Unconventional Thinking About The Conventions
Wednesday - August 27, 2008
As you read this, my beloved 11 regular readers, I am in Denver to report on the Democratic National Convention for MidWeek and KGMB. As I write this, however, I am in the beautiful Pacific Palisades section of Pearl City, Oahu, Hawaii, pondering the trip ahead.
Among my ponderings: Despite my advanced years, this will be the first national political convention I have ever attended. But I went to my first political convention at the age of 17: the Allegan County Republican Convention.
My people were rock-ribbed Republican. My grandfather adored the memory of Theodore Roosevelt whom he once met at a political rally in 1912. In 1964, the last year in which he voted, he cast his ballot for Republican Barry Goldwater.
But I went to that Republican convention because of the national Democrats. They had just nominated a war hero and pretty face with an indifferent record as a United States senator: John F. Kennedy. In doing so, they rejected Texas Sen. Lyndon Johnson, a man my older brother and I had concluded was far more worthy of the presidency.
So I went to that little Republican meeting looking to get involved in beating the Kennedy-Johnson ticket. That fall I organized a young Republican club in my high school, my mom and grandpa voted for vice president Richard Nixon, my dad didn’t vote at all (his normal custom) and I do not know what brother Ray did.
I’ve been to conventions since, of course - once years ago as a Pearl City delegate to a Hawaii State Democratic Convention and many times as an observer of both Republican and Democrats, looking for material for political columns.
I’ve even been a luncheon speaker at an Oahu Democratic County Convention and served on a panel at a Republican state convention. But I’ve never been to one of the big ones.
In some ways, of course, none of the national conventions is big anymore - at least not in the sense that they have much to do with choosing presidential candidates. As we’ve all recently experienced, that’s all done in the interminable two years of campaigning and voting in state primaries and caucuses.
But I am old enough to remember when the nomination was in doubt. That was certainly the case in Los Angeles in 1960. But Kennedy had gained a significant lead through the primary process - and that has been the well-worn route to the party nominations since.
So what are the meetings in Denver this week and Minneapolis next all about?
They’re for introducing Barack Obama’s and John McCain’s choices for vice president to the party faithful, firing up the faithful and - most important - marketing Obama and McCain themselves to the American people.
Stories will be told in well-lit, beautiful color of Obama’s oh-so-American hard knocks story and of McCain’s valor, experience and differences from unpopular President George W. Bush.
There will be speeches. Lots of speeches. At the Republican convention, even the governor of Hawaii, practically the climactic antipode of Minnesota, will get 15 minutes at the podium. Linda Lingle, we all hope, will do us proud.
So too, we hope, will Barack Obama - not our governor, but our product. The expectations for his acceptance speech on the last night of the Democratic convention are not high; they’re stratospheric.
Obama’s “blue state, red state” keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention transformed an Illinois state senator and United States Senate hopeful into a presidential candidate.
Democrats are know for electrifying convention speeches - though few presidential victories in the November. Since 1968, in presidential at-bats, the Democrats have a mere three for 10.
But they do look - or rather, sound - good in the at-bat circle:
Jesse Jackson in 1984: “I’d rather have Franklin Roosevelt in a wheelchair than Ronald Reagan on a horse!”
Mario Cuomo at the same conclave: “We must make the American people hear our tale of two cities. We must convince them that we can have one city, indivisible, shining, for all its people.”
And Ann Richards in 1988, speaking of President George H.W. Bush: “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”
So we will look - and listen - this week and next.
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