May 23, 2004

Convention drama, convention cliché.

William Safire, the former speechwriter, displayed some speechwriter vanity on Meet the Press when he was asked about Kerry's proposal to refrain from accepting the Democratic nomination at the convention. Safire said it would be "the stupidest move that John Kerry could possibly make." Why? His whole point was: could you imagine leaving out the classic applause line "I accept the nomination," which has been written into the candidates' speeches for 200 years? So that's the real issue: how to write the speech? (Actually a truly arrogant speechwriter would believe there were plenty of elegant ways to draw cheers and applause while refraining from actual acceptance.)

But is it even true that there have been 200 years of conventions culminating in candidates proclaiming "I accept"? According to William Kristol, on Fox News Sunday, before FDR went to a convention in 1932 to accept, the convention would take place and a delegation would travel to the candidate to tell him that he had been nominated weeks later. 200 years, 70 years--how accurate do we have to be? But, really, it seems to me that the key date is 1968, when the lesson was learned that you've got to have a disciplined convention that frames and flatters the candidate, not a real-life event of any kind. The convention is a big advertisement, and, in that setting, it's become a tradition to make the statement "I accept" feel like a dramatic climax, even though it is really a big, boring cliché.

So can you imagine a convention without that big dramatic moment? I'll answer Safire's question. Yes, I could live without that phoney climax. I'd miss my chance to quip from the sofa, "Wouldn't it be funny if he said no?" But I'd survive. In fact, I'd like to see the entire convention eliminated. It's just a big show, and it's not even an entertaining show. Please credit $14 million dollars to the U.S. Treasury and get off my television!

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