While looking for a misplaced something the other day, I came across a little box filled mostly with Adlai Stevenson-for-President Buttons. It reminded me how long I've been a political junkie and an avid watcher of our quadrennial conventions. To be sure the Democratic convention that is playing itself out on my TV is a far cry from the days when platforms were hotly debated, delegates were contested and speculation about a Vice Presidential pick carried through almost to the end. In 1956 Stevenson left the choice up to the delegates, which provided John Kennedy an opening to launch his national career. He lost out to Estes Kefauver, but emerged four years later as the party's successful Presidential nominee. In earlier years, I watched the proceedings on CBS or NBC, but this time I am happily exiled to C-Span which, unlike the Networks, doesn't interrupt with "analysis" and inane sound byte interviews. In fact, even if I wanted to put up with that kind of filtered coverage, I couldn't. All the Networks opted out of substantive coverage, seemingly marginalizing the convention process, but actually further marginalizing themselves. Even the 24/7 people who have no problem providing wall to wall coverage of OJ, Cobey, Michael and similarly transformational "news" events, fail the gavel to gavel test. That's the pathetic state of things.
It may be that the Democratic and Republican conventions have taken on an infomercial quality, but I think the media is doing a great disservice to our democracy by their arbitrary censorship of these Democratic and Republican gatherings, however choreographed it may be. It's hard for them to argue that summer reruns, the Network's own infomercials for the coming season, are a more important use of the public airwaves. Shame on them! No wonder many of us look increasingly to PBS and BBC for our broadcast news.
Perhaps, today's conventions are theater, but that doesn't mean they are not revealing and reflective of where our political parties stand. I'm always struck by the differences in the audience and in the tone, nature and content of the speeches in each. This year the Democrats opted for a virtually unknown keynoter, Barack Obama, running for the senate in Illinois. I feel sorry for anyone who missed that speech, read that most Americans, and who must be satisfied with the few second long snippets they may hear on the evening news. Some pundits are already speaking of Obama as our most likely first African American (in his case literally since his father was form Kenya) President, but forget that premature hyperbole. Beyond having put forth a hugely talented and charismatic orator, the Democrats and John Kerry who is at the controls were sending a message. Some will say it was an appeal to minority voters, but I think it speaks much more to the fact that the party wanted to put everyone on notice that it has a strong bench, leadership for tomorrow not merely today. Like the choice of John Edwards, it is another example of Kerry's willingness to send forth the best with little concern that he'll be upstaged, which some fear will be the case.
The tone of the convention I'm watching is upbeat which in large measure was made possible by the dramatic, albeit short lived (Obama take note) candidacy of Howard Dean. Beyond providing a wakeup call which finally energized a hibernating party, he laid out the harsh particulars of indictment on the Iraq War and other issues in such a clear way, that they are now accepted as givens freeing Kerry to focus on the tactics of victory. Dean got the warmest of welcomes, a sign that everyone on the floor knew that they owed him a lot, perhaps the victory that many feel could come this November. Some, in what the former Governor calls the Democratic wing of the Party, may feel the convention messages are too safe, too mainstream. Perhaps so, but this convention isn't simply one about "the economy stupid." Criticism of the Bush foreign policy and misbegotten adventures runs through along with social values, environmental policy, health care and, thanks to Ron Reagan's entry into the conversation, embryonic stem cell research. He made it abundantly clear that social conservatism of his father's successors has gotten us off track in its narrow and selective view of the right to life.
We have yet to hear from the two Johns. We are being told that they will give the most important talks of their political lives. How many most important talks can there be? Hopefully Americans will be able to hear their words from start to finish even at the expense of a missed Law and Order or ER. Hopefully, they will be listening. To be sure, I will. How about you?