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SANDERS: The curse of conventional conventions

- - Sunday, September 9, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Call me masochistic, but I watched both conventions. Chalk it up to nostalgia for a mistaken youth as a politics junkie. Back then, we bet on whether the "Roll Call of the States" might trip up FDR's dumping left-wing populist Vice President Henry Wallace for Harry S. Truman. Or savored the rush when a "balcony demonstration" stampeded the 1940 Republican delegates into accepting Wendell Wilkie, perhaps the first of now carefully contrived convention enthusiasms. Or reveled in the frisson when Clare Boothe Luce turned her venomous playwright pen to the 1944 GOP keynote address, charging that FDR "lied us into a war because he did not have the political courage to lead us into it."

Not only was there nothing of the sort this year, but the foregone conclusive nominations produced inevitable speculation on whether the political conventions have outlived their time. I hope not. Participation is the name of the game in party politics as in government. The convention party is the reward for ward heelers.

Talking heads already have forgotten that we believed all through the spring that Mitt Romney might have to fight on the floor. Also forgotten now is how Barack Obama never got a 2008 primary majority but used his old communist buddies' "sitzfleisch" tactic: Hold the vote only after everyone else has gone home at any consensual meeting, including caucuses. (So much for the endless lauding of Hillary Rodham Clinton's political genius — her campaign had no fallback position after losing the first wave of primaries.)

There was one little piece of old-time antics this year: The Democrats wrestled with mentioning God in their platform. God won, as the Scriptures tell us he always does. The original decision to omit the Heavenly Father — apparently "irrational exuberance" by separation-of-church-and-state fanatics who know little about our founders — also zapped convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa. The Los Angeles mayor may know how to corral Mexican-American votes back home, but he doesn't know how to run a convention. (If we must have big-city machines, bring back the Irish.)

Then there was the Jerusalem shemozzle. It's no secret that both parties, Congress and most recent candidates have courted whatever Jewish vote and dollars endure for Zionism. Acknowledging Jerusalem's centrality not only to Israel but also to Judaism — and Christianity and Islam, for that matter — has been a no-brainer in American politics. Just as well-known is that State Department Arabists oppose moving the embassy from Tel Aviv, a last piece in the airy-fairy "peace process" jigsaw, dangling the unlikely possibility that a part of the city also might serve as an Arab capital. Pity the poor embassy staffers who must navigate that Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, surely the world's most dangerous traffic hazard.

We may never know who was behind the Jerusalem flap — but Democratic National Committee cameras kept focusing on the plethora of prefab "Arab-American Democrats" and mysterious hand-drawn "Middle East (sic) First" signs in Michigan's delegation, a state with a half-million residents of Arab heritage. An interview with a prominent "Palestinian activist" after the screw-up strengthens that hypothesis. After all, Republican hope springs eternal (and pessimistic Democrats fear) that a landslide for Michigan-born Mitt Romney might suck in his birthplace, where his father was twice governor and headed a Detroit motor company.

With Web "fact-checkers" as prejudiced as "political" reporters, we will have to forgo sorting out downright speechifying lies, half-truths and "fudges." Sometimes the illustrious talking heads, too, interrupted the flow of the speeches, adding further confusion. I finally switched to C-SPAN from my favorite, Fox News. Obvious to this limping wordsmith, if not to the spinmeisters, is the reason why President Obama's speech bombed: It had no central theme, obviously put together by too many cooks. (I wonder if Abraham Lincoln's "going on his knees" reference was product of a Google search for "Lincoln, religion" after the platform fiasco over the Almighty. Hard to believe you could appreciate Lincoln's words and continue to encourage Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden's windbaggery.)

Economic issues, what should have been the talk of the town, were left hanging by the Democrats. On one fundamental subject, energy, Mr. Obama's claim to have produced lower imports and soaring domestic production is ludicrous. It was the economic downturn and higher pump prices that lowered consumption. Exploration leases handed out in the George W. Bush years and the incredible shale gas and oil technological breakthrough — taking place luckily on private lands that the administration can only marginally inhibit — complete the list.

Oh, well. These may well be my last conventions. Anyway, there were occasional flashes of "the good old days" when politics was a blood sport instead of a spectators' zoo.

Sol Sanders, a veteran international correspondent, writes weekly on the intersection of politics, business and economics. He can be reached at solsanders@cox.net and blogs at www.yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com.