Not Your Father's Convention

Young people were a fixture of the Democratic National Convention.

From MTV's Choose or Lose "Street Team", made up of teens and low twenty-something's who occasionally sport magenta hair or weird tattoos and report on the campaigns, to a boy who couldn't have been more than nine carrying a digital camera and wearing full press credentials, this was not your father's convention.

Ryan Karben, a 26-year-old member of the Rockland County, New York legislature, talked earnestly of the similarities between himself and Al Gores' daughter, Karenna Schiff Gore. Both are in their mid-twenties, married, attended law school, have children and what the predominant culture considers "good" jobs, and they are not Republicans, he pointed out.

Were there a school for young politicians, this is what they would teach them on the first day: learn to self promote, pay attention to the possibility of bad breath, and avoid ill-fitting suits. Always carry business cards. And, talk to the press. A lot.

Karben, for one, would have graduated; he had a white-toothed smile and clothes that fit as he gushed about the importance of the youth vote in 2000. "Younger voters will decide this election," he said. "They have the lowest rate of party loyalty and they're the most up for grabs."

As Sen. Joe Lieberman addressed the convention on Wednesday night, Karben paused a moment, looked pensive, then said over the chants of "Go, Joe, Go!" "Joe Lieberman makes me proud to be an American."

This post-adolescent legislator is not only at the beginning of his political career; he is also an Orthodox Jew like Joseph Lieberman. Describing himself as a "Lieberman Jew" because neither he nor the senator wears a yarmulke as most Orthodox do, Karben certainly tows the party line.

In another example of how youthful efforts are changing the face of politics this year, Gore's much-publicized reliance on daughter Karenna's Gen-X counsel has done a lot for the Democratic Party's image and the way this ticket portrays itself to the voters of tomorrow.

Highly visible on the stump for Gore in the past year, Karenna Gore Schiff has the kind of Q-rating marketers dream of. Blond, pretty and articulate, newspaper headlines have screamed the likes of "Gore-geous!" about the 27-year-old new mom. Yet, she seems comfortable divorcing herself from the media hype and is, from all appearances, equally comfortable in her skin as a party representative, despite her age.

Many of the delegates here are also in their twenties. Twenty-one-year-old Melissa Escher of Rochester, New York, is a senior at the State University of New York at Geneseo. She is a Spanish major, a Latina, and the second youngest delegate at the Democratic National Convention.

Bob Cook, Vice Chair of the New York State Democratic Committee said that the state party recruited Escher because they were "looking to fulfill opportunities for young people this year "We wanted to have delegates who are under 25, because they are really the future." Escher circulated petitions, sailed through a primary, and ended up rather serendipitously in Los Angeles. Not too bad for a college kid.

And it's not only those who are credentialed members of the Democratic Party who have shown a heightened interest in politics; Los Angelenos like David Nelson, 31, say they are more involved in politics and the convention in particular than ever before.

Nelson, a music video director and the invited guest of a 35-year-old delegate, sipped a martini and amusedly watched New York Sen. Sen. Chuck Schumer and New York State Democratic Chair Judy Hope cut an energetic, slightly paroxysmal rug at the state delegation's Century Room party. "I've been watching all the speeches, Lieberman, the president, Karenna, and I have to say, I'm really pretty fascinated by all of it. I'll be ready to vote in November."