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Crush and cacophony at the Omni

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AN evening on the floor of the Omni arena during the week of the Democratic National Convention offers new insights into the word ``cramped.'' The place normally seats 17,000. But more than 7,000 seats were torn out to make way for a monstrous podium (said to be the largest in the history of American political conventions), another gargantuan platform where phalanxes of photographers practice their art, and rows of glassed-in boxes from which the television networks can monitor the spectacle.

And a spectacle it is. Within the space remaining are jammed 5,373 delegates, hundreds of security guards, thousands of Dukakis and Jackson campaign workers who have managed to get a pass onto the main floor, a gaggle of movie stars who always seem to show up at these sorts of things, and a number of the 13,500 journalists who have swarmed into Atlanta for the big event.

An evening on the floor of the Omni during the Democratic National Convention also offers new insights into the word ``cacophony.''

It's not the ``official'' donkey noisemakers, the bullhorns, the competing chants (``Duke, Duke, Duke'' vs. ``Jesse, Jesse, Jesse'') that get to you. It's not even the band, needlessly amplified, perched high atop the podium. It strikes up a tune between each address; at one point Monday night, it played for three ear-splitting minutes while officials frantically searched for a missing speaker.

It's the incessant chatter that dulls the senses and makes everyone talk even louder. The sum of thousands of conversations, taken together, drowns out all but that which emanates from a most piercing public-address system.

To cut through the indifference, a speech has to be a real attention-getter. Texas state Treasurer Ann Richards managed that Monday night with her keynote address. Her first zinger - ``After listening to George Bush all these years, I thought you needed to hear what a real Texas accent sounded like'' - caught conventioners by surprise, and quieted all but the most intent chatterers.

Most important of all, an evening on the floor of the Omni during the week of the Democratic National Convention offers new insights into the state of the Democratic Party.

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