Conventions could use a makeover

Posted Aug. 29, 2008, at 8:43 p.m.

The amusements in watching the televised melodrama of the national conventions of this country’s two ma-jor political parties are many. One is spotting the contrived lines that have been scripted into a speaker’s per-formance by the professional chore-ographers and image makers who have labored to make the remarks seem genuine.

An example was the alleged Freu-dian slip made first by former Demo-cratic presidential candidate John Kerry in a speech before the Demo-cratic convention in Denver Wednes-day night, and later that night by Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Joe Biden. The so-called “slip” came across as equally bogus on both occasions.

In painting presumptive Republi-can presidential nominee John McCain as a clone of George W. Bush and all that that might portend for an America allegedly hungry for change, Kerry and Biden both accidentally on purpose referred to McCain as “Bush.” Their confusion was under-standable, they said in correcting themselves, considering that when it comes to McCain and Bush, if you buy one you get the other.

Hillary Clinton had a better-scripted line on the “twins” theme that Democrats seem so intent on beating to death well before the No-vember election — and she delivered it much better, as well. During her speech endorsing Democratic presi-dential candidate Barack Obama the previous night, Clinton observed that Republicans and their twin leaders certainly had chosen the appropriate place for their convention — the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul. One could fairly imagine an appreciative McCain, no slouch himself when it comes to zinging the opposition, say-ing, “Good one, Hill.”

The choreographed performances and the scripted lines will be no less pervasive, and no less banal, at the GOP convention that begins on Mon-day. The only difference will be that the Republicans, taking their turn at bat after the Democrats have switched to playing defense, will en-joy the home-field advantage of hav-ing the last crack at one-upping the opposition.

Unlike at political conventions ear-lier in this country’s history — when presidential nominations were actu-ally decided at the convention rather than long before the opening gavel — the showbiz aspect of the prime-time production is just about all that to-day’s delegates have to keep them energized.

Still, we are in the 21st century and the stage production techniques em-ployed in the two major party conven-tions could stand a makeover. A con-vention staple that should be high on any reformer’s list for consignment to history’s political scrap heap is the orchestrated “spontaneous” demon-strations that erupt on the convention floor when a candidate’s name is placed in nomination. Neither party’s delegates do the fake-enthusiasm thing particularly well, and the pain and suffering that the spectacle causes television viewers in the hin-terland comes perilously close to vio-lating the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Another candidate for chucking overboard would be the shopworn pep-rally device that calls for a speaker at the podium to repeatedly utter an aggravating phrase until the convention hall crowd picks up on it and hurls it back at the speaker at the end of his every sentence.

The traditional “four more years” catch-phrase that once applied to re-election aspirations of incumbent presidents, for example, was bastard-ized into “four more months” by one speaker at the Democrats’ Denver convention. The allusion was to the time remaining in the presidency of George W. Bush before Obama arrives to save the day. The device has seen better days and should be taken out behind the convention hall and euthanized.

The spectacular exit of Democrats from Denver on Thursday night, when a rocking crowd filled Invesco Field at Mile High capacity to hear Obama’s rousing acceptance speech was a Hollywood showbiz extrava-ganza worthy of Cecil B. DeMille. Re-publicans will never top that glitz and glitter in their stage production in Minneapolis, nor do they seem to want to.

Indications are instead that the GOP may take its cue from an old adage that has guided golfers since first they started whacking a little white ball around the sand hills of a Scotland seashore: “Drive for show; putt for dough.”

Time will tell whether the driver or the putter will be the club that ulti-mately clinches this match for the victor.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.net.

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