Puttin' Out the Bone

Mount Your Hog for John Kerry

Jun 30, 2004 at 2:06 pm

It's like tiny crystal droplets from Montana mountains growing into wide, deep waters 2000 miles below in Missouri.

A single Harley Davidson rumbles out of East Seattle and heads on Interstate 90 toward Boston. The leather-decked rider has a luggage T bag strapped to his sissy bar. He thinks of tomorrow, when the sun will warm and the jacket will come off so he can proudly represent the message on the back of his blue shirt: "A Biker for Kerry."

At about the same time, six riders from labor unions near Phoenix cruise east on Interstate 40. The lead bike is a Harley Low Rider with long, shotgun straight pipes. As he shifts gears, pops and blats sweep across the Texas plains, drawing looks from passing drivers. Something's up. Packs of bikers all going east.

Some from Dallas up Interstate 30 toward Memphis, others on crotch rockets from Tampa going straight north to Cincinnati.

A group of 40 riders from far places like San Francisco, Salt Lake, Denver and Kansas string out along Interstate 70 to meet the riders from Florida and Georgia in Lexington.

Then in Cleveland, we'll meet in one mass of bikers: men and women, unionists, teachers, soccer moms and college students. Bound by the love of two-wheel travel. Loud big twins beside blurs of color and high-pitched whines.

Bikers for Kerry, all going to the Democratic National Convention to witness or carry out the nomination of the next president of the United States. From Cleveland we'll roll as one in a long staggered line, each wearing a Kerry T-shirt to pick up votes through Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts.

When we enter Boston with Denny White, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, in the lead on his high-gloss Harley Ultra Classic —

Wait a minute. Let me change that. With Jene Galvin in the lead on his custom pinstriped black-and-chrome Dyna Super Glide and Denny behind him, little children on sidewalks will bow their heads and their dads will stare while the media notes the colorful parade.

That's my vision. It's also my mode of transport to the convention July 26-29. This will be my fifth Democratic National Convention, although my run of consecutives were from 1980 to 1992, back when national conventions almost mattered. In 1980 we delegates for Sen. Ted Kennedy actually thought we could unseat President Jimmy Carter. He was too moderate for us.

We actually thought delegates were thinkers and not robots. But Carter's people, who had the votes, implemented a convention rule — it probably still stands — that said you had to vote on the floor for the presidential candidate whom you supported in your primary election or caucus, when you became a delegate. We named it the "robot rule."

In other words, there would be no "backroom deals" where the delegates would actually use their minds and pick the best candidate to win as judged at that moment. In that case, Carter won all the floor fights, including the nomination, and then lost the general election to Ronald Reagan.

In following years, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Gov. Jerry Brown provided some lively moments. Jackson wowed the conventions with oratory that soared. Brown's loud handful of delegates fought like lions for platform planks. But conventions for both parties have evolved into well lit, star-studded spin shows with no surprises.

This year it will be the John Kerry Show first, followed in August by the George Bush Show. Kerry and his surrogates will argue for jobs, health care and homeland safety. Bush, with his convention a few steps from the epicenter of 9/11, will wrap himself in Ronald Reagan's memory and hope for the best with the war on terror as a backdrop.

Because Kerry rides a Harley, and because it's always more fun to travel with bikers, I'm trying to hype this vision of thousands of us rolling into Boston with our hair on fire. I'm getting some bites from around the country from as far away as California.

I'll be providing daily reports on WVXU (91.7 FM), where my brother Jerry and I do a Sunday night radio show. You can also get my by-the-hour coverage of Democratic Convention events on www.jerryforohio.com, Jerry Springer's political Web site, dedicated to moving a progressive message and helping Democrats win in November throughout Ohio.

Admittedly, though, national political conventions have lost their edge in recent years. I mean, no one at home or in a newsroom is a fool. So as conventions slid into show business, few programmers would clear out valuable time for political propaganda. So the gavel-to-gavel, prime-time network coverage, except for the presidential acceptance speeches and follow-up analysis, is gone, unless you have cable.

But for current-event junkies, these conventions are the Super Bowl of politics. Serving as a preview for the fall election, they focus the issues for those who watch. They energize a key base of political maniacs — the men and women needed to charge back to their communities and rally volunteers to move the message and pull out the vote.

So even if you're not a political whack job like me, take at least a few minutes and watch the Democratic and Republican conventions. In fact, stare at the crowd as the television cameras pan the delegates on the floor. Then make a comparison. I predict that, in Boston, Democrats will look pretty much like the diversity that is America. In New York, you'll find a sea of white faces dressed from trendy shops and mail-order catalogues.

That's why I'm happy to be heading for "B-Town," hopefully in a pack of chrome and shiny metal.

PUTTIN' OUT THE BONE appears monthly.