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.
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.
When Yahoo! News’s Washington bureau chief David Chalian was caught joking on a hot mike that Republicans were partying while black people drowned in Hurricane Isaac, the most surprising part of the story was that Chalian was fired for his comments. We expect he’ll not be out of job for long, though. They can use talent like that at MSNBC, where discerning and denouncing GOP “racism” has been raised to an art form.
Near as we can tell, O’Donnell was engaging in a little friendly workplace competition with Chris Matthews, who complained that Republicans were racist for observing that the president hails from Chicago: “They keep saying Chicago. . . . That’s another thing that sends that message—this guy’s helping the poor people in the bad neighborhoods, screwing us in the ’burbs.” Matthews’s guest helpfully added, “There’s a lot of black people in Chicago,” just in case you didn’t catch his drift.Not since the days of the Etruscan haruspex have so many attempted to divine so much from so little. MSNBC entrail inspector Lawrence O’Donnell, for instance, homed in on a joke by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell about Barack Obama’s well-known fondness for golf: “He hasn’t been working to earn reelection. He’s been working to earn a spot on the PGA tour.” O’Donnell translated it for the rubes in Peoria: “Well, we know exactly what he’s trying to do there. He is trying to align to Tiger Woods and surely, the—lifestyle of Tiger Woods with Barack Obama.”
Over at Harper’s, Jack Hitt filed a report from Tampa, “A Troubling Chant on the Convention Floor.” In Hitt’s telling, nativist Republican delegates started chanting “USA! USA!” in response to a heavily accented speaker from Puerto Rico. As it turns out, the chant was really the result of some arcane parliamentary struggles among the Ron Paul delegates, having nothing to do with the speaker, and Hitt appended a rather weaselly note to his report clarifying what happened. The Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney commented that “[BuzzFeed reporter Zeke] Miller’s reporting so thoroughly debunks what Hitt wrote that I would have expected Hitt to retract it. But when it comes to charging Republicans with racism, the standards are different, I guess.”
(Yes, and the standards are different for Hitt. In 2006, with the help of a pro-abortion group, Hitt wrote a story for the New York Times Magazine claiming that a woman in El Salvador had been imprisoned for having an abortion at 18 weeks. Soon after publication, it was revealed the woman had killed her infant after it was born following a full-term pregnancy. The New York Times took a full eight months to append an editor’s note to the story, and did so only after the Times’s public editor re-reported Hitt’s piece and upbraided the paper for getting the story entirely wrong.)
At the Atlantic, Elspeth Reeve filed a wildly headlined report about House speaker John Boehner’s remarks to reporters at the convention: “Boehner Says Out Loud He Hopes Blacks and Latinos ‘Won’t Show Up’ This Election.” Is that what Boehner said? Here’s the full quote:
This election is about economics. And they may not show up and vote for our candidate but I would suggest to you they won’t show up and vote for the president either.
A handful of her journalistic peers took Reeve to task for her grossly dishonest headline, but rather than apologize, Reeve wrote a followup, “Why We Think John Boehner Is Hoping for Low Minority Voter Turnout.” Except that Reeve didn’t say she thought Boehner was hoping for low minority turnout, Reeve reported that’s what he said. Which he clearly didn’t. Other recent Reeve bylines include, “Romney’s Birther Joke Explained in One Number: He Needs 61% of the White Vote” and “Race Takes Over the Race.”
Feel free to look up that last story for an unconvincing, yet Zapruder-esque analysis of the supposed racial imagery in Romney ads critiquing the president for rolling back welfare-to-work requirements. We don’t want to spoil it for you, but if you squint hard enough, you can actually see the goat entrails.
May You See Your Children’s Children
The Scrapbook will, as they say nowadays, go there. When the Romney and Ryan clans gathered together on stage in Tampa, there were almost more offspring than balloons.
The Romneys, of course, have five sons, all married; the Ryans have three young children. And the Romney grandchildren? Upon the arrival of his twins David Mitt and William Ryder earlier this year, Tagg Romney announced, “for those keeping score at home, these are grandchildren numbers 17 and 18 for my parents.” So kits, cats, sacks, and wives, there are 35 Romneys and Ryans, counting candidates, spouses, children, grandchildren, and daughters-in-law.
The Scrapbook anticipates hysteria from the anti-natalist left, which was driven around the bend by the 12 children of the McCain-Palin ticket. Who says the demographic future is bleak for the Republicans?
Sentences We Didn’t Finish
‘Mr. Romney’s big speech, delivered in a treacly tone with a strange misty smile on his face suggesting he was always about to burst into tears, was of a piece with the rest of the convention. Republicans have offered precious little of substance but . . . ” (New York Times editorial, August 31).
Great Moments in ‘Fact Checking’
Sometimes, facts are damnably stubborn things, untwistable even by President Obama’s supporters in the media, whose default mode is to insist that dastardly Republicans are lying about the president’s record. Here are two choice examples.
(1) From the August 22 New York Times, a story headlined “A Romney Attack Line Found Not So Clear-Cut”:
This week, Mitt Romney echoed an accusation made by various conservative bloggers against President Obama—that his administration has spent $90 billion on green energy.
“Do you know how much money he invested in so-called green energy companies?” Mr. Romney asked during a campaign stop in Manchester, N.H., on Monday. “Ninety billion. Ninety billion!”
But is it true?
Roughly, yes. . . .
(2) In a similar vein, here’s a poignant entry in the Associated Press’s rapid-response “fact check” of Mitt Romney’s speech to the Republican convention, August 30:
Romney: President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet.
The Facts: Really?
Yes, pretty much. . . .
Better luck next time, guys.