Cometh the political convention and cometh the dreary return of speculative commentary about their usefulness, their substantiveness, their relevance. Cometh too, the sight of perfectly reasonable, sensible folks tuning in to them, wasting their time in the hope of picking up meaningful political lessons. (I’ve been told that some folks tune in for the comedic value of a convention, but I find that hard to believe. Bad comedy is bad first, and comedy much, much later. In the case of conventions the ‘later’ comes well after the stage props and candidate busts have been put away.) Somehow, bizarrely, despite seemingly universal agreement among adults with IQ’s north of 120 that conventions are primarily an occasion for the most graphic demonstration of the utter vapidity of the election season, a reassurance that yes, you were right, you have been relentlessly pounded by vacuity, and there are still a few months to go before the referee will ring the bell and put us all out of our misery, the convention is back as subject of media analysis, political punditry and psephological speculation. (Media folks can perhaps be forgiven their obsession with conventions but what is to be done about all the folks that tune in to listen to their babbling?)
My most prominent response when watching a convention of any sort–I indict Republican and Democratic conventions equally in this regard–is disbelief that any mature adult could not see through the utter silliness of it all. Does the audience, all those shrieking, silly-hat-wearing-flag-waving folks on the floor, really buy it? Of course they do. That’s why they are there. At moments like these, it occurs to me that the only sensible way to watch a convention telecast–if forced to at gunpoint–would be to be riproaringly drunk or under the influence of hallucinogens. (I’m optimistically presuming my tormentors have a decent streak to them and will supply me with these.) The colors might be more palatable and perhaps the visual perspective afforded from my vantage position on the living room rug would make the idiot box’s showcasing of idiocy a little more reasonable.
Perhaps the most dreary trope associated with conventions is that they feature ‘soaring speeches,’ stirring oratorical masterpieces, which catapult the nation’s future leaders into the political spotlight, and portend dramatic political change. What surprises me most about this is the idea that reasonable adults in this day and age could honestly get turned on by a party animal’s speech. I have responded favorably to precisely one convention speech myself: back in 1984, to Mario Cuomo‘s keynote address at the Democratic Convention. Pretty stirring stuff, sure. But I was seventeen then. I’ve grown up. And come to realize that speeches at political conventions appear to fall into two categories: off-the-wall, offensive barrages of falsehoods and posturing (best done by Republicans) and grand, pretentious, faux populist litanies packed with promises soon to be broken (best done by Democrats).
Turn off the television, folks. And don’t switch it on for the Democrats either.
Note: This year, a tropical storm threatened the Republican Convention; it was almost enough to make a believer out of me. You know:
From a distance
God is watching us
And she sure as hell can’t take this crap any more.