Now that both party's national conventions are history, a few random thoughts are appropriate
Comparing the makeup of the delegates who assembled for the conventions in Tampa (R) and Charlotte (D), the former looked and felt more like the America that was -- overwhelmingly Anglo -- and the latter more like the America that will be -- a salad bowl of human diversity. Demographers tell us that within the next several years, America, for only the second time in its history, will be a "minority-majority" country. (The first and only other time this occurred, was in the early 17th century, when the "minority-majority" was made up of, among others, the Algonquin, Apache, Chinook, Cree, Mohawk, Seminole and Navajo.)
As cameras panned the hall in Tampa, I was struck by two things: first, the relative homogeneity of the crowd and second, the number of blacks, Latinos and women sitting in close proximity to the stage. And yet, despite the fact that Anglos vastly outnumbered minorities, the vast majority of those speaking to the gathering were African Americans, Latinos or females. Obviously then, the Republican convention strategy was to apply a skillfully stylized makeup of inclusion on a visage which rarely smiles upon minorities, immigrants or women.
To be certain, the Democrats also had many African American, Latino and female speakers on their dais. However when the cameras panned that crowd, it showed a gathering even more diverse than the people addressing it. And where the most prominent signs in the Tampa hall were the placards identifying the various state delegations, the Charlotte arena was awash in signs reading "Arab-Americans for Obama," "Teachers for Obama," '"Latinos for Obama," and "Students for Obama." And while Republican headgear was pretty much what one would expect from convention delegates -- straw boaters, cowboy hats and the occasional yarmulke and trucker's ball-cap -- Democrats -- in addition to the aforementioned haberdashery -- could also be seen wearing turbans, rastacaps . . . even the occasional keffiyeh.
When it came to the quality of speakers and the power of their oratory, the Democrats were the clear victors. In Tampa, keynote speaker Chris Christie got nearly 20 minutes into his script before even mentioning Mitt Romney. Christie's speech was far more about himself than about his party's nominee; indeed, many suggested that the New Jersey governor's primetime address was really the beginning of his own 2016 race for the White House. Strangely, Governor Romney's name was mentioned far less by the convention speakers than one might expect at a national convention. According to the Huffington Post's Lucia Graves, Democratic speakers said more laudatory things about President Obama on the first day of their convention than Republican speakers said about their candidate in their entire convention. Then too, Republican speakers trashed President Obama 411 times while Democrats only said 97 negative things about Governor Romney.
Romney's acceptance speech was, much like the man himself, technically fine, but lacking in the blood, sinew or pa ssion of conviction. And as with the speech, Republican delegates responded with applause that was technically proper but also lacking in conviction. Then there was Clint Eastwood. His "performance" was an object lesson in why it is so important to vet each and every speaker -- even one who has captured no less than three Academy Awards. I for one felt sorry f or Eastwood; devoid of proper lighting, camera angles and make-up, he looked, sounded and acted like an old man. (I remember him as a much younger man; back in December 1968, I played an extra in Coogan's Bluff. Clint was 38, I was 19. That's me in the serape with my back to the camera . . . lots of coal black hair. My friend Alan Wald can be seen directly under the outstretched arm.)
Save one snag, the Democratic National Convention was nearly flawless in its execution. I guess that's what comes from having so many Hollywood types in your camp. The one egregious faux-pas dealt with the exclusion of God and Jerusalem-as-Israel's-Capital planks in the party platform. There are Democrats who aren't nearly as pro-Israel as the president; likewise there are Democrats who believe that including God in a political platform is nothing more than useless window dressing. When the error was made public -- largely by conservative Republican commentators -- Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, acting more like a mule-team driver than a convention chair, ham-handedly gaveled them back in. The two salient lessons in this less-than-stellar episode are that one, party platforms don't win (or lose) elections, and that two, generally speaking, the only time one party's platform gets any significant publicity is when the other party is attacking it.
From a purely oratorical point of view a Republican lineup featuring Rice, Paul, Portman, Pawlenty and Romney -- among many others -- was no match for the likes of Patrick, Castro, Kerry, Clinton and Obama. If this were theater (which to a great extent it was), it would be tantamount to a cast trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts playing opposite a group schooled by Sunny Tufts. So far as content . . . well, it depends on who you talk to. Predictably, Romney's speech received far higher marks from Republican pundits and commentators than those who work for MSNBC, or The Huffington Post. Then again, for Democratic and progressive pundits, Obama's speech was second only to Bill Clinton's; for Republicans it was -- in a phrase used by at least half-a-dozen pundits -- "Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." The thing that fascinated me the most about the negative critiques was that they seem to have been written even before the speech was delivered. In many instances, the disconnect between what the president said and what his detractors wrote was wider than a mile. It was almost as if they were recycling Woody Allen.
"How's that?" you ask.
Back in 1966, Woody Allen directed his first movie, an off-the-wall comedy called What's Up Tiger Lily? Allen took a Japanese spy picture (Secret Police: Key of Keys), then overdubbed it with a completely new script -- one which had absolutely nothing to do with the original film. Then, by skillfully rearranging scenes, he was able to turn what was originally a James Bond clone into a comedy about detective Phil Moskowitz's search for the world's best egg salad recipe. Although definitely not Manhattan, Sleeper, or The Purple Rose of Cairo (my favorite), What's Up Tiger Lily is definitely innovative and unquestionably a howl. What is definitely not a howl is overdubbing a totally new script onto President Obama's acceptance speech.
National political conventions are meant to serve as pre-election pep rallies for the party faithful and promos on things to come for the electorate. They are meant to be entertaining, energetic and occasionally even informative. Seen in this light, I would give the Democratic National Convention an A-, the Republicans a C+.
And to all my Republican friends, next time, instead of recycling Woody Allen, you may want to consider recycling Clint Eastwood . . .
-Kurt F. Stone