Jewish World Review July 13, 2000 / 10 Tamuz, 5760
The Great Lie about political conventions
SAN DIEGO Oh...right. The Star of India.
I knew I recognized the ship. It's a hard one to
miss...a gorgeous old three-masted square rigger,
all ancient wood and soaring sails, the kind of ship
you half-expect to find a bare-chested Victor
Mature at the helm of in some vintage
But as I looked at the Star of India the other
morning, it wasn't Victor Mature or Hollywood
seafaring films it reminded me of.
It was Bob Dole.
Four years ago this summer, the Star of India was
the the most prominent vessel in a flotilla that
brought Dole and his running mate, Jack Kemp,
into San Diego for the national convention that
would officially give them the nominations to head
the Republican ticket.
(Actually, they had flown to a nearby military base.
They had switched to the boats so that their arrival
in town would be more photogenic. Victor Mature
needn't have worried; Dole and Kemp as salty
swabbies made an instantly forgettable maritime
visual image, and as soon as the Republicans left
town the Star of India was tethered back to its
customary place in a local harbor.)
Which is where I came upon it the other day. And
which is what made me think:
San Diego is a lot better off this summer than
Philadelphia or Los Angeles.
For it is those cities that will be hosting the national
political conventions -- Philadelphia gets the
Republicans, Los Angeles gets the Democrats. And
what they will receive for all the trouble they went
to in attracting the politicians, for all the money they
spent sweet-talking the Republicans and the
Democrats into coming, is....
Pretty much nothing.
The great lie about American cities and the national
political nominating conventions is that by winning
the right to host the conventions, the cities will
enhance their own images for years -- no,
generations -- to come. The citizenry of the United
States, impressed and awestruck by the fact that a
particular city has been anointed to host an actual
political nominating convention, will make a mental
note that this is a city like no other, a champion
among cities, a bright and glorious light on the
national landscape. Quick, honey, get out our
calendar for next year...we've got to pack up the
kids and see Philadelphia for ourselves!
Well...people who live in cities where the national
political conventions are held will tell you that
they're mostly a headache and a nuisance. The
streets are tied up with security agents, the local
merchants invariably are disappointed with the
paltry amount of business the conventions bring to
them, the tourism bounce ends up being about
zero...the era of Americans caring about which city
holds a Democratic or Republican convention is
For starters, the central premise that leads cities to
fight each other for the right to host a convention --
the promise of coast-to-coast, gavel-to-gavel
major television network coverage that will indelibly
imprint the image of the city in the minds of
impressed and admiring Americans -- has fizzled
entirely. In the early days of television, it was
assumed that because so many people were
watching the conventions, this meant that the
country was hungry for the national civics lessons
that the conventions represented. People must love
the conventions...they were watching, weren't they?
They were watching, it turned out, because (1)
television was still a novelty, and they would watch
anything that appeared on it, and (2) there was
nothing else on. Back then the three major
networks carried all four days of each convention,
from morning to late at night. If you wanted to
watch TV, then you had to watch the conventions.
This year, several of the major networks are talking
about carrying no convention coverage at all some
nights -- not a minute. NBC -- the network on
which Chet Huntley and David Brinkley made the
national conventions into the original must-see TV
-- this year is seriously considering televising the
conventions only on their fourth (final) nights.
They've finally figured out that when viewers are
given a choice between the conventions and almost
anything else, the conventions become must-flee
For an image of a city, the only real effect a
convention can have is a bad one. If things go
smoothly and peacefully convention week (as, for
example, in Kansas City for the Republicans in
1976), the world immediately forgets. If things go
rottenly wrong. ...
What is the last convention city that the world really
remembers? Chicago, 1968.
When the Democrats finally came back to Chicago
in 1996, and things went well, the world hardly
noticed. Those cute painted cows on the street
corners last summer did far more for Chicago as a
tourist destination than did the Democrats of '96.
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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