Inside the Capitol

Sunday, August 24, 2008

8-27 Conventions Might Be Worth Watching

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- As I recall, it was Ted Koppel, kicking off convention coverage for ABC-TV several conventions ago, who said he didn't know why the networks still bothered covering conventions because they had become so scripted and predictable.
He was right. Ever since the scary 1968 Democratic National Convention, in Chicago, both parties realized they were going to have to exert great control over their conventions to avoid embarrassing situations they knew TV networks would exploit.
Up to that point, national party nominating conventions had been exciting ever since political parties were invented in the 1790s. My first memory of the excitement was the 1952 GOP convention, when conservative Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio and moderate Gen. Dwight Eisenhower squared off.
I was a high school freshman at the time. Girls and sports seemed the only worthwhile pursuits. My father was listening to the convention on the car radio. When we got where we were going, I stayed in the car to listen to the roll call vote.
It was replete with vote switching, back stabbing, accusations and political maneuvering. I decided any group of people who played that dirty was worth my attention. I added political observation to my list.
By 1960, party conventions were on television in southwestern New Mexico and we got to watch the Jack Kennedy-Lyndon Johnson struggle. But we don't see that kind of drama anymore. Party leaders get things wrapped up far ahead of time now.
But this year may be a bit of an exception. Democrats couldn't get their presidential selection process wrapped up until after the last primary and there are many scars left. Republicans wrapped theirs very early. But theirs was not a consensus pick. Half the people at both conventions likely will not be happy.
So we could be in for some exciting times. Barack Obama's vice-presidential choice, Sen. Joe Biden will liven the party, saying things that the careful and deliberate Obama hasn't.
At both conventions, expect to see the candidates talk about the part of their lives that they haven't spoken of yet. And if they don't, the media will.
When was it that Obama supposedly became a Muslim? What was he really doing then. How did he get in to those prestigious colleges? What was he doing between the time he graduated and when he ran for the state Senate?
What did McCain do after he was released from the Vietnamese prison and he entered the U.S. Senate? How did his second wife come into his life and what happened to his first wife?
Bill Clinton used the 1992 Democratic Convention to explain where he came from, how he went to those prestigious colleges and what happened after he got out into the real world. With him, it worked. The media didn't have to fill in the details because he told the story over and over.
What will happen this time? Will Hillary make a fuss? Will her unhappy delegates eventually hop on the bandwagon or will they go off to nurse their wounds as Gene McCarthy's delegates did when Hubert Humphrey prevailed at the 1968 convention?
Who will McCain choose for a running mate and will that invigorate some of the far right who aren't happy with him being the standard bearer?
How will Gov. Bill Richardson do at the convention? He gets to make a speech. Will it raise or lower his chances for a top administration post in case Democrats win in November? Since Sen. Biden appeared to be the top candidate for secretary of state, will Richardson have a better shot at that.
This year could be a little more than the usual pep rally and giant infomercial. If it is, it will be an accident because the party choreographers don't want to have the least bit of discord. But if it's ever going to happen, this could be the year.
WED, 8-27-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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