Four television vans crammed into the driveway of Tom Del Beccaro’s Lafayette home last Thursday night. Del Beccaro is president of the Contra Costa County Republican Party, and he’d invited the media over to watch him watch John Kerry speak. Kerry was accepting his party’s nomination at the highly choreographed Democratic National Convention in Boston, so Del Beccaro and his East Bay constituents hosted their own choreographed reaction party.
About twenty GOP members dropped by wearing Bush/Cheney stickers on their chests, bringing the ratio of acknowledged Republicans to media personnel to roughly two to one. Del Beccaro served his guests sliced salami and grapes, as well as bottled waters, white wine, and cans of Coke. Meanwhile, cameramen from the Bay Area’s largest television stations set up tripods in the back of Del Beccaro’s living room and fixed their lenses upon the mondo Mitsubishi television located on the far wall.
On screen, John Kerry’s daughter Vanessa uttered the word “hunter.” Del Beccaro decoded her statement as suggesting that conservatives are gun freaks. “Jeez,” he hooted to his guests with sarcasm. “As you all can see, I’ve got guns hanging around my house everywhere.”
Longtime Channel 5 reporter Doug Murphy suddenly appeared in the doorway. “Tom,” Murphy said with his hands at his hips, “how much would you hate me if we stood you out here for a live interview at eleven?”
“No problem,” Del Beccaro said, popping an olive into his mouth. “I’ll be here.”
On the television, a cinematic propaganda video showed Kerry as a young man performing in a rock band. The guests groaned and rolled their eyes.
A Woman in Pink with a glass of white wine in her hand sat on an ottoman close to the set and shook her head. “They have totally ignored the eighteen years he was in the Senate,” she said. “Did you know Steven Spielberg made this for him?” she asked, turning around. “Spielberg, yeah.”
“Jeez, Louise,” huffed Todd Baker, a 33-year-old member of the county Young Republicans. Baker noted that the voice narrating the video belonged to the actor Morgan Freeman. “They can line up all the Hollywood talent they want,” he said. “People who feel guilty about making money … they’re the first to sign up.”
Teresa Heinz Kerry’s face flashed on screen and Baker quipped, “Now that’s character.” Then he asked the room, “How do you go from being married to a Republican senator then go to marrying a Democratic senator?”
He was greeted with only silence, so he answered his own question. “I guess she’s a flip-flopper, too.”
Del Beccaro entered from the kitchen, miffed about battle footage Kerry allegedly shot while in Vietnam. He called into question the authenticity of the event. “Did y’all fall for that home movie thing where he went back and reenacted everything?”
A short while later, a voice announced to the living room: “I’m John Kerry and I’m reporting for duty.”
The Living Room said: “Boooooooooo!”
One teenaged male snickered: “Baby killer.”
The cameramen dismounted their cameras and worked the room. They pushed their lenses directly in the faces of the assembled Republicans. Two older women in the back of the room craned their necks around the media people, but it was hopeless; they couldn’t see Kerry anymore. Another guest reached for the remote control. “I can’t hear him,” she complained.
The camera guy from Channel 5 wedged himself between Del Beccaro and the television set. When the cameraman shut off his light — his subject hadn’t moved in ten seconds — Del Beccaro leaned over to his guests and said, “John Kerry walks into a bar. Bartender says, ‘Why the long face?'”
Meanwhile, Kerry pumped his fist above his head, enjoying some early cheers from his supporters. Del Beccaro raised his right hand similarly and said, “Who’s for Botox for men? Anyone, anyone?”
“Oh, this is bad,” Todd Baker said, two minutes into Kerry’s speech. “He’s rambling. It’s worse than I thought.”
When Kerry spoke the words, “Cold War,” the Woman in Pink shouted back, “Excuse me! We won the Cold War. Barry Goldwater? Ronald Reagan?”
The cameramen and television reporters concluded that they liked the Woman in Pink. They waited for her to say more.
John Kerry: “I ask you to judge me by my record.”
Living Room: “Okayyyyyy!!!!!!”
Man inside Living Room: “If he wants us to judge him on his record, campaign over.”
On television, an image of vice-presidential candidate John Edwards appeared. Edwards once worked as a trial attorney. An older Republican in a sky-blue blazer — a truly great blazer — and white slacks mused, “What’s John Edwards gonna do? Sue al-Qaeda and ask for a 30 percent contingency.”
“Forty,” Del Beccaro joked.
The Woman in Pink had been talking to the screen. She sighed when Kerry’s fellow Vietnam veterans walked onstage behind him, and she hissed each time the candidate used the words “values,” “family,” and “honor.” Her one-liners were louder than Kerry’s, which triggered more laughter in the Living Room, turning it into a classroom run amok.
The man in the sky-blue blazer cut his way through the media and stood directly next to one of the television’s speakers, hoping to hear the candidate over the ruckus.
Eventually, the Channel 5 cameraman stood directly above the Woman in Pink, his lens nearly touching her forehead. He said to her, “Tell me your name and what city you live in.”
“Oh, no,” she replied, suddenly shaking her head back and forth in a frantic manner. “I’m an art teacher,” she said. “I work with too many Democrats.”
“Oh, c’mon,” the cameraman said. “I need it.”
“Do it,” he replied. “Do it.”
Silence. She looked around the room for a friend to help her out. The cameraman started chanting in a frat-boy cadence: “Do it, do it, do it, do it.”
“I’m a teacher,” she replied.
Then Doug Murphy appeared, as if to play the role of closer for his cameraman. Murphy wedged his way in, sliding his body next to the woman on the ottoman with an ease that suggested he’d done this many times before. He harmlessly set his microphone in his lap and spoke softly to her for a minute.
Finally, Murphy gave his cameraman the nod to turn on the light: The Woman in Pink would talk on-camera.
Minutes later, most of the cameramen packed up their gear and headed out to their vans. John Kerry hadn’t yet rounded third base.
One teenager asked, “You heard the new slogan for the Democrats? They’re so full of shit, they need two Johns.”
A Channel 7 reporter who stayed behind asked Del Beccaro to summarize the night’s events. “What went on tonight?” she asked, her back to Kerry.
The party president said he’d never before witnessed a convention where the delegates sat during most of their nominee’s speech. He said that Kerry obviously hadn’t even inspired his own convention, so how could he inspire Middle American voters? He went on to say he believed Kerry fell short of his mission.
After the interview, Del Beccaro asked his questioner, “Do you want something for the road? A water? A soda? No? Okay. Thanks.”
John Kerry was still giving his speech, but the television media were gone. Only about half the Republicans were still watching.
“Look how much he’s sweating,” Del Beccaro said, educating his audience about the importance of sweat during a famous 1960 debate between Nixon and Kennedy.
“Where’s he sweating?” Ed asked from the back of the room.
Del Beccaro approached his television and touched Kerry’s face on the chin, forehead, and cheeks. “Here, here, and here,” he said.
“Oh, c’mon,” Ed said. “You’re too picky.”
Del Beccaro shrugged. “He’s sweating too much. People don’t like that.”
They looked back at John Kerry, who was indeed sweating but hadn’t yet stopped speaking.