August 27, 2008

I always used to watch the political conventions every four years. Gavel-to-gavel coverage. Floor demonstrations, and fights. Intrigue. Talking heads. The pageantry of democracy.

The best one, for me, since I don’t remember the ones just prior, was the Democratic Convention of 1972. I recall a floor fight over seating the California delegation, which had been selected by the state’s winner-take-all rules instead of the party’s proportional rules. Shirley Chisholm, among many others, saw her name placed in nomination for President, and Frances Farenthold later for Vice-President. McGovern allowed the convention to consider anyone they wanted for VP, and although his ill-fated choice of Senator Eagleton was selected, the process went on so long that the acceptance speech — “Come Home, America!” — ended up being given in the wee hours of the morning. Poor George. No “silver foot in his mouth,” as Anne Richards would say at another convention, but no brass ring either.

I was eleven years old that summer, and I doubt that I stayed up that late.

I recall the other grand conventions I saw on TV. In 1976, Ford and Reagan took their contest virtually down to the wire. In 1980, Kennedy tried to convince his party to repudiate Carter, a sitting President. That same year, Reagan fended off a media-driven buzz to select Ford for VP by appearing in the convention hall — unprecedented at that time — to announce his choice of George H. W. Bush.

Fast forward to 2008. By then, election and convention coverage had changed, relegated to cable news, C-SPAN, and PBS, while the major commercial networks broadcast only a limited made-for-TV version of the conclave. The convention itself changed, too, and continues to change more and more. No longer a deliberative body, it has almost become no longer newsworthy except in the sense of who says what about whom.

In that respect, it’s not any more interesting than the endless stream of opinion, sound bites, and speechifying that we’re subjected to every day. And quite frankly, with just the exception of a few exceptional moments, I’m no longer watching. I haven’t for several election cycles, although the local “color coverage” of the 1996 Republican Convention was fun. All of us living in San Diego then, that was when my ex’s cousin had in an apartment overlooking the convention center. She put a sign in her window that said, for the benefit of Bob Dole, “Bob, Don’t Give Up Your Day Job.”

Anyway. The worst let-down of all was to discover that the Democrats’ roll-call vote was taking place during the daytime today. That was always the highlight of the whole week for me. The old lady would call out: “Alabama!” “Alaska!” And on down the list… In response, someone speaking for the state would say something on the lines of, “Madam Chair, the proud state of Alabama, the Heart of Dixie, the Land of Cotton, the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement, is thrilled to cast…” and then give the tally.

I watched a little bit of Hillary’s speech last night. After “The Cleaner” ended on A&E, we switched over to see the local news and the convention coverage was still going on, with Hillary speaking live. Good speech; she did what she had to do. Some blogs are complaining about her enthusiam, body language, or some supposed hidden agenda, and some silly PUMAs are still up in arms What more is she supposed to say: “Simon says, ‘Vote for Barack”

But the days of drama and story are gone now, lost in the sea of talk, talk, endless talk. At least they managed to arrange to have the call to nominate Obama by acclamation — by Hillary, no less — placed live during the NBC Nightly News. Otherwise I’d have missed it.


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