A Conventional Convention

Four years ago or so the Democrats’ national convention was the hot show on television, and Barack Obama was so ubiquitous that we sought refuge from his constant presence by sneaking to a certain small tavern we have been known to frequent. Even there we found no escape, however, as a rather belligerent regular not only insisted that the bar’s fuzzy old television be tuned to the nominee’s acceptance speech but that everyone cease their conversations and listen with proper reverence.

We did not oblige him, of course, and continued to exercise our God-given right to talk baseball with one of the more apolitical patrons, but at full volume the great orator’s oration proved unavoidable. No lines from the speech come to mind, although there was probably something in there about hope and change and the failed policies of George W. Bush, but we well remember the alarming degree of excitement that the event seemed to generate. It was a big football stadium filled to capacity with screaming fans, with great columns looming on a stage created by Madonna’s own set designer, thousands of those kitschy Shepard Fairey “Hope” posters with Obama’s beatific face looking sagely upward to a bright shiny waving in the stands, and millions of people around the country chanting the candidate’s name in unison. It was quite a sight, and most unsettling.

Four years now seems a long time ago. We once again sought refuge from the big acceptance speech, this time at a slightly swanker establishment that serves a good chicken-fried steak, but this time all three of the fancy-schmantzy flat screen high-definition televisions were tuned to sports and absolutely no one in the place raised an objection. The convention seems a less popular show this time around, with the overnight ratings from Wednesday showing that the most popular broadcast of Bill Clinton’s much-hyped speech was routed by the National Football League’s season opener and tied with something called “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” which The Hollywood Reporter describes as a “zeitgeisting reality show.” Obama’s speech was indoors on a rather plain stage, too, the big football stadium show having been cancelled because of either a slight chance of rain or fear that they wouldn’t be able to fill enough seats for convincing show of support.

What we perused of the speech made no mention of hope or change, although there were several oblique references to the failed policies of George W. Bush, and none of it seemed particularly memorable. There were reports on the radio that the speech would include a major announcement regarding entitlement reform, but except for the part where he claimed the president claimed that Obamacare was going to lower medical costs and thus save Medicare and Medicaid from impending extinction we couldn’t find anything of the sort. None of those Shepard Fairey “Hope” posters were on display, perhaps because the artist is currently facing jail time for illegally covering up evidence that it was all a fraud. The crowd of die-hard fans in the convention hall went predictably wild, as did many of the television and radio commentators, but the chants of the candidate’s name seemed fainter.

Perhaps we perceive a relative lack of enthusiasm for Obama because we live in Kansas, where he wasn’t very popular even back during the Obama-mania days of ’08, but we often run into what’s left of the left around here and they seem unusually eager to talk about baseball. When the conversation does get around to politics, as it always will with these people, they’re invariably more excited to discuss Mitt Romney’s tax returns, personal banking practices, or secret plan to enslave women and black people than they are to enthuse about their own candidate.

The ratings were down for the Republican convention, too, and we must concede that the Republicans of our acquaintances are more prone to talk about Obama’s failings than Romney’s alternatives, but this general disdain for politics is further evidence that hope and change and all that jazz are no longer the “zeitgeisting” reality show that they once were. Throughout most of their convention the Democrats seemed most energized when comparing their opponents to Nazis or describing the nightmare dystopia those evil Republicans are diabolically plotting, and we expect to hear a lot more of it between and November.

The only consolation is knowing that it should be more easily avoided.

— Bud Norman

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