RACE FOR WHITE HOUSE
Come Thursday, Democrats hail The One
On the eve of the Democratic Party convention to inaugurate new party king Barack Obama, authorities in Denver have raised the city's security alert from yellow to brown.
The governing city council was so fearful that bands of violent crazies are planning to stink up the area during the convention that they passed a hasty law last month which bans anyone from carrying bags of urine or faeces on city property and streets.
In dread that some demonstrators might do their doody in Denver, the city has simply ignored the US constitution ordering authorities to make ''no law... abridging the freedom of speech''. Protest is strictly limited. On the climactic day, all dissenters must speak from one football-stadium parking lot, or hold their peace.
From Monday Aug 25 through Wednesday Aug 27, Democrats will convene in the Pepsi Centre, home of the (hockey) Colorado Avalanche and (basketball) Denver Nuggets and venue of other exciting historical moments such as a Britney Spears concert. The arena holds around 20,000, which is big enough for crowds that will not see Barack Obama. They have pledged to hold ''the greenest convention in history'' with even the food (no fried items, please) vetted for political correctness.
Come Thursday, and Senator Obama will travel across the Interstate-25 expressway to the main Denver football stadium, largest enclosed area apart from a politician's ego. At Invesco Field at Mile High, 76,000 bottoms can hit reserved chairs, and it has altitude as well as attitude: a row of seats encircles upper tiers of the stadium at exactly 5,280 feet above sea level _ one mile.
But the main point is that Sen Obama is too big a deal for a mere indoor arena. And it is true. Invesco Field is sold-out for Thursday's speech by The One. Residents of host state Colorado were promised half the tickets to see the Obama speech, and there were 80,000 applications two weeks ahead of the event.
Political conventions are no longer contests, but rather choreographed celebrations.
Despite that, despite the fact Sen Obama is the presidential candidate, the Clintons are going to make him beat Senator Hillary one more time to make it official. More to the point, he will still have to endure prime-time, star-quality appearances by the whole Clinton clan at his personal show here in Denver.
On Tuesday night, Chelsea Clinton will speak to the convention about how wonderful her mother is. Mrs Clinton then will tell a nationwide audience and all Democrats how being a woman is a tough job in today's world _ not that she would hold that against the man who defeated her, of course. By coincidence, her speech is on the anniversary of American women getting the vote.
On Wednesday night, the ego of ex-president Bill Clinton will dominate the convention and news coverage, as Sen Obama continues to stay out of the spotlight. Both old Clintons have said a few times they don't think Sen Obama can even win the election. Some believe they don't want him to win, in order to allow Mrs Clinton to run again in four years.
Against the three Clintons, the winning candidate puts his wife on the speaker's stage on Monday to open the convention, and then will try to erase all memories of Tuesday and Wednesday with a fantastic climax at the football stadium on Thursday. Few doubt he will manage. By now, even the glib if somewhat bitter Mr Clinton knows that Sen Obama, operating from a script, is a super orator.
But out in the 5,000 square metres of Parking Lot J, adjacent to the northwest corner of the football stadium, protesters will be trying to do their bit to steal Thursday's attention away from Sen Obama as well. Despite Denver's Endangered Faeces Act, they could succeed.
On one side, in addition to the poop ban, Denver police have got a $50-million grant from the US government for security _ not far off the cost of the convention itself. Officers have stocked up on pepper spray. They also purchased _ irony alert _ a sound-emitting device said to make people defecate, and outfitted an entire warehouse with tiny cells to house the likely arrestees.
On the other, the protest group Re-create 68 will spend the entire week trying to provoke police into a confrontation like that of the Chicago convention in 1968, where police beat hundreds of people to the ground while bystanders chanted, ''The Whole World's Watching!''
It may seem incoherent for violent protesters to pick the anti-Bush party for its centrepiece demonstrations. But far-left groups in the Re-create 68 alliance believe the Democrats have sold out the radical anti-war and anti-American movements to President Bush and the Republicans, who will have their own convention in Minneapolis next week.
At its website (recreate68.org ) organisers say their slogan is ''Recreate 68! Back to the Future!'' They make no promise of peaceful protest at the convention, although ''neither Recreate 68 nor anyone else wants to see that kind of (Chicago) police violence repeated in Denver.'' Their goals: ''end the illegal occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan... humane immigration policy... replace free trade with fair trade, combat global warming and transform a corrupt, corporate-dominated political system into real democracy.''
All of that from one parking lot.