Monday, September 1, 2008

Conventional History

For a political junkie the quadrennial political conventions are like the Super Bowl, the World Series and the Olympics all rolled into one.
I love the bigness, the loudness, the craziness, the pageantry and the oversized oratory of these outdated spectacles.
I've been to four political conventions in my lifetime: two Democrat conventions (1964 and 1968) and two Republican conventions (2000 and 2004).
In 1964 at the Dem convention in an already fading Atlantic City I was a Young Democrat for LBJ. We lost our Real Hero and we had to battle on with "LBJ for the USA." When Lyndon Johnson wasn't obsessing over the possibility that Bobby Kennedy would challenge him he was teasing the party and the country with Veep possibilities. I remember a huge billboard on the boardwalk with a photo of GOP nominee Barry Goldwater that said, simply: "In Your heart You Know He's Right." I also remember standing on the convention floor with Walter Cronkite who had nothing to do and who merely watched the convention as a spectator. In 1964 Cronkite's ratings were in the tank so CBS yanked him from Dem convention coverage and replaced him with Roger Mudd and Robert Trout.
In 1968 Cronkite was back in the booth and I was on the ground at the infamous Democrat Convention in Chicago. The nominee was Hubert Horatio Humphrey and I was angry. I was one of the "McCarthy Kids" -- college kids who supported and worked for anti-war candidate Senator Eugene McCarthy. We travelled with McCarthy throughout the country and stayed in the homes of McCarthy supporters. I stayed in upscale Winnetka, Ill. but during the convention I didn't get back to Winnetka very often since we were pretty much trapped in McCarthy headquarters at the Conrad Hilton Hotel while all hell broke loose on the streets of Chicago. I hated Chicago Mayor Dick Daley and the other party leaders who suppressed free speech and the will of the people. But no, I did not take to the streets and no, I did not abandon the party. In the end I campaigned for and voted for Humphrey (I never trusted Nixon) and I went down with the ship.
Jimmy Carter altered my view of things and Ronald Reagan sealed the deal. But that's another story.
In 2000 I worked the GOP convention in Philadelphia as a volunteer and I did the same thing again in New York in 2004. I was in the house (and sometimes on the delegate floor) every night at both conventions. I'll tell you this: Democrats talk a good convention game but Republicans run the smoothest convention you'll ever see. A Democrat convention is like college registration: everything left to the last minute, lots of hoops to jump through, fun in a weird way but totally chaotic. A GOP convention is like being in the military: You're here and you'll do it our way and on time. For the most part Republican delegates are better dressed, more mannerly, more attentive and appear to be more appreciative.
This year something told me to skip the GOP confab in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Since Gustav has prompted the cancellation of the Republican opening session and seems to have put the rest of the convention on hold I guess I made the right decision.

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