Theo Lippman Jr.


July 16, 1992

NEW YORK -- Along with thousands of others, I was locked out of the Omni four years ago when Jesse Jackson spoke.

Atlanta public safety officials said the throng trying to get in was too large.

So this year I took no chances. I went into Madison Garden early Tuesday night.

Jackson didn't disappoint. Even in what has been called his summer of discontent, he is still the best public speaker I'm aware of.

That's not saying much in the era of sound bites.

There are only a few real rabble rousers left. (Is it okay to call Democratic delegates rabble? Sixty-eight percent earn more than $50,000 a year.)

Two others of the very best were on display last night. I can't tell you how Mario Cuomo and Teddy Kennedy did. I write this before they appear.

I can tell you Jackson did great.

I probably have to tell you, because you were probably watching the All-Star Game. The Clinton forces in charge of the convention made sure that Jackson spoke at a time when as few people as possible were watching. The commercial networks hadn't even turned their cameras on here at the time.

Jackson followed one of the party's least exciting speakers. That would be Jimmy Carter.

The former president got a warm reception. He is much more beloved today than when he was renominated here in 1980.

For one thing, he has been an admirable ex-president, devoting his life to causes rather than accumulating cash.

For another, he is a living object lesson to liberals in the party. The lesson is, the choice is not between a dullish moderate liberal like, say, Bill Clinton, and an exciting real liberal, like, say, 22 Jackson, Cuomo or Kennedy.

The great orators are exciting, when allowed to do their whole thing, whether you watch them on television or in a hall. But so what?

The boring Carter was not only nominated by his party but elected president. He beat Ted Kennedy in his 1980 renomination fight. Mario Cuomo got to speak last night only as the nominator of "the man who" (to invoke the time honored introductory phrase) delivered the single most boring convention speech in this century.

The joke in Atlanta four years ago was that public safety officials had to shut the Omni doors to keep delegates from leaving Bill Clinton's speech nominating Michael Dukakis. And Jesse Jackson has lost two eloquent bids for nomination.

All three -- Cuomo, Jackson, Kennedy -- are still of an age to run again in four years if this year's ticket fails. But don't bet on them even if it does.

Tonight we shall see if Bill Clinton has improved in four years. And if Albert Gore Jr., who also bored Democrats in 1988, has.

Tomorrow: The Double Bubba Ticket.

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