Remember when political conventions were spontaneous?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 30, 2008

Did you watch the Democrats get together in Denver last week?

Are you going to watch the Republicans gather in St. Paul next week?

I kind of halfway watched the Democrats.

Because they had their big party two time zones away, by the time they got around to some of their best stuff, I was asleep on the couch or, at least once, had finally given completely up and gone on to bed in the real bed.

Political conventions have changed a lot over the years. And, like most things, not for the better.

Once upon a time, political conventions were real.

There were fights on the floor and not too infrequently somebody was arrested and hauled off for a while.

You were pretty well guaranteed to see red-faced politicians screaming at each other and television people ducking and scrambling to get out of the way.

Not so today.

Today’s conventions are scripted and dull.

Protestors are kept far away and about the best you can expect is a string of not-so-good speeches.

And you’re probably already going to know what the folks delivering those speeches are going to say before they say it.

The TV folks try to make the whole thing more exciting that it really is, but usually without much success.

At the just completed Democratic convention, one night the commentators tried to make us wonder if Hillary was going to wholeheartedly endorse Barack or if her endorsement might be halfhearted.

I thought she pretty much did it wholeheartedly, but then the commentators started wondering if she was just showing everybody how much better she was at speechifying than Joe Biden was going to be so Barack would look bad because he didn’t pick her for the vice presidential job.

Too much innuendo and not enough just stand up and say it… or do it.

It may be kind of fun to watch the differences in the people at the two conventions.

I’m guessing those who were in Denver are younger and more intense than those who will be in St. Paul.

But in neither case did the folks who went to the convention choose the candidate the way delegates used to. It wasn’t even decided n not has it been for many years n in the proverbial “smoke filled back rooms” of the convention venue the way it once was.

Today the candidates are chosen n and everybody knows it n months before the convention actually convenes.

This year, even the vice presidential candidates were known before the conventions of the respective parties convened.

And where platforms used to be “hammered out” at the conventions, now they’ve been decided and refined long before the delegates gather.

So why do all those people bother to travel from all over the country to get together to decide things that have already long been decided?

Well, in the first place, I guess both conventions are just about the biggest parties you’ll find.

Maybe some of them do it just to feel like they’re contributing, that they’re active in politics, that they’re a part of something greater than themselves.

And, of course, for both parties, the conventions provide an opportunity to showcase their candidates and their platforms, to put what they stand for in front of the whole country, at least for a few days… Or at least to put it in front of the part of the whole country that manages to stay awake long enough for the real action to materialize.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of the conventions is that they have n or will n take our minds for a time off Russia’s invasion of Georgia, Afghanistan’s current even greater than usual political instability, the possibility of a naval battle with Iran as the crazies who run that country continue to threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which so much of the world’s oil flows, and the high prices of gasoline.

Of course next week not only all of those things, but the Republican convention itself may well be upstaged by not one, but two hurricanes. As this is written, Gustav has already drawn a bead on New Orleans and promises to be at least a Category Three event, and Hanna is threatening to come right in behind Gustav.

Wouldn’t that be something?

If you were the chief PR guy for the GOP convention, wouldn’t you be distressed if all the TV folks packed up and headed for the Gulf Coast about the time your delegates were showing up in St. Paul?

I’m thinking that could very well happen.

David Sullens is president of Roanoke-Chowan Publications and publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald and the Gates County Index.