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Delegates, in Unity, Find Spontaneity Lacking

July 21, 1988

ATLANTA (AP) _ Prime-time choreography has sapped the Democratic National Convention of its spontaneity, reducing delegates to television props with no real deliberative role, some complained Thursday.

″The whole focus has been subordinated to TV showmanship,″ said Jerry Calvert, a delegate from Bozeman, Mont. ″This convention is much less a deliberative body than a television extravaganza. And that’s bad.″

Calvert and others in a sampling of delegates said the unity on display at the convention was preferable to disarray. But there was a cost, they said, in achieving that unity and projecting it to the nation.

″Just about everything is rubber-stamped,″ said Bob Madore, from Newington, Conn. ″I feel somewhat like a prop. The stage is set, the agenda is there, the program is established. Delegates don’t have much of a say.″

Convention sessions are carefully planned and controlled. Videotaped biographies break up the speeches; house lights rise and fall to signal applause. All but two platform issues were settled before the opening gavel.

Ultimately, delegates said, it is the structure of modern conventions that prevented much drama: The primary elections and caucuses gave Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis enough votes to prevail on whatever issue arose.

″Because of the nature of conventions having changed, no longer are major matters decided,″ said Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, an unsuccessful candidate for the nomination who is attending as a delegate.

″I’m not saying it’s over-choreographed. But it is choreographed,″ he said. ″The reality is it’s a huge rally.″

As such, there is a sense of illusion in the proceedings. ″What comes across on TV probably suggests that we are all having more fun than we really are on the floor,″ said Linda Almy, of Underhill, Vt. ″It’s mostly genuine. But it feels staged sometimes.″

Despite such frustrations, delegates said they recognized value in the convention planners’ approach. ″This is much smoother, much better run than the ’84 convention,″ said state Sen. Mary Just Skinner, also of Vermont. ″I’m pleased that it’s choreographed so well. It makes for a lot of unity.″

Skinner noted that delegates are discussing issues of substance at forums outside the convention hall. And several delegates said they already had played their key roles by organizing in their states for their candidates.

″I’ve been in involved in the process right along. When you come here as a convention delegate, that’s the just end of the big game,″ said Jack Obenour, of Mansfield, Ohio.

″We’re not playing around here,″ said delegate Tom Best, of Tumwater, Wash. ″We came because we believe in the process.′

Calvert, though critical of the emphasis on television images, said the convention had maintained its integrity. ″The national convention is the one place when this political party meets as an institution, and this meeting is necessary to the organizational vitality of the institution,″ he said. ″It’s not just an extravaganza.″

On another level, ″It is psychologically exciting to be part of a mass of people that share common values and goals,″ Calvert said. ″That’s worth the trip.″

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