Farewell to Conventions

I don’t think we will ever see another political convention after this year. They have outlived their purpose.

We saw our first virtual convention open last night and immediately, I noticed that the speeches were substantial, crammed into a little time, and all made pretty good sense. You could hear every word and the only distractions came, in my case, from the CBS people trying to build a structure around the idea, which was okay. The same thing will happen over the next few days until Joe Biden and Kamala Harris make their speeches and it ends on Thursday. Michelle Obama won the first night, with Bernie Sanders in a close second. The whole thing did on night one exactly what it needed to do; it defined Donald Trump so clearly that his very name should make you gag and beatified Joe Biden as the best damned man that ever was and completely ready to take Trump’s place.

The reporters seemed to all have the same argument, that this event had to be constructed to make Joe Biden into the man we love instead of just being the challenger to a man we hate. Maybe that’s right. Maybe not. It’s such a strange time you can’t say with any certainty what its about.

Except that conventions are over.

It’s too bad, because I loved conventions for all the wrong reasons.

I will never forget my first conventions, the Democrats in New York for Jimmy Carter’s in 1976 and the Republicans in Kansas City for Gerald Ford.

I had a moment.

We all knew what was going to happen in New York, so it wasn’t about news. For me, it was all about walking out of UPI’s tattered makeshift convention bureau (because Everything at UPI was tattered) and walking down the hallway at Madison Square Garden and walking up a ramp and through a doorway to the press box for which I had a pass because UPI’s President, H.L. Stevenson, said I just had to see it for myself, not just watch on closed circuit TV.

And he was right.

Two overwhelming things. It was smaller than it seemed on TV, an important lesson about what TV does, and, I think because of the pure democracy of it, it made me cry. I will never forget it, being overwhelmed by the cacophony of Democracy playing out on a convention floor. It seemed like the best place to be in the world at that moment. And as I said, my reaction was completely emotional. To a lesser degree, the same thing happened in Kansas City, big emotions over the idea of a democracy at work.

I went to lots of conventions after that and never had that feeling again. I wrote tons of copy. Did lots of interviews. Covered lots of stuff that was playing out for television and generally forgot the lessons of my first convention, that these things were just shows. We all bought into the format because it was such fun. Go to some hot city in the summer on an expense account, drink like a sailor on leave, eat, eat, eat and party until you dropped. The readers never got to see that part. But generally, we lived for it.

It was completely useless except for the fun part, which may be why the things lasted so long, so the media could have its fun time covering this manipulated event that had all the glory two dimensions could muster. Later on, campaign debates took on some of the same feeling, the feeling of going to watch a show that wasn’t about anything but being a show.

So we have finally come to this, the virtual convention, dragged here by technology, which is good and relentless and everywhere, and confined here by a damned virus that has killed 160,000 poor victims, wrecked our economy, pushed countless millions of people out of work and remains persistent, even though numbers are declining.

I watched it on CBS and it looked pretty good to me. The CBSN White House correspondent, whose name is hyphenated so I can’t remember it, is a very nice looking woman whose eyes looked like they came from space because of the lighting in her apartment. She is also a very good reporter, I have learned over a couple of years, well spoken. But the eyes were a serious distraction.

Everyone else did a good job, too, except for the producer who thought it was necessary to bring Reince Priebus on to say it was not a surprise to him that Republican John Kasich of Ohio endorsed Democrat Joe Biden because Kasich is such a loser, or something like that. Then the network provided an equivalent Democrat for balance. That was shitty.

Michelle Obama proved, if you had not noticed during her eight years in the White House, that she is one of the most wonderful people ever, sincere and appropriately lacerating. I still love Bernie Sanders, like I have for years, and every time I see Governor Cuomo of New York on TV I can’t help thinking of his father, who was grand.

Because I’m old now and have no role of any kind in media, I know I will never see another convention live again, so this shift to the virtual is just fine by me.

I drank two big glasses of water for this.

Please vote Democratic as soon as you are able.

3 thoughts on “Farewell to Conventions

  1. After reading your account of the in-person conventions of yore, I conclude that they would not have been my cuppa: always hated pep rallies. But I loved last night’s. Am reading Michelle’s Obama’s memoir with my ESL class right now: she sure is smart and good and classy. We are blessed to have her! Bernie was excellent too.


  2. Charlie. Thank you for your word-smithing. As always, your wise words lift up and inform and clarify and encourage with a smile. Blessings!


  3. I really enjoyed the musical performance by a sea of very diverse young faces. Michelle Obama is always a breath of fresh air and authentic. I really enjoyed her memoir. Bernie was my first choice for President since I am more to the left than Biden. That said, I think Biden will surround himself with smart people. The virtual format is lacking in so many respects, but I guess we’re stuck with it for a long while. Not sure why they chose Miss Longoria Baton as moderator.


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