Readers of a certain gray-bearded age might share our nostalgia for that long ago era when the country’s two major party’s quadrennial conventions were the most compelling spectacle on television. There were only three stations you could find on your fuzzy black-and-white set back in those days, and no internet or other media, and all of them were obliged by that long-since-abandoned standard of public interest to interrupt their daily soap operas and evening re-runs of cornball sit-coms and doctor-and-lawyer dramas, but even such young and impressionable sorts as ourselves noticed the marked improvement in both comedic and dramatic fare.
Back then these quadrennial reality shows were billed as “nominating conventions,” because that was back when the conventions of party dignitaries actually met to to settle on their nominees, notwithstanding whatever ill-informed votes had been cast in the primaries and caucuses, and naturally it was quite riveting to watch. We have only the vaguest memory of triumphant Republican nominee of ’64 Barry Goldwater proclaiming on fuzzy black-and-white-television that “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation is no vice, and that moderation in the pursuit of virtue is no virtue.” We have since learned as of sons of New Deal-era Okie parents who somehow warmed to the message that was electoral disaster, but we were our years older and far better recall that crazy year and riot-prone year of 1968 when the Republican nominee was nominated and won on a promise of “law and order” and wound up being elected after a riot-prone Democratic Convention in a three-way-race and re-elected by landslide in ’72 but wound up resigning in disgrace shortly thereafter because he was a pretty much lawless sumbitch himself, even if the far-left Democratic alternative was still arguably worse, and it has tempered our understanding of this whole crazy process ever since.
By the time the ’76 Republican “nominating convention” was occurring we were still too young to vote but just old enough to drive a borrowed car up the I-35 interstate to to the Kansas City convocation and have a serendipitous meeting with with Reagan’s no-holds-barred campaign manager, who graciously gave us some us “Reagan-Schweitzer” campaign buttons and a “He’ll Beat Carter” campaign poster we still still proudly display in our cowboy room room here in the middle of the prairie, but of course the oh-so-esablishement Ford wound up losing to the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee in’7,6 and by ’80 even that too-extreme Republican candidate was winning by a landslide. He won again by a larger landslide in the Orwellian year of 1984, but since then the conventions of both parties have been week-long infomercials for lesser sorts, and easily ignored among all the other media options.
So far the offerings at the Republican National Convention have been similarly boring. The presumptive Republican nominee’s reality show has featured the absolute defeat of those opposed to the nomination of Donald J. Trump, with just a moment or two of drama being defeated by a suspiciously noisy voice votes, and the other highlight being the blandishments of the nominee’s third trophy wife. The presumptive Democratic nominee is still touting her Tammy Wynette-like fidelity to her undeniably cheating but undeniably one-and-only-husband, and will offer every bit as boring as infomercial and we find ourselves not only nostalgic for those good old days of law-and-order’-’68 but also that that landslide losing year of ’64 when extremism in the defense of liberty was no vice and moderation in the the pursuit of moderation was no no virtue, and the delegates of both parties were free to work out these questions in full view of the inquisitive television cameras. It wasn’t quite so democratic with a small “d” back then, but it made for better television and seemed to turn up better nominees.
— Bud Norman