It’s Broke. Let’s Fix It

By Rob Patterson

I can’t watch the political conventions anymore. That’s what I learned in this presidential election cycle. Why? Because they’ve become entertainment, that’s why.

But hey—aren’t I the entertainment guy in this journal of leftist political commentary? And my charge is to write about entertainment from a political perspective. So the conventions should be tailor made for me.

No bloody way. Instead, they are alienating pageants that for all the moving speeches from either side—ergo inspiring or dismaying, depending on your leanings and affiliations—are tacky, shallow and generally useless affairs.

Talk about playing to the base! The snippets I caught from both parties seemed like self-congratulatory affairs when the battle has only begun. And really, folks, how much actual news came out of either one? Pretty much nada on that front.

I started watching political conventions at the age of 6, back in 1960, back when the arena air was filled with cigar smoke, and operatives were working the floor for their candidates, and the outcomes were anything but predetermined. They may have lacked much in the way of flashy stage sets and celebrity cameos. But what they did have was drama galore, and actual news that emerged from the gatherings.

We knew it was going to be Obama for president coming into the Democratic convention in Denver. All of the buzz in the media and blogosphere about a Hillary Clinton rebellion and tensions between the Clinton and Obama camps that would affect the gatherings was simply hot air.

Yeah, it was impressive that Obama filled a stadium for his acceptance speech. And a good speech it was, though nothing he said will, I believe, enter the annals of memorable and historic quotes. It was more like a stadium rock show. And having spent my adult life in and around rock’n’roll, as much as I love that realm, it’s hardly something the serious business of politics and governance should aspire to.

Sure, Obama got the post-convention bump in the polls. But did it mean anything? We’ll see, maybe, on election day.

At least the Republican convention had an X factor. Or should I say XX chromosomal factor of GOP veep nominee Sarah Palin? I doubt John McCain and his staff anticipated just how newsworthy certain aspects of their choice, but they couldn’t have chosen a better worse candidate to focus attention on the Twin Cities convention.

I did see some of her speech, a carefully-crafted bit of television entertainment that packaged her as an “Alaska Maverick” to complement McCain’s “maverick” status—in truth, he abandoned that a good eight years ago—here in the lower 48. It was good, damned good in fact, like throwing not just red meat but fully cooked filet mignon to the faithful. It had spunk, humor, attitude, and was quite engaging. That is, if you weren’t otherwise occupied with throwing up your dinner.

Despite the fact that her speech was a pretty much a note perfect slap back to the media frenzy uncovering rather distasteful aspects of this heretofore unknown woman’s character, religious beliefs and brief time as a troubling elected official, the very notion that Sarah Palin could be a not so strong heartbeat away from the Oval Office almost makes me hope that perhaps the current trend of pointing to the Mayan calendar end of the world coming in 2012 just might be true.

The very idea that this half-cracked, likely corrupt and power-mad religious nutjob of a “hockey mom” could end up running the country—as much as I find Obama the most inspiring man in politics since Robert F. Kennedy made his brief presidential run (cut short by Sirhan Sirhan’s bullets), his victory is not anything I feel sure of—scares the living bejesus outta me. But thanks to the entertainment techniques that have become the defining principal of party conventions today, this absurd if not downright astoundingly stupid veep choice has become a viable candidate. If that’s not reason enough to suspend party conventions from here on out, I don’t know what is.

And don’t even get me started on the pundits. These (for the most part) useless idiots seem (for the most part) to just be grabbing at any straw they can to seem like they have something important to say, which (for the most part) they don’t.

There must be some sort of better way to do all this and avoid these pathetic spectacles. Because just a mere taste of this year’s conventions lead me ever closer to the conclusion that our electoral system for choosing presidential candidates is irreparably broken. And really lame entertainment to boot.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2008

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