeared to be four answers:
- Free food
- Open bars
At every turn, business cards were being traded like the rarest Pokemon in 1997, attendees happily repeated talking points back to one another, and people ate and drank like elephants — myself included.
At an event sponsored by The Huffington Post and MSNBC, Tom Brokaw hosted a luncheon focused on job creation. He spoke with panelists including Walter Isaacson and Ariana Huffington about how to get America working again. A number of intriguing ideas were discussed, but did you try that chicken? What about those tomatoes, huh? It’s like I was eating them right off the vine.
There was also something called Homocon, a surprisingly tame event sponsored by GOProud. It was a hot ticket, people lined up down the block to enter, but once inside attendees had better things to do than dance or ogle the dancers in GOProud-branded crop tops. There were people to meet. There were cocktails to drink. There were more cocktails to drink.
I attended a Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry brunch, where a handful of speakers (including Herbert Hoover’s great-granddaughter) approached the podium one by one and congratulated everyone in the room for supporting freedom, especially that one guy near the omelette bar. Apparently he supported freedom most of all. We applauded, grabbed a second bloody mary, and took another bite of that omelete. We would never have to eat again.
On the final day of the convention, before attending the “business” (Mitt Romney’s speech) that we had finally received credentials for, I returned to the Rivergate Tower to sit with my computer for a few moments. It was there, while looking down at the excited, red-draped crowds covered in lanyards and digesting every meal I’d been exposed to over the prior three days, that I realized my original list of four reasons was incorrect. The periphery just needed one reason to exist, and it certainly had a good one.
There’s a strengthening that comes from being in a space filled with like-minded people every once in awhile. It’s a relief to be surrounded by hearts and minds that are already on your side — colleagues with whom you can have drink, chat, and nod with, not just politely, but out of total agreement. It was so obvious. The televised convention floors of the RNC and DNC fire up the public, but their peripheries fire up the base. They validate their attendees and get them ready for the fight ahead.
And what better way to prepare for battle than with free brunch?
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