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The devil, you say

September 05, 2008|JOEL STEIN

My parents have been calling me while I've been at the conventions for the last two weeks, asking if I have any "news." These people clearly don't read my columns like they say they do.

I explained to them that the odds of securing an otherwise unreported tidbit at a staged event attended by every journalist in the world were about the same as anyone actually saying the Republican convention was in St. Paul, where it technically was, instead of Minneapolis, a city people have heard of. So my dad clarified that he was hoping I'd witnessed some politician saying something stupid. Preferably racist or sexist or really mean, but a notable factual slip-up would do.

Even smart people like my parents, I realized, would rather hear about something personal than policy. That's why John McCain, who got no traction with voters out of his weeklong poverty tour of the South, came out with the poll-changing, idiotic attack ad comparing Barack Obama to Paris Hilton. It's why we know far more about Sarah Palin's family tree than her record as governor. It's why Obama now wears a flag lapel pin. It's because we, the voters, are shallow.

We respond to gaffes and insults and ignore platforms and proposals. Which is why tiny, unintended quotes -- Hillary Clinton's slip-up about Robert Kennedy being assassinated in June, or her not "as far as I know" reply to a question about the Obama-is-a-Muslim rumors -- can blow up into huge issues that the candidates suddenly have to address.

Such faux scandals seem ridiculous and unfair. And, as a member of the news media, I've desperately wanted to create one.

I got my opportunity last week in Denver at the Democratic National Convention. I was at a party thrown by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom featuring a bunch of indie bands, including Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, which played its catchy new song "Satan Said Dance." The chorus goes like this: "Satan! Satan! Satan! Satan! Satan! Satan! Satan! Satan! Satan!" And I had my video camera.

So, under huge H-O-P-E letters and alongside giant posters of Obama as Abraham Lincoln, the band started yelling, "Satan! Satan! Satan!" And by the second chorus, the entire crowd of hundreds starting singing along, shouting, "Satan! Satan! Satan!," many pumping their fists in the air. That's when it finally struck me that video of the Democratic Party faithful chanting for the devil was footage Sean Hannity would love to broadcast over and over. Even the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. would not approve of this tape.

Unfortunately, I am not very good with video cameras. Also, altitude makes beer more potent, as does drinking a vast quantity of it. So my video is dark, the H-O-P-E is out of frame and I missed the audience chant altogether. But I did capture the band yelling "Satan! Satan! Satan!"

So I'm putting the video on YouTube as an experiment to see if it, too, can be lifted from its context and used to rally the Republican base. I hope it gets ludicrously e-mailed around by the far right as proof that Obama is the antichrist, or winds up on "The O'Reilly Factor," or, at the very least, it merits a footnote in the next book by Jerome Corsi.

To anyone at the party, it was obvious there were no devil worshipers in the house, unless devil worshipers now masquerade as dorky policy wonks in tan blazers. Luckily, you can't tell any of that from my tape, which mostly captured dark blurs and the low, muttered words "Satan! Satan! Satan!" Which is perfect quality for a viral video, I suspect.

The song itself is a silly little tale about a guy forced to dance as punishment in hell: He says to me to shake around/and don't stop until you hit the ground/And I know it is not how you thought it would be/No whips, no chains, just dancing. It's not Dylan, but it is not about electing Beelzebub for president either. Though that might actually be a better song.

And if for some reason the right doesn't embrace my video, I offer this underreported fact to the left: Playing a party at the Republican National Convention was a band called Styx.

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