Special to msnbc.com
updated 7/30/2004 3:57:37 PM ET 2004-07-30T19:57:37

Veteran Newsweek journalist and NBC analyst Howard Fineman is covering the Democratic Convention in Boston for MSNBC.com with his palmtop e-mail device.

   Boston, Friday, July 30, 4 p.m. --

So I'm here at Logan Airport, and as long as I was in an apologizing mood I couldn't let Al Sharpton pass without offering him one, too. I'm not a fan, and I think he lied about the Tawana Brawley case, but among the truly stupid things I said on TV the other night was something to the effect that his noisy speech might even turn off black voters. Maybe a few, but they're already voting Republican. And though I have been covering campaigns such as Jesse Jackson's since 1984, it was a dumb thing to say on more levels than I can count, as I just told Sharpton here at Logan. He accepted my regret with grace and, after saying that John Kerry had wanted him placed prominently on the stage last night, he smiled and shrugged. "I've said a lot of stupid things on TV myself." Now I really feel awful.

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Boston, Friday, July 30, noon --

Sometimes when you are tired -- when you've been yakking all week and racing from a convention hall to a political reception to an interview -- you screw up, big time, as Dick. Cheney would say. Well, I did that this morning by failing to defend the best political mind on tv, my loyal colleague and host Chris Matthews. Don Imus was complaining in his usual towel-snapping way that there was too much crosstalk on "Hardball," that we were all trying to talk over each other. True enough, perhaps -- we were all a little cranky by last night -- but not Chris' fault. He loves the game so, and knows so much about it and we all feed off of his energy and enthusiasm. ... Matthews is the best thing on political tv. That's what I should have told Don Imus. ... So now I'm headed back to washington for more work -- gotta write my newsweek piece -- and, I hope, some sleep.

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BOSTON, Friday, July 30, 12:06 a.m. --

We're sitting here on the "Hardball" set and I got a little hot under the collar when Joe Scarborough presumed to give us all a lecture about the "reality" of the Kerry speech. Joe said it was a blown chance because it was too rushed. I think that Kerry, if he didn't hit a home run, hit a solid double up the gap or even a triple and put himself in scoring position. ... Kerry went a long way to at least being able to stand toe to toe with George Bush on defense and foreign policy. He was tough, presidential and every bit the swift-boat guy. It's the best he can do considering he voted against the $87 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The White House will counter-attack, but the war is on. ... It was two speeches: the salute for the men, the domestic-issue laundry list for the women. The numbers on that side don't quite add up, and they had better do so before long. Was it music for the ages? No.  Did it get the job done? Yes.
 
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BOSTON, Thursday, July 29, 7 p.m. --

As a member of the "Hardball" panel I hammered the Dems for allowing Al Sharpton to rant for 35 minutes last night but standing here with the Michigan delegation the world looks mighty different. Delegates loved it and the love crossed racial lines, which was the point. "I feel privileged to have heard him and I will cherish the moment the rest of my life," said Sigrid Grace, a white teacher from Rochester, Mich. The other delegates from the state felt the same. "When he talked about the kids who died for civil rights, everyone had tears in their eyes," said Skip Sullivan, a retired plumbers rep. "It's what this party is about." Forceful talk -- but not the kind you've been hearing much of from the podium.

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BOSTON, Thursday, July 29, 5 p.m. --

Maybe it's just pre-speech jitters, but I'm hearing a fair amount of angst beneath the surface of this convention. Money is pouring in by the boatload, everyone is being treated royally by the suddenly gracious Bostonians, and the media can entertain itself without much fear of news breaking out. But is this event making the sale? ...

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... At a reception last night for Sen. Evan Bayh, I was talking to Larry Summers, the former Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton and now the President of Harvard. A  genius economist -- he's got a bunch of Nobel Laureates in his family tree -- he's forever asking me what the odds are about something, in this case the election. I always dodge such questions. He is a hard-eyed data-driven guy and I could tell that he had hidden doubts about Kerry's chances. The Democrats, he worried aloud, should keep quiet about the lapse in the assault weapons ban as the party tries to lure rural voters in swing states. "Making too much of it could cause a backlash," he suggested. He's right on the politics of course -- and I doubt that Kerry will mention guns tonight. Except to say that he fired one in war.

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BOSTON, Thursday, July 29, 1 p.m. --

I hear that my friend and sometimes tormentor Don Imus is accusing me of being a shameless blabbermouth on "Hardball" this week. I plead guilty. It's blab or die on that show, but I should restrain myself. We'll see how it goes tonight. ... In the meantime, I'm taking a breather, sitting at a cafe on Newberry Street, consuming hot tea with honey and lemon -- the official drink of tv blabbermouths. ... Here comes a protest parade, led by a dozen cops on roaring Harleys. It's the Anarchists, who see the war in Iraq as only the latest piece of evidence that government is inherently evil. I first saw an Anarchist parade -- kind of a contradiction in terms -- when I was a student in England many years ago. The issue was Vietnam then, now a fading memory to most. But government is still with us, which is why -- if we can only remember as we blab -- we are all in Boston.

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BOSTON, Thursday, July 29, 12:03 a.m. --

Pictures trump words in our visual culture and that is both good and bad news for John Edwards. Viewing his speech from the set of "Hardball" a little while ago, I watched as much as listened. Many of the pictures and symbols were helpful to the Democrats' cause: a family that clearly was from the real America -- Wallace and Bobby, his parents; a wife, Elizabeth, who looks like the kind of unpretentious person who doesn't mind celebrating her anniversary at Wendy's; a demure daughter and two towheaded tots. We are a nation of salesmen and we know how to size people up on sight. The Edwards family reads "regular." ...

... But what the visual giveth it can taketh away. Edwards is a handsome and youthful-looking fellow, almost movie star quality. At 51 he remains almost alarmingly boyish. But that didn't help him -- in fact, it hurt him -- when he gazed ahead and sternly announced to al-Qaida:  "We will destroy you!" He looked far too nice to harm a fly. On the "Hardball" set, Andrea Mitchell called him "pretty" -- her words, not mine. ...

... The speech was flawlessly delivered. But it was something of a pastiche, with the Edwards stump speech sandwiched between slices of Kerry Team rhetoric. One very well-placed friend of Edwards told me the speech was "dial group" tested, and it came off that way: a committee-devised appeal to target voters. ...

...  John Kerry had his press secretary call me just now to say that the Kerry team command had not been in control of the speech. Others tell me just the opposite. In the end the words mattered less than the image, which was of a man who, fairly or not, may seem too apple-cheeked for the nasty world he might be called upon to run. Of course that's what all those corporate defense attorneys thought, and Edwards, in the courtroom, destroyed them.

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BOSTON, Wednesday, July 28, 2 p.m. --

Moving a little slow after GQ party, which featured the Kerry daughters and Ben Affleck in a severely modernistic bar packed with people who looked like young movie execs, slick-mag editors and guys who'd made a lot of money doing something post-industrial. I didn't need my 17-year-old daughter in tow -- she's studying journalism this summer at Northwestern, I say proudly -- to tell me that I was, by far, the biggest dork in the room, this oh-so-cutting-edge Blogberry notwithstanding. ...

... Affleck and I spent a quality three minutes together. We discussed what is really -- I'm not kidding -- profound matter: the stagecraft for the Kerry-Bush debates. Earlier in the day, I had found myself in the midst of a conversation between former Sen. Max Cleland and Vernon Jordan, the stately Washington lawyer who is in charge of the debate negotiations for John Kerry. "Make sure they're standing up," Cleland advised. "He'll project a great sense of command." Jordan demurred. "Yeah, but he can be preachy when he's standing up behind a lectern," said Jordan, who either has watched tapes or been told about them.

... For what it's worth -- and I think it's worth something -- Affleck agreed with Jordan. "Kerry doesn't need more stature, he needs collegiality," he said, "and you can do that better when you are seated at a table with someone." ... Then he went back to being collegial with the babes at his table...

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BOSTON, Tuesday, July 27, 10 p.m. --

I'm on the set of Hardball next to Faneuil Hall, listening and watching a new Democratic Party introduce itself to the country and the world while the old one passed into history. After Ted Kennedy spoke, invoking the Three Massachusetts Johns — Adams, Kennedy and Kerry — the New Wave appeared in the form of Barack Obama, Ron Reagan and, yes, Teresa Heinz Kerry. Whether the voters are ready for this party is an open question, but it's only a matter of time before it takes over. ... As I watched him on the monitor here, I saw in Obama an eloquent son of Africa, Kansas and Harvard. He is the real deal. Reagan was an eloquent spokesman for a secular faith in the power of science — and the inevitable desire of human beings to manage their own destiny through reason. It had to be the first scientific discussion at a national convention. Teresa, even though she is 65, is the global world of our future — speaking five languages and talking of her African roots. ... Will Middle America like what they see? Hard to know. The networks didn't show any of tonight.

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BOSTON, Tuesday, July 27, 7:56 p.m. --

If John Kerry becomes president he will owe his victory to the men with whom he served in Vietnam. I just came from two events featuring them and am now in the hall, where the veterans theme is strong. Here is the line one of Kerry's swift-boat mates, Fred Short of Arkansas, uses when asked about Kerry's preppie background: "I have seen his blood and it is red as it can be and there isn't a drop of blue in it." Bingo. Make no mistake, these guys have lots of credibility when they talk about Kerry's bravery as a young man in war. But they also have become professional spinners for Kerry, their expenses paid and their schedules here packed with events such as the one I dropped by to see, a concert by Emmylou Harris. The Band of Brothers were there, mostly working-class guys trying to be comfortable among the swells. I get a sense from talking to people here on the floor of the convention that there is crossover appeal to Republicans in all this. "My family are all Republicans," said Patrick Kahler, a 38-year-old delegate and schoolteacher from California. "But my dad was in the military and that's a big deal with us. Everyone I knew was for Dean but I liked Kerry for the military tie. And now here I am."

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BOSTON, Tuesday, July 27, 9 a.m. --

Truth in advertising requires me to confess that I am sitting in my hotel room, writing on my laptop. Until they invent a keyboard that you can attach to the Blackberry -- or until I can learn to write shorter Blogberry dispatches -- I am going to have to take a break from thumbing in entries. It doesn't hurt your thumbs, it hurts the rest of your hand. And I can't go fast enough given all that I have to do here this week for this non-event event. ...

I found myself after the convention and "Hardball" last night on the rooftop terrace of the Ritz, where pretty much the entire Kerry campaign had gathered -- at a party sponsored by Time-Warner -- to congratulate themselves after Day One. The Queen Bee -- easily visible because of her calm demeanor, leprechaunish smile and shock of gray hair, was Mary Beth Cahill, the campaign manager. She is the lapsed nun type character -- you can easily see her wielding a ruler in parochial school -- who presides over the formerly unruly bunch of middle-aged male New England pols who run things for her, guys with names such as Corrigan, Sasso, Devine, Donilon, Shrum, Whouley and Campion. ...

These are the Boston-based Wise Guys -- most of them Irish and almost all of them Catholics of the Kennedy type -- who grew up in the '60s and early '70s and who, for the most part, first gathered around the candidacy of Mike Dukakis in 1988. How does Cahill keep this often fractious and press-friendly group in line? "Fear!" says Jack Corrigan, the Kerry convention liaison, says with a laugh. But he wasn't really joking. Leak and you die in this campaign -- it's a very tight ship thus far. ...

Here's some stuff I picked up at the party late last night: Kerry was upset with his performance at Fenway Park, where he threw out the first pitch at a Sox-Yankees game. He was greeted with as many boos as cheers but that wasn what bothered him, one of his aides told me last night. He was embarrassed and upset with himself that he had bounced the ball in front of the ceremonial catcher, a war vet. Kerry had practiced the pitch for days, but it didn't make it to the guy. Moral: have a pro catcher. ... Here's the key reason why the Kerryians want the tone of the convention to be controlled, not too angry: recent polling. The key poll is one that says that, of the 20 percent or so voters who are undecided and "gettable," most already have a negative view of George Bush. The Wall Street Journal poll says that 70 percent feel that way. So there is no reason to hammer at him, certainly not in a personal way. ... In Kerry's speech Thursday night, he won't get too personal about himself -- not a lot of emotional plumbing of the soul or poetical evocations. The whole tenor is: this is a steadier captain than the cowboy we've got. ... The scene up on the roof terrace was of power and not of insurgency: fancy people in fancy clothes looking out on a spectacular nighttime view of the Boston Common, the State House and this city. If Kerry wins, it won't be a victory of outs -- these are people with a lot of money and power and experience. It's just a different establishment from the one now in office.


BOSTON, Monday, July 26, 8 p.m. --

I am on the floor of the convention sitting with the Iowa delegation, which, naturally enough, is down front -- it's the early-voting caucus state that effectively gave John Kerry the Democratic nomination. From the front row, a podium looms directly above. Luckily, some speaker is booming away from the OTHER podium. This is an innovation: the first convention with two podia! ... What amazes me is this: of the first several Iowa delegations I talked to, most had originally supported another Democrat. Dr. Alan Koslow was for Howard Dean, Floyd Hendred was for Wes Clark, Linda Nelson was for Dean and so on. But now they were happily for Kerry, plastered with buttons and signs and waiting to cheer for Jimmy Carter, Al Gore and Bill Clinton. ... I have been to lots of conventions. In this one, Kerry isn't quite incidental to the thing, but it's eerie: you don't find many people passionate about him on a personal basis. There is no such thing as a "Kerry Democrat" in that sense. But the party is the most united I have ever seen it. What unites them? George Bush.

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BOSTON, Monday, July 26, 12 a.m. --

I'm talking to Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Franciso, at dinner just now and we agreed that there was a precise moment at which, in sociological terms, the modern Democratic Party was born. It was in Miami at the convention in 1972, and he was the head of the California delegation. The speakers at that event -- which went on until 3 am on nomination night -- were a parade of rising trends: big-city black mayors, Hispanic farm workers, women pols, anti-war student organizers and, according to Willie, the first openly gay person to address a national convention. The party rules were opened up, too. "Everything changed after that," he told me. In  other words, that's when Red State/Blue State America divided, like a stem cell. ...

...Blue State Nation was out in force in Quincy Market yesterday, with hundreds of cheering Kerry-Red Sox fans surrounding the "Hardball" set as we did the show. I yakked with Chris Matthews for a while about the Kerry strategy: Rock no boats. No one cheered. But you know what? The crowd looked like America. ...

... I had a drink late with another founding father of Red State Nation, Sam Brown, an Iowan by way of Colorado who was a leader of the student movement against the war in Vietnam. He met Kerry in that cause in the late '60's. "We've been close ever since," Brown said as we sat in the bar at the Arlington Street Ritz. Brown is part of Kerry's other Band of Brothers -- the anti-war guys. But you won't hear much about them this week. "Kerry should talk about those days more," Brown said as he sipped a cognac. As Dan Rather said -- with comic incongruity, at Harvard -- "Don't bet the double-wide on it."

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BOSTON, Sunday, July 25, 3 p.m. ET --

There was a flurry of excitement outside my hotel when I got back a few minutes ago from a panel discussion at Harvard featuring all the tv news anchorpersons (except Brit Hume of Fox who, according to Harvard, declined). I thought maybe it was the Clintons or some other pol but it turned out to be Hideki Matsui, the left-fielder for the New York Yankees! They're in town, and they are staying at my hotel and they lost to the Sox last night after a big brawl. Matsui is a classy-looking guy -- not the brawling type. Fans were enraptured as they proffered baseballs for him to autograph (in Japanese?). ...

... The scene reminded me of the power of celebrity, which, in a way, was what the Harvard panel was about: the responsibilities of five ultra-visible Americans -- Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Jim Lehrer and Judy Woodruff -- whose celebrity makes them the most important collective force in my business, which, I am and will forever be proud to say, is journalism. As Rather pointed out, they appear in 20 to 30 million homes a night, which dwarfs anything else seen on tv. ...

... Still, the event had the air of a valedictory -- a Sunday morning secular service in the dwindling church of network news. The Big Three had to face the fact that their nets are broadcasting only three hours of convention coverage here. They half-heartedly blamed the political parties for draining the events of drama. But as Lehrer and Woodruff point out, the parade of speeches may be worth listening to in wartime, which is what we are in right now. ...

... The brunch afterwards was a sea of media and political faces in a caterer's tent. I made straight for one of my favorites, Jerry Brown of California. Salty, unpredictable, blunt -- half Jesuit, half Hollywood and all pol. He has lost his hair and gained an ample waistline but still maintains the unpredictability of youth. "Kerry's strategy is to not say anything," he said. "And that may be smart for now. Don't want to peak too soon, as Nixon used to say. But he is going to have to take a bold stand at some point. If he says I'm for the war, then why elect him? But the problem with coming flat out against it is that the Iraq war was what I call a plausible war. We don't really know if it was wrong." ...

... Plausible or not, Rather -- the delightfully unbounded unconscious mind of them all -- said the media hadn't done enough to question the war before it started. Brokaw agreed, up to a point. Jennings bragged about the pre-war skepticism of ABC's coverage. Then the panel was over, and it was time to sign autographs. In English.

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B0STON, Saturday, July 24, 2004, 6 p.m. ET --

As I begin my Boston blogberry I am walking out of the Fleet Center Convention Hall down Congress Street with Jano Cabrera of the Democratic National Committee and we're talking about the swift current running under this event and this election: security. "In a way it's the biggest story here and it hasn't been talked about all that much," says Jano, the party's pr chief. ...

... This is the first political convention to ever be designated a "National Security Special Event" by the federal government, which means that the Secret Service -- which used to care only about guarding the candidates -- now runs the show. And that, in turn, means: a metal fence around the perimiter of the hall that is supposed to be capable of stopping a car traveling 70 mph, searches of camera bags down to the last lens, and party officials required to clear every last physical and theatrical detail of the proceedings with the crackerjack agents in charge....

... In the paradoxically sealed-off world of politics -- a traveling road show that is supposed to study the country, but which really spends most of its time studying itself -- we tend to forget the reality of the world around us. Well, this convention is going to change that. Getting in and out of the hall is going to be an ordeal, and reporters live to literally get "inside." All politics is local, as a famous Bostonian once said. ...

... Message to journalists: The world has changed. I bumped into James Carville in my hotel lobby and he told me that the hassle of these events was getting to him. "But in a good hotel, I can survive anything," he said, laughing. ...

... Like Carville, Bostonians are muddling through and, Red Sox lovers that they are, put the best face on things. When I stepped off the plane a few hours ago, I was greeted by smiling locals cooing "welcome to Boston." This was disconcerting. People here aren't really that nice. They are tough, high-minded and profane, and don't generally suffer fools or tourists lightly. They don't bother with phony politeness -- but they are this week. ...

... On the plane up from D.C. -- a jet full of donors, lobbyists, politicians and reporters -- everybody was reading the same thing: Tom Edsall's terrific story in The Washington Post about the Kerry campaign's leading fund-raisers. For the people on the plane, it was like the baseball box score: who had the most RBI? One of the leaders was on the plane, former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard. "And I raised it all in Michigan, where people give because they believe!" he said proudly -- meaning that his cash didn't come from cynical frontrunners inside the Beltway. Other passengers laughed knowingly. ...

... And of course that's the other current running through this and every convention: money.

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WASHINGTON, Friday, July 23, 2004 --

I can't say that I love conventions. For me, as a political reporter, they are almost too much: my entire professional life in one concentrated, indigestible mass. I work more or less 'round the clock but there isn't really much news in the traditional sense. These days it's all about how the thing plays on tv -- and I'm the last person to be able to appreciate that, since I'm either racing around town, being spun by somebody in a hotel lobby or yakking on tv myself with Chris Matthews. ...

... Still, there are moments -- sublime moments -- that are thrilling and that remind me why, since childhood, I have been drawn to the spectacle and the power of  politics. Conventions remain the great serio-comic pageant of our democracy, a celebration of choosing -- even if the delegates have no real role anymore and all the seats in the convention hall are filled by high-dollar fatcats. ...

... I'm in dc right now, reporting my piece for Newsweek and tying up logistical ends before heading to Boston. I'm telling y'all this because I rashly offered to use my Blackberry to blog my way through the convention for MSNBC.COM. This is the warmup. If my thumbs don't give out, I'll try to file regular updates. It's not really a blog, of course -- no instant community per se on my bberry -- just one-way digital dispatches from me. ...

...  I thot of doing this because these devices have all but taken over the campaign trail since 2000, when that loveable ubernerd, Al Gore, made them fashionable. Now everyone on the campaign plane seems to spend all their time with heads down, staring into the tiny Magic Mirror of their bberry. A good bit of the spin wars of politics has migrated onto them, so why not bloviation from people like me?

Don't answer that! I'll bberry y'all from Boston.

... Howard Fineman

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