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Sherman Says: Conventions used to be fun; just ask Dan Quayle and Thomas Eagleton

SPRINGVILLE — Now that the two major political parties’ national conventions have concluded, I sincerely hope all the blustering and Hollywood-level hype have not dissuaded too many potential voters.

Rather than inspire the masses, the speeches and presentations made by both the Republicans and the Democrats were better suited for an event such as the Academy Awards or a Las Vegas roast.

The last few national conventions have become less and less meaningful, as the primary process has already sealed the nomination for incumbents and representatives of the opposition party, alike. There have been minor discussions about some planks in the platform, but the game plan was determined long before the crack of the opening gavel.

It’s not entertainment; it’s our future.

Watching a couple of hours of a national political convention should be an inspirational event. The experience should make citizens ask questions and find the answers within. It can be the key to unlocking one’s own political philosophy.

Instead, we have Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair on behalf of the GOP and Eva Longoria and Scarlett Johansson glamming it up for the Dems.

“Alas, political conventions today are just glossy infomercials – meticulously choreographed, pointless spectacles shorn of spontaneity and soul,” wrote New York Daily News Reporter Tom DeFrank, on Sept. 3. “That’s why Clint Eastwood’s bizarre monologue in Tampa last week, for all its loopiness, was so refreshing; it was totally unscripted.”

DeFrank detailed the friction between Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan at the 1976 Republican National Convention.

“It all used to be fun,” he said, as only someone who draws sustenance from scrutinizing the overworked American political machine could.

Both parties have stalled the suspense surrounding the selection for a vice presidential candidate. The who, what, when, where and why is usually leaked in advance of a carnival, timed to steal some of the thunder from the competition. And it’s usually worth watching, although it has next to nothing to do with the outcome in November.

DeFrank’s recollection of the 1988 campaign may be the best example of why the choice for vice president has been moved up a few weeks in the calendar. He said he was dining that summer with one of George H. W. Bush’s top advisers, when the vice president topic surfaced.

“One thing was certain; it wouldn’t be Dan Quayle, the Indiana senator whose name had been leaked to the Sunday papers in hopes of killing the notion. ‘He’ll never pick Quayle,’ the source confidently explained. ‘He’s a total lightweight.’”

The plan backfired and Quayle was elevated to the second-highest position in Washington.

Yet, Republicans are not alone in a lack of VP wisdom. Democrat George McGovern initially tapped Sen. Thomas Eagleton to share the ticket with him in 1972. Eighteen days later, McGovern pulled the rug out from under his running mate when it was disclosed that Eagleton had been hospitalized three times for mental health issues. He had also received electroshock therapy.

This was not the level of confidence in a vice president the nation needed, less than a decade after John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas.

Lawrence Altman of The New York Times wrote on July 23 about how McGovern had been spurned by senators Ted Kennedy, Walter Mondale and Gaylord Nelson, each prominent on the national stage. Eagleton was suddenly in the top two.

“But Mr. McGovern, who had pledged to ‘avoid the messy way vice presidents had been picked in the past,’ chose Mr. Eagleton after considering him for less than an hour. The conversation in which Mr. McGovern offered Mr. Eagleton the nomination lasted precisely 67 seconds,” wrote Altman.

The new running mate would be Sargent Shriver, brother-in-law of the late President John F. Kennedy. But the damage was done. Richard Nixon breezed to a second term as president, capping his own roller-coaster political career.

No one could have seen those events coming – not even a guy in an empty chair.

David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at
dsherman@beenews.com.
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