Well, here we go again. With the Democratic party spending this week in North Carolina celebrating the re-nomination of President Barack Obama, and the Republicans still cleaning up from their hurricane-shortened coronation of Mitt Romney in Florida, we are once again forced to endure two weeks of tightly scripted, substance-free political theater that combines the intellectual honesty of a used car salesmen’s convention with the aesthetic sensibility of a Celine Dion concert.
But fear not! For even though the political conventions themselves are little more than boring propaganda aimed at true believers, you can still find drama and, yes, substantive political intelligence if you’re willing to dig around a bit.
Finding the drama, unfortunately, requires actually watching the full convention proceedings on C-SPAN. Yes, it’s painful, but it also rewards the patient viewer with the sort of genuinely unscripted moments that are more revealing than a dozen carefully choreographed speeches.
At the Republican’s Tampa bash, for instance, eagle-eyed viewers were treated to the sight of a visibly tipsy Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, slurring his words from the podium on the convention’s second night. They also got to witness the ongoing revolt of Representative Ron Paul’s delegates, who were systematically deprived of their right to nominate Paul for president by some last-minute (and very shady) rules changes. Three of the disgruntled Paulites hailed from Virginia’s Third Congressional District, and they were quick to make their displeasure known by participating in a loud walk-out on the convention’s third night. (When asked to explain what happened by Talking Points Memo, Virginia delegate James Martin supplied one of our favorite quotes of the entire convention: “We got railroaded by a freight train of hypocrisy.”)
There were also a couple of disturbing moments, including an on-camera moment when Zori Fonalledas, a delegate from Puerto Rico, took the stage to begin the nominating process for Mitt Romney and was met with prolonged, defiant chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” (It should be noted that this occurred during the initial Ron Paul delegate fracas, and it wasn’t entirely clear if the chants were directed at Fonalledas, but the optics were still terrible.) The second incident occurred off-camera, and involved a pair of despicable individuals throwing peanuts at a black CNN camerawoman while sneering “this is how we feed the animals.” For an event that was supposed to showcase the Republican’s best and brightest, it seemed that this convention had more than its share of dim bulbs.
Whether or not the Democratic National Convention goes more smoothly remains to be seen. One person who is definitely keeping his fingers crossed is Senate hopeful Tim Kaine, who—unlike his opponent George Allen, who skipped the RNC—has a high-profile speaking slot. Judging by his recent speeches (including his vigorous introduction of President Obama at last week’s Pavilion appearance), Kaine has improved as a public speaker since his early days, but nobody (and we mean nobody) is expecting a repeat of Obama’s breakout keynote address at the 2004 DNC. Still, considering that he and Allen have been deadlocked in the polls for months now, Kaine surely knows that this could be a make-or-break moment for him.
Just remember one thing, Governor: Those hotel room mini-bar bottles may look cute, but they pack quite a wallop (just ask Reince Priebus).