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Conventional Wisdom

There was no Republican convention on Monday, with the day’s scheduled proceedings blown away by the same tropical storm system that is now threatening New Orleans with another hurricane, but it’s likely that few noticed.

Young people will find it hard to believe, but the two major party’s quadrennial get-togethers used to be the best shows on television. They were the only shows on television at this time of the leap year back in the days of three networks, another fact of the dark ages that will astonish the youngsters, but the conventions would have fared well against any competition. Conventions used to have drama, suspense, intrigue, convoluted sub-plots, and people in funny hats, all with the added rooting interest of a big time sports event.

That all changed after the Democrats’ debacle of a convention in Chicago in ’68, when the hippies rioted and Mayor Daley’s cops knocked enough hairy heads together that the parties were shocked into adopting a more small-d democratic system that took the power away from smoke-filled rooms full of party bosses and handed it over to the sorts of ideological voters who actually show up for primaries and party caucuses. The debate still rages about the relative advantages of the two systems, and of course the rooms would be non-smoking now, but it’s worth noting that exactly half of the old-time conventions picked losing candidates and even the winning tickets often fell short of the ideal. Whatever the political merits of the current system, though, there’s no denying that the old way provided far more satisfying television viewing.

With the sole exception of the ’76 Republican gathering in Kansas City, where Ronald Reagan still had an outside chance at unseating the incumbent Gerald Ford as the delegates convened, every convention since ’68 has been a foregone conclusion and a rather boring affair. The networks continued to provide “gavel-to-gavel” coverage for several election cycles, apparently out of habit, but as the conventions degenerated into ever more slickly produced infomercials for the campaigns the networks began losing viewers to the cable competition and started cutting back on the hours of airtime devoted to the speeches and other machinations. Now the day-long coverage is relegated to the cable networks, with the networks interrupting their usual fare only for an hour or so a night, and it’s probable that the only people tuned in are the political enthusiasts who have long since made up their minds about who they’ll be voting for.

Those few hours of prime-time network coverage are still considered important, however, and we read that some savvy political operatives even regard Mitt Romney’s upcoming acceptance speech “the most important moment of his campaign.” If so, we except that he’ll make the best of it, not just because he’s a capable orator with a strong argument for his candidacy but also because the Democrats have gone so far over the top in their attempts at character assassination that he’ll allay many fears just by showing up without horns, a tail, and a pitchfork. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie should also draw a few persuadable voters during his keynote address, and we expect that his famously blunt style of oratory should be successful in laying out the dire facts of life that justify the Republican’s hard medicine.

Thus far it seems unlikely that the loony left will be able to mount any protests that rival the newsworthiness of the ’68 fiasco, which is disappointing. We had hoped that the remains of the Occupy Wall Street or some other fringe movement would provoke the same disgusted reaction that helped propel Richard Nixon to victory of Hubert Humphrey, but on Monday the best the left could do was a couple of hundred protestors, a few vagina costumes, and one measly arrest. The protestors are blaming the bad weather for the meager effort, but in fact they’re just far lazier than the hippies ever were, and that’s a pretty damning indictment

Our cable subscription was cancelled long ago, so we’ll miss out on much of the blah-blah-blah that’s been planned by both parties, but we’ll do our best to keep apprised through the miracles of the internet and talk radio. Something interesting might well develop, but in the meantime we’re offering enticing odds that Romney will be the nominee.

— Bud Norman

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