Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 2, 2012

Drama is gone from party conventions


---- — Political drama has faded from national party conventions but show biz blazes anew, as evident at the GOP's Tampa theater last week.

That was underscored by actor Clint Eastwood's bizarre, funny but vulgar rambling warm-up before the introduction to Mitt Romney's well-received acceptance speech.

Democrats have assembled a star-studded lineup of entertainers for their convention this week in Charlotte, N.C.

From Romney's standpoint, too much of the post-convention media focus in Tampa was on the Eastwood controversy, detracting from the well-scripted spin convention planners sought. A "man-made disaster," CNN media critic Howard Kurtz said Saturday of Eastwood's gig on the closing night of a convention that had been shortened by Tropical Storm Isaac.

As for unscripted convention drama during my decades covering delegates before retirement from daily journalism, nothing matches the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Especially memorable was Connecticut Abraham Ribicoff railing from the podium about "Gestapo" tactics by Chicago police against anti-war protestors outside the convention hall, and then seeing an angry Mayor Richard J. Daley rise from the floor to protest Ribicoff.

That convention was particularly memorable for me because, while covering the protests, I got my only whiff of tear gas.

Writing in the Aug. 25-26 Wall Street Journal, writer Michael Barone said "the Chicago convention was the hinge point between the old political conventions, where the outcome was certain, and the media-age conventions, where the nominees' managers try to script everything down to the minute." Try. But not always succeed.

Scripting was chancy at the 1976 Kansas City Republican convention because of Ronald Reagan's challenge of nomination of President Gerald R. Ford, the former congressman and vice-president from Michigan who inherited the top job upon the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon because of the Watergate scandal.

Two Traverse City politicians were prominent at the convention. U.S. Rep. Robert P. Griffin was a floor leader in rallying Ford delegates. Gov. William G. Milliken nominated Ford, who beat Reagan 1,187 to 1,070.

At the 1980 Republican convention in Detroit, there was drama over who would be the running mate of Reagan, who had defeated George H.W. Bush for the nomination. After failed talks that would have led to a Reagan-Ford ticket, Reagan at the last moment picked Bush.

Bush won the GOP nomination at the 1988 convention at New Orleans, and ended suspense about the ticket by revealing Dan Quayle as the two arrived on city shores by boat.

This year, there was no suspense about the GOP ticket in Tampa, nor will there be about the Democratic ticket this week in Charlotte, where show biz celebrities will abound.

Family albums

Some of the endearing moments in Tampa, by film and live presentations, involved reflections about Mitt Romney's parents. He spoke about how his father, ex-Michigan Gov. George Romney who sought the GOP presidential nomination in 1968, every day gave wife Lenore a rose.

Not mentioned by Mitt is that on one Easter, George gave Lenore an entire rose garden, having it planted at their Bloomfield Hills home as a surprise. When he was President Richard Nixon's secretary of housing and urban development in Washington, the Shoreham Hotel, where they resided, allowed Romney to snip a rose from its garden every morning.

And then there were the constant love notes, sometimes left on a pillow. Read one: "Darling. Have gone to the grocery store. I will love you eternally." At the Tampa convention, Mitt Romney's brother Scott said that if their father, an intense fellow known for jabbing a menacing finger for emphasis, had been on the scene for Mitt's nomination, he would "tell him what to do." Does Mitt agree with his brother that's what their assertive father would do?

"Of course."

U.S. Senate Debates

Last month, I noted that ex-Congressman Pete Hoekstra, the Republican nominee against Sen. Debbie Stabenow, called for at least six debates.

On Friday, Stabenow said she's accepted invitations from two sponsors that have become traditional--the Detroit Economic Club and Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids. Details, including dates and formats, have yet to be finalized.

On occasion in the distant past, there have been debates between statewide candidates in Traverse City and Marquette. It's too bad nothing is scheduled Up North this year.

The latest spins from the two camps were noted Saturday by The Detroit News:

Hoekstra Campaign Manager Greg VanWoerkom said: "Stabenow is hiding from the public to hide from her record that has lead to sustained unemployment and Michigan families worried about their future. Michigan voters, statewide, want to hear straight from the candidates their solutions to end the economic slide." Cullen Schwarz, the Stabenow campaign's communications director, said: "We look forward to debating the issues important to Michigan families. Hoekstra's giveaways to special interests while in Congress and his work at a Washington lobbying firm will be hard to explain away, especially in contrast to Debbie's record of standing up for Michigan's middle-class families."

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington.

His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.