I didn't watch the conventions -- 09/03/04

I didn't watch the conventions.

Not the Democrats. Not the Republicans.

That is so strange for somebody who was a total political junky as a kid.

As I no doubt have mentioned somewhere in the megabytes of babbling that I have committed on the Internet, politics and I came together for the 1952 political season. That was the first really televised election, the first one with real gavel-to-gavel coverage for a truly nationwide audience and it coincided with my family having television and me being old enough (nine) to grasp what was going on. I followed the run-up to the conventions -- both Democrat and Republican -- and I watched both conventions every night, staying up until each night's adjournment. I kept tabs on the roll call votes, adding up the number of votes for each candidate. I was especially involved in the Republican convention, having decided that I liked Ike and cheering him on in his contest with Senator Taft for the nomination. On election night I stayed up, once again with a list of states and their electoral votes, adding up the vote, staying glued to the television until it was clear that Eisenhower had won.

I repeated that fascination in 1956, although there was less suspense over the outcome, I was still glued to the screen, watching both conventions and staying up on election night. Again in 1960 -- as I recall it, not a lot of doubt that Nixon would get the Republican nod, but great drama with the Democrats -- and then election night, the drama and suspense of an extremely close race.

In 1964 -- great turmoil -- I was in college and as part of a political science course requirement (but I probably would have done it anyway) took part in a Saturday mock Republican convention on campus (there being no doubt that year that LBJ would be the Democrat's candidate) and had a marvelous time -- in fact, I spent the next three or four days unable to speak above a whispered croak from having strained my voice so much. I was 21 years old (that was the voting age most places back then) and eligible to cast my vote for the very first time. I voted and went off to my discount department store job, so eager for it to get to nine o'clock so I could go home and sit in front of the television and watch my vote get counted. I finished work, got into my car, turned on the radio, and discovered that the network news people had already called the election. *sigh* So much for election night drama.

Then came 1968 and the Democrats in Chicago -- watching the turmoil and the riots and the fighting -- and at the Republican convention watching the unbelievable return of Nixon from the political dustbin. 1972 brought more tumult over Vietnam and what looked to be four more years of Nixon but was merely the start of two years of political drama and upheaval that gets filed under "Watergate."

After that... changes in election laws, more and more primary elections, until we reached the point where there was no longer any real decisions being made at the conventions, the candidates having secured the nomination ever earlier in the year by winning the primaries. The conventions have become almost pointless infomercials, the drama is gone. Along with that, the major networks cut back coverage, no more gavel-to-gavel coverage, that is a thing of the past (except, I believe, for C-SPAN) -- in fact, the cable news channels now provide much more coverage than the broadcast networks. Given the declining quality of the network coverage over the years, I suppose that is a small loss. They long ago ceased showing what was happening at the convention in favor of showing their star talkers sitting and chatting endlessly about what they were not showing. As with their horrible Olympics coverage, they will not just shut-up and show events.

So I never did turn on a television for either convention this year. Well, I did turn on one of the cable news channels one night during the Democrat's convention, but they just had their people sitting in a studio talking about nothing of any substance. Click.

This being the twenty-first century, I have followed the conventions on the Internet, reading various news sites as well as various bloggers and have read transcripts of most of the major addresses. (And I did watch a replay of Giuliani's speech on CNN's Web site.)

I guess I remain a political junky, but the age of the importance of televised political conventions began and departed within my lifetime. It feels a bit strange to contemplate that. I saw it begin, watched it develop over the years, and then saw it fade away. Actually, I suppose along with that, I've watched the importance of broadcast network television news increase and increase and then slowly begin its decline as well.

The conventions are over (at last!) and now we can settle down to try to endure the next two months of political fighting between these two pairs of dreadful candidates. (This year there isn't much local impact of the campaigns because both parties are ignoring the states that they consider to be sure wins for one or the other and Rhode Island being filled with automatic Democrat voters, neither party will spend a single dime on the race here.) There isn't one of them who I would pick out of any list of political figures as being an obvious good choice. Yes, of course, I do have my opinion as to which pair is even more dreadful than the other, but either way, I'll be glad when the election is over.

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