- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2008

There’s a good reason why Mr. Dooley always takes a pair of brass knuckles to a Democratic unity meeting. A glass jaw represents opportunity.

The Democratic National Convention, called to nominate a president, is not a happy place for the ladies of the League of Women Voters. Sportsmanship is nice, but a strong arm is more effective. That’s the lesson Barack Obama and his legion of quick-change artists are learning.

The hotel lobbies, the coffee shops, the cocktail lounges and the suites of the suits, tucked away in hard-to-find places in Denver and environs, are abuzz with tales of conspiracy, double-cross and impending disclosures of sensation. This is par for any convention, particularly since the 15,000 reporters, editors, columnists and other unsavory camp followers can only busy themselves with interviewing each other and passing along rumors.

Anger and suspicion abound. The Obama campaign is angry at the Clintons, both he and she, who Obama strategists say can’t come to terms with the fact that he’s tired and stale and she’s not as bright in the tooth as she was in springtime.

“The Clinton people are acting like those Japanese soldiers in the South Pacific who were still fighting a long time after the war was over,” says one of the Obama folk, frustrated that the Clintons, who are supposed to be safely dead, won’t lie down. To whom he may owe an apology - the Japanese or the Clintons - is not entirely clear.

The Clintons insist they’re doing everything they can to soothe the hurt and disappointment of their delegates, who comprise a large enough complement here to make serious trouble if someone can find the kindling and a match to light the fuel. The Obama campaign scoffs at the Clinton pretenders as “bitter enders” who think Barack Obama must reconcile to them, not the other way around. In this scenario, the Clintons have kidnapped the fat lady and have her hidden in a closet in Cheyenne, where no one can hear if she bursts into the climactic aria.

Hillary speaks Tuesday night, and she’s not the fat lady. She’s expected to make all the right unity noises, to talk about how she really loves Barack Obama and doesn’t believe the wicked rumors that she keeps hearing, that he’s a secret Muslim and that Michelle wears a burqa when she vacuums the living-room rug.

Bubba doesn’t speak until Wednesday night, and he’s miffed that they want him to talk to the theme of “Securing America’s Future.” Bubba, feeling his pain, wants to talk about securing the Clintons’ future, and particularly about all the good things he did when he was president. It’s all about respect he counts as his due from the Democratic wing of the Clinton Party. It’s not like Hillary didn’t win everything fair and square.

The party chiefs, like the party chiefs at every convention, are frustrated that they haven’t been able to control the convention narrative, forgetting that nobody - sometimes not even their editors - has figured out how to control 15,000 inky wretches desperate to find a nugget of rumor to hang a story on.

Maggie Williams, a senior Hillary adviser, and David Axelrod, a senior Obama strategist, got together to issue the usual boilerplate blaming “the news media” for their headaches. “We understand that some in the media are more interested in reporting the rumor of controversy than the fact of unity,” they said.

The Democrats here are more than a little concerned about their man’s slide in the polls; Gallup on Monday said the race is tied at 45-all. Even John McCain’s faulty memory about his various houses and condos, so rich for the late-night comics, has not blunted what one senior Democrat calls “McCain’s run of 12 unanswered points over the past fortnight.”

The news may get worse. There’s the story now afloat that an Obama half brother is living in grim poverty in Kenya, scratching out a bare living on a dollar a month while the senator lives in luxury on $5 million a year. Far worse, a summerlong controversy continues about when and where the senator was actually born, and whether the circumstances of his birth could cloud his eligibility to serve.

The Obama campaign has been reluctant to produce a birth certificate. This could be a story with legs, swift long legs to rival those of a Kenyan sprinter. The Clintons are surely trying to help sort this out.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Times. He is filing daily from the conventions.

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