ST. PAUL -- So far this feels like a funeral, only not as much fun.
Political conventions are supposed to be celebrations, where you consume complimentary food and beverages and brag about how great your party is and note roughly 125 times per hour that your opponents are tapeworm slime. That's what the Democrats did in Denver, and it's what the Republicans planned to do here.
But now they can't. They don't want to be seen celebrating during Hurricane Gustav. And the Democrats don't want to be seen celebrating about the fact the Republicans can't celebrate during Hurricane Gustav.
So at the moment everybody on both sides is being sensitive; nobody is engaging in the hyper-partisan cheap-shot dung-flinging that is the life blood of American politics. Yes, incredible as it seems, both major parties have managed to set aside their sleazy attack-ad gamesmanship to focus on what is actually best for the nation. We can only pray, as Americans and as members of the news media, that this does not last.
For now, however, the Republican convention is in Somber Mode. The original plan was to kick it off Monday with speeches by President Bush, Laura Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the late Bing Crosby and many other leading Republican celebrities in a gala prime-time program that would climax with the release, inside the convention hall, of 50 specially trained doves, which would be shot down by Vice President Cheney.
But all of that had to be scrapped. Instead, on Monday afternoon the Republicans held a serious and much-curtailed convention session, highlighted by welcoming remarks from the highest-ranking Republican office-holder who is actually in Minnesota, Arthur A. ''Art'' Fensterman, lieutenant comptroller of Idaho, who told the delegates, in a brief but clearly heartfelt speech, that he was here because he missed his connecting flight to New York.
After that the Republicans carried out the required business of the convention, which consisted of formally nominating John McCain, who faced a surprise last-ditch challenge from Hillary Clinton, who apparently is still a little bitter. The Republicans also formally adopted their party platform, which is in fact a photocopy of the repair manual for a 1957 Maytag washer, because nobody in the history of American presidential politics has ever actually read a party platform. (The Democrats forgot to even bring a platform to Denver, so they ended up adopting a few words hastily scrawled on hotel stationery by Ben Affleck.)
Anyway, with the big speeches eliminated, the entire first day of the Republican convention was over in less time than it takes Joe Biden to order breakfast. This left convention-goers with little to do except show their support for the victims of Hurricane Gustav via such humanitarian acts as drinking complimentary distilled spirits. This they did at a big party that was originally called ''the Spirits of Minneapolis,'' but was changed at the last minute to ''the Spirits of the Gulf Coast.'' This party was sponsored by the Distilled Spirits Council, which also held a big party at the Democratic convention, the goal of these parties being to raise awareness of the importance of responsible drinking by handing out free liquor. I did not attend the party, but I am certain the mood was somber.
CELEBRITY WATCH: The Democrats had a lot of celebrities in Denver, including Ben Affleck, Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Steven Spielberg and Ben Affleck, among many others, including Ben Affleck. But according to published reports, the Republicans have drawn some ''high wattage'' star power to their own convention, in the form of Antonella Barbra, who finished 16th in the sixth season of American Idol. Seriously. Also Bo Derek has to be around here somewhere.
PROTEST WATCH: There was a big protest march in St. Paul against war and fascism and injustice and corporations in general, so these things should be pretty much eliminated any minute now. But the Republican convention is apparently going to march grimly on for a couple more days. I will be keeping you posted, so don't go anywhere. Unless of course you're here.
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