Monday, July 19, 2004

What not to look for in a political convention:

In the years since the McGovern commission reforms in 1971, the nature of the political conventions have markedly changed. What goes on the floor is no longer fun for the television viewer, as chaos and hatred are scripted out. This is not a good thing.

Let’s go back in time, say, slightly more than half a century…The year is 1952, for the only time in history, an incumbent president, Harry S Truman, physically lost the New Hampshire primary and was forced to withdraw. He was beaten by Senator Estes Kefauver (D-Tenn), who went on to sweep the primaries, of which there were all of twelve. Kefauver, or as Truman called him, Cow-fever, had enough to come in first but not enough to actually win, as the other forty delegations were controlled by the party machinery, and most of them were friendly to Truman, who hated Kefauver’s guts.

The leading anti-Kefauver candidate was Vice President Alben Barkely, who was forced from the race as he was too old, 78 or something.. Truman, Elenor Roosevelt, and a few other bosses preferred Adlai E. Stevenson the Second, the governor of Illinois , and it took three ballots to get enough support from the favorite sons and the like to get Stevenson the nomination.

Favorite sons? Third ballots? This sounds like ancient history(Come to think of it, it kind of is, although the Green convention went to a second ballot this very year, but that wasn’t even televised on C-span)...

So what's a "favorite son?" That was when delegates were selected by political clubs, and many a state decided to keep it’s options open for the first ballot by pledging itself to a local politico until one of the leaders gave a good enough bribe…y’know, PORK.

Well, each and every favorite son would get a nominating speech and a seconding speech, and then they’d do a demonstration dance. In 1952 there were eight of them.

It was all in good fun, but Richard Milhous Nixon didn’t like them very much. In 1968, he came into the convention with 590 pledged delegates, and the majority of the delegates supported favorite sons, of whom there were seven. I remember as a little kid screaming "Hiram Fong!!!" while watching the festivities on TV (Fong was senator from Hawaii and got 14 votes)

Nixon won on the first ballot with a majority of barely a hundred votes, Everybody immediately fell in line, but Nixon was pissed. In 1972, things would change.

Now the McGovern commission’s report went the state legislatures and the current system was born. President Nixon’s campaign had to technically start from scratch, of course, and congressmen, Pete McCloskey of California and John Ashbrook of somewhere else decided to challenge Tricky Dickie in the primaries. They, of course got creamed, but the McGovern rules applied in some states and McCloskey got a single delegate.

When the Republicans convened, there was horror at the prospect of someone making a speech nominating McCloskey and in the process criticizing Nixon’s policy on Vietnam’s war. So they passed a rule stating that in order to be nominated, a candidate needed a petition with the signatures of a majority of FIVE delegations.

Four years later, two candidates, President Gerald Ford and former Governor Ronald Reagan, had enough votes to get their names in nomination…the Republicans also changed the rules for delegate allocation starting in 1980. That was the end of the favorite son candidacy. Much entertainment was lost.

Another thing that’s not going to happen are credential fights. In days of yore, say 1952, different clubs would send different people to the same seats at the conventions and the convention at large would have to decide whom to let in.

The Republicans that year had a close one. They knew that they had a winner in General "Ike" Eisonhower, but Senator Robert Taft, the hyper-conservative senator from Ohio had more delegates, so the Ike campaign did a deal with the California delegation and just enough Taft delegates were thrown out in order to get Ike the nomination. In return, the junior senator, Richard Milhous Nixon, got the second spot, and the governor, Earl Warren, got a promise of the first opening on the Supreme Court. (He was Chief Justice from 1953 to 1969).

The last major credentials fight[not counting the exclusion of whacko Lyndon LaRouche's Arkansas delegation in 1996, which wasn't really a fight] was in 1972, when the McGovern forces kicked out the democratically elected Illinois delegation and the anti-McGovern forces nearly kicked out the California delegation…which brings us to another subject all together…

In 1972, McGovern got 200 votes more than a bare majority needed to be nominated, however, the 900 or so delegates who didn’t vote for nominee HATED his guts and wanted him LOSE with a passion. So they decided to screw up the works.

McGovern chose Senator Thomas F. Eagleton of Missouri for his running mate, and the opposition decided to sabotage the works by scattering their votes among 88 people.

McGovern and Eagleton accepted the nomination at three in the morning.

The Reagan people did the same thing to Ford in 1976, and Ted Kennedy’s people did it to Carter in 1980, although the VP balloting was scheduled for the early afternoon and not prime time.

In 1988, the supporters of Jesse Jackson demanded the second spot as their right and were going to show it in the VP voting, but the Dukakis people decided to have a vote by acclamation resolution, bypassing a vote. Later that year, when it looked like the docile Republicans might actually vote against Dan Quayle.

It is rumored that the supporters of Howard Dean are going to get his name on the VP spot against John Edwards. It would be nice, but I doubt it will get very far.
Finally, there’s the platform. No one cares about the platform, so no one will bother to fight about it this time out. Kerry and Bush will get whatever they want.

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