By Ciro Scotti
I'm not going to pretend to be a veteran of national conventions. This is my third. So maybe I'm just not jaded enough to shake off The Chill Factor.
What's The Chill Factor? That's when a powerful speaker -- like Jesse Jackson or Mario Cuomo used to be -- rivets the crowd. That's when one of the ordinary people who are always trotted out at conventions -- a former welfare mom who pulled herself up or a veteran who lost a limb so the rest of us could eat clam chowder in peace -- gives the assembled in this quadrennial zoo parade a poignant taste of real life.
Or The Chill Factor is when Glenn Close introduces the nine Democratic women currently serving as U.S. senators, comes to the next-to-the-last one, and thousands of members of the suddenly unified wings of the party of a thousand special interests go momentarily bonkers. That's when she says: "Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton."
As the junior senator from New York, shimmering in pale yellow, emerges from the wings of the Fleet Center in Boston, the cheers are thunderous, the affection palpable, and the moment electric. On the Chill Meter, which gauges spinal surge and cheek flushes, it's a 9 out of 10.
Oh, sure, old Jimmy Carter is greeted warmly and gets off a few well-received zingers about the planetary good will that George W. Bush has squandered. But he doesn't move the Chill Meter. Probably never could.
The Psalms-quoting Reverend David Alston, hits a 5 or 6 when he talks movingly about crewing for Navy Lieutenant John Kerry on the Mekong Delta swift boat he calls "a traveling bull's eye." The thumping preacher says: "I do not come here tonight to glorify what we did," but "when the shooting stopped, [Kerry] was always there with a caring hand on my shoulder."
And when the main event of the night appears -- a trim, white-haired, smoother-than-30-year-old-bourbon Bill Clinton -- he claims a full three minutes of roaring applause. Ah, how sweet redemption is. But the thunder in Beantown is more an appreciation for what once was than for what will be. And his silky speech is as much a look back at and vindication of the Presidency he left behind as it is a call for new leadership in Washington.
Maybe the future on Monday night was John Kerry, but it was also the poised and polished pol in yellow who introduced Bill Clinton by saying: "I am very optimistic about the election because I think I know a great leader when I see one." The Democrats were thrilled to see Bill back, but the chills came from Hillary.
For more on the Democratic National Convention, see BusinessWeek Online's continuing coverage at www.businessweek.com/election2004.htm
Scotti is a BusinessWeek senior editor and author of BW Online's A Not-So-Neutral Corner column. Follow his Democratic National Convention dispatches all week, only on BW Online