The Choreographed charade taking place this week in Denver is no more of a convention than an acorn is an oak tree. There has not been a real political convention in this country since 1980. A whole generation of Americans has attained voting age without seeing what real politics looks like. The true American misses the days of gavel to gavel coverage, where every state nominated a favorite son and every party plank was fought over tooth and nail. Alas, those days are gone, never to be seen again, replaced by the four day prime time commercials the political parties now run. In the interest of history, I give you my list of the ten greatest conventions. Many historians will disagree with my reasoning in some of the selections, but it’s my list, they can do their own.
1. 1896, Democrat convention-Bryan electrifies the delegates with his legendary “Cross of Gold” speech. For 90 days the country seems on the verge on Grange rule when Mark Hanna steps in and bribes enough worker/voters to save capitalism.
2. 1920-With Theodore Roosevelt dead, a group of cynical bosses and office holders lead by Henry Cabot Lodge meet in a smoke filled room at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago and decide that skirt chasing drunk Warren Gamail Harding is handsome enough to capture the hearts of the newly enfranchised women voters. Harding wins in a landslide and presides over the most corrupt administration in half a century before he goes on a poker playing train trip to Alaska and dies a year before his term ends.
3. And 4.- Tie between 1976 Republican convention and 1980 Democratic convention. In the first, Gerald Ford chases Ronald Reagan all over the platform before finally cornering him and making him shake hands. In the second, Jimmy Carter chases Ted Kennedy all around the platform before finally cornering him and making him shake hands. Ford and Carter go on to floundering campaigns and election losses.
5. 1933 Sons of the Desert Convention- Ollie convinces Stan that they can go to the lodge convention in Chicago, and that the wives will be “none the wiser” ,by pretending that Ollie has had a nervous breakdown and that Stan must accompany him to Honolulu to recover. The plan is foiled when the wives see a Movietone News short at the movies showing Stan and Ollie mugging for the camera as the Sons of the Desert parade into Chicago. When confronted by the wives with the fact that the ship from Hawaii they were supposed to be traveling on had sunk, the boys claim that they had gotten back to California by “ship-hiking”.
6. 1968 Democratic Convention-Attempting only to nominate a pig (Pigasus) for President, several thousand Yippies camping in Lincoln Park are routed by Mayor Daily’s police force. Daily responds by screaming anti-Semitic epithets at Senator Abraham Ribicoff. In the confusion Dan Rather is arrested on the convention floor and Hubert Humphrey accepts the Democratic nomination calling for the “politics of joy”.
7. 1964 Republican Convention-Barry Goldwater is nominated as I listen to the proceedings over the radio with my grandfather who grins at me and nods sagely as he turns the page of his Wall Street Journal.
8. 1912 Republican Convention-T.R. is fairly denied the nomination by Taft’s forces and leads his followers out of the hall to start the Bull Moose party. In the greatest hyperbole of any speech at any convention, Roosevelt ends his acceptance speech by stating that he and his followers “Stand at Armageddon and battle for the Lord !” Roosevelt, and presumably the Lord, go down to defeat in November in a campaign Roosevelt remembers thereafter as the one where he was shot in the chest.
9. 1924 Democratic Convention-Democrats go on for 103 ballots before settling on the charismatic John W. Davis as their nominee, denying the American voter the opportunity to show its anti-Catholic bigotry until 1928 when Governor Al Smith is finally nominated and soundly defeated. Davis goes on to be the least remembered Democratic nominee of the century until Michael Dukakis emerges (briefly) in 1988.
10. 1972 Republican convention-Only convention ever to nominate an entire ticket which is forced to resign within two years. America is slow to recognize the candidates for the felons they are and gives them 49 of the 50 states in the election, finally almost putting an end to Lincoln’s adage that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. The new saying is that you can fool 49 out of 50 people all of the time.