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This Made Our Day

From the Scrapbook.

Sep 10, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 48 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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First, a disclaimer. The Scrapbook thought that the Republican National Convention was a success, and that Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech was first-rate, as was Paul Ryan’s address. Ann Romney, Clint Eastwood, Condi Rice, and all the Romney witnesses did their parts well, sometimes exceptionally well. The only sour note was Hurricane Isaac, or the threat of Hurricane Isaac, which in the end scarcely materialized in Florida. 

Clint Eastwood and Invisible Guest

Newscom

That said, The Scrapbook must admit that the GOP convention made us feel—well, a little antiquated. The reason is that we are old enough to remember the national conventions of the 1950s and ’60s; and any resemblance between those humid quadrennial funfests and the smooth, tightly scripted, closely choreographed production put on in Tampa (or Charlotte) is strictly coincidental. 

We blame it on television. As recently as the 1970s the television networks actually covered the conventions, more or less from start to finish. In those days this was called “gavel-to-gavel coverage,” and such comprehensive broadcasting in an election year was regarded as a public service, a Good Thing for the networks to do. 

Now, of course, few viewers would associate gavels with conventions (whatever happened to those presiding chairmen?), and the irony is that, as conventions have adapted to the demands of TV coverage, network coverage has become virtually nonexistent. Of course, the conscientious viewer can tune in to C-SPAN—which really does provide gavel-to-gavel coverage—and the cable networks (Fox, CNN, MSNBC) and public broadcasting are conscientious. But the good old days of a full evening’s coverage, and the big-name network anchormen hovering above the proceedings, have gone the way of the big-name network anchormen.

Which might explain why The Scrapbook enjoyed Clint Eastwood’s appearance in Tampa so much. To be sure, Mr. Eastwood is a famous actor, and it is entirely possible, even probable, that what appeared to be a spontaneous riff, a series of off-the-cuff comments directed at an empty chair sitting in for Barack Obama, was as carefully planned and executed as any other prime-time address. But maybe not. In which case, for 11 glorious minutes, The Scrapbook felt sensations unfelt at party conventions in many a year: surprise, suspense, and uncertainty. 

Indeed, we had no more idea what Clint Eastwood might say or do next than we had when Mayor Richard Daley shouted an obscenity from the floor at Senator Abraham Ribicoff (Democrats 1968), and President Gerald Ford summoned Governor Ronald Reagan to the podium (Republicans 1976), and Senator Edward Kennedy pointedly ignored President Jimmy Carter (Democrats 1980), and a clutch of delegates booed Governor Nelson Rockefeller (Republicans 1964). 

When Dwight D. Eisenhower accepted the Republican nomination in 1952, he shared a podium with dozens of people, all milling about and staring this way and that, and wiping their brows. Compare that with the Academy Award stage and light show that accompanied Mitt Romney. Does anybody remember the 1972 Democratic convention, when the wrangling and internal warfare over some long-forgotten platform plank prevented the nominee, Sen. George McGovern, from delivering his acceptance speech until two in the morning? Can anyone imagine anything like the 1952 GOP convention, when Sen. Everett Dirksen pointed from the podium at his party’s two-time nominee (Thomas E. Dewey), and exclaimed, “You led us down the road to defeat!” One year the party nominee (Adlai Stevenson) decided to let the convention delegates choose his running mate (Democrats 1956), and four years later, backers of that same candidate tried to wrest the nomination from the favorite (John F. Kennedy) by staging a giant, prolonged demonstration (Democrats 1960). 

The Scrapbook isn’t especially nostalgic, but we confess to missing favorite sons, seating disputes, the roll call of the delegates, talk of “erosion” in support for the front-runner, the occasional fistfight and/or shoving match on the floor, the pandering (“Colorado, the state that boycotts lettuce.  .  . ”), boosterism (“Guam, where America’s day begins.  .  . ”), and unscripted sentiment (“Will the delegate from Wisconsin please shut up!”). 

It’s slicker now, to be sure, and relentlessly focused and closely timed. But fun? Not so much. 

Sniffing Out Racism

While some people closely follow the polls to determine who’s ahead in the presidential race, The Scrapbook is partial to another metric: media accusations of Republican racism. The more the GOP appears to be succeeding, the more baseless accusations of bigotry we start hearing. 

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