So is there anything going on in Denver?

Or will there be anything going on in Minneapolis/St. Paul soon enough?

Swiftly approaching the two-months-to-go point with the election and far from my getting a sense of urgency about everything, time seems to be stretching out further and further. The conventions aren’t helping, and they wouldn’t anyway. It’s now perfectly accepted knowledge to say that the conventions aren’t about anything actually being decided, but about parties partying, so kvetching about them as they are is kinda pointless — near Andy Rooney/Dave Barry territory, I figure.

But the whole theatrics of what must be going on right now amuses. I can’t imagine sitting through it all, though — my lord, what a pain that would be, especially after the Olympics. So instead I vaguely scan headlines and see photos like this that make me go ‘whuh?’:

One more time?

As friend Mackro immediately compared it to:

Robot ROCK

I was thinking a combination between the Oscars and an old Nine Inch Nails concert setup myself (somehow that seems tailormade for a performance of “The Hand That Feeds”), though I’m sure the GOP set will be even MORE ridiculously garish, somehow.

The reason why the conventions still hold the imaginative power they do, for all their lack of anything substantive, grows out of their place and reputation as make-or-break spots for candidacies — two books I highly recommend have a convention as a key event. The first, Kenneth Ackerman’s stellar Dark Horse, is hands down one of the finest popular studies of American history in recent years, covering as it does the candidacy, election and assassination of James Garfield, in doing so fully fleshing out the mass of cross-currents and political influence among many different figures in politics at the time that has been obscured with time. The details of how Garfield ended up winning at the Republican convention in 1880 — thus the title of the book, since his victory was far from foreseen — is fascinating stuff, very undemocratic in any sense of the term, but everything to do with gladhanding, patronage and much more besides.

The second shows how eighty years later the function of the conventions was already starting to turn into something else but still was the place where everything finally got settled in the back rooms. Theodore H. White’s The Making of the President 1960 has long been held up as a model of an election year study, even as time has readily demonstrated White’s own clear subjectivity on many points. Much about the book still recommends itself, though, not least being something that was a study of Kennedy and his organization and approach before his demise and almost reflexive canonization, and as such the study of the Democratic convention and how the Kennedy crowd assured his nomination in the end, if a popularized account, is nonetheless key reading, especially in an era before the current superdelegate oddities for that party.

What seems to have been the last actual ‘all the way to the convention’ nomination battle in recent times, the 1976 Republican race, occurred when I was alive but unaware of what it was all about (hey, I was only five), and since then my encounters with the conventions have all been about a lot of well-meaning cheering and dullardry. (I vaguely remember that the 1984 Democratic had Hart sticking through to the end but Mondale was well in the lead anyway.) I think it’s somehow appropriate that one of the last things I remember from any convention was a speech by an up-and-coming young politician that helped bring him to wider attention for his own successful nomination four years down the road. But the parallels with Obama end there, because Bill Clinton’s speech at the 1988 Democratic convention was one of the most singularly boring things I’d ever seen.

It ran about thirty-five minutes or so — and if it was on YouTube I’d link it, but not surprisingly it’s nowhere to be seen — and I just remember thinking “Who IS this guy? And why am I watching this?” I remember hearing some audience restlessness as it went, and very distinctly remember him saying something like “And in closing…” and then having to stop because of the huge amount of cheers that these words evoked. He looked a little pained.

That said, I also half remember that he ended up as a guest on Johnny Carson or the like shortly thereafter precisely because of this flop of an appearance and was able to poke fun at himself and go on from there, leading of course to a more successful series of speeches and more four years down the line. (Not to mention a more famous talk show appearance from that time as well.) Not a burden Obama has to deal with, at the least.

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