As predicted, the Democrats answered the Republican Convention — stagecraft for stagecraft, defining-moment nominee speech for defining-moment nominee speech. Marketing mavens pitched the two major political parties. Whom we saw was what we got.
However, having watched both conventions, the Republican in person, I think it prudent to remember an applicable adage: some things are best viewed only as final products, for the process isn’t pretty. The list is short: laws, news, political conventions and sausage.
Sausage can speak for itself. As to the rest:
*The wheeling, dealing, back-scratching, horse-trading and quid pro quoing of politics is unseemly up close — regardless of the resultant law, from Jim Crow to Great Society. Compromise is too genteel a term.
*Deciding what is TV news is often a function of what doesn’t wind up on the cutting-room floor. Editing is critical, subjective, problematic and hurried. Ambush interviews and leading questions too often set up punchy, context-free sound bites. Print reporters’ trails and travails of inquiry are typically tedious and boring. Style, however, is as polite, ingratiating, deceptive, intimidating or beseeching as necessary to get the story — and get it first.
*Focusing on silly hats, infomercial ambience and hard news deficits is an inane intrusion into the essence of any convention — in-house cheerleading, incessant back-slapping, non-stop networking and, in this case, celebrity gawking. Unless you’re on assignment for People Magazine, this should be unworthy of media scrutiny.
The networks pretty much got it right by drastically curtailing their prime time coverage. They pared it back to a total of approximately 25 hours, which still left time for over-analysis. In Philadelphia, they largely focused on key elements of the final product — Colin Powell, John McCain, Dick Cheney, anybody named Bush and a couple of acceptance speeches. It was more challenging in Los Angeles where the Democrats were encumbered by Pacific Time and the need to spotlight a lot of Kennedys and a couple of Clintons.
Would that the rest of the media had adopted a relatively minimalist approach. PBS and cable networks CNN, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and C-SPAN combined for an additional 375 hours of TV tedium. Too many media — from multi-staffed daily newspapers and yada yada dot commies to celebrity talking heads — chasing too little substance. The result: inordinate attention paid to goofy garb and a continuous loop of pep rallies and schmoozing delegates — the sausage-making of any political convention.
In Philadelphia, for example, appearances by Bo Derek, still a near 10 despite some weird, faux-British accent, and The Rock, still a mixed-message mistake, seemed almost newsworthy for a party that is still celebrity challenged beyond Charlton Heston.
But just because the nominees have been pre-selected, platform planks pre-set and elephant hats prepared, doesn’t mean these quadrennial gatherings are nothing more than atavistic, pre-coronation exercises in pomp and partisanship — without much value.
“One of the biggest problems we have in this country is voter apathy,” opined Florida delegate Al Austin from the cacophonous floor of Philadelphia’s First Union Center. “An event like this is an opportunity to get people focused on the fact that there’s a presidential election coming up. It’s a way for voters to get aware and interested — and introduced to candidates.”
Austin, a Tampa developer, consummate insider and finance chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, also pointed out that, as with any convention — from hardware to pharmaceuticals — it’s the perfect forum to energize the troops to go forth and, well, sell.
“It fires these folks up and generates a lot of enthusiasm for carrying the message,” pointed out Austin. “If you’re a delegate, this is an honor. They feel like they’re a part of something big.”
Added University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus: “This convention is a reward for the county organizations, for those who labor in the trenches, for those who are the backbone of the party. These are the people who can make or break a campaign between now and November