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Monday, June 17, 2024

Abandon all hope at political conventions

As Democrats flock to Denver, they have some enormous hurdles to jump at their convention, and it's far from certain they're up to the challenge.


As Democrats flock to Denver, they have some enormous hurdles to jump at their convention, and it’s far from certain they’re up to the challenge.

Americans are so down in the dumps right now, what with the rotten economy, foreign policy tensions and general angst, that if the Democrats try to cheer them up with promises, such talk will seem unrealistic, pandering and pie-in-the-sky rhetoric. But if the Dems proclaim nothing but gloom and doom, blaming Republicans for everything from lost jobs to dental plaque, Americans will likely tune them out.

Barack Obama, the standard bearer, is still a mystery to many Americans. Some think he is a Muslim. (He is not.) Some think his agenda is anti-American. (It’s not.) Some think he is inexperienced. (Relatively speaking, he is.) Some think he is elitist. (We aren’t sure.)

His energy, oratory, life story, charisma and youth charm his supporters. But the convention is supposed to convince the as-yet unconvinced while bolstering the base. And Democrats are so prone to chaos, selling Obama is a major task.

Is Denver going to be the Clintons’ last hurrah? Is Hillary Clinton planning to use the convention as a staging ground for another run for the presidency in 2012? Is Bill Clinton going to behave himself? Tune in, folks. The soap opera continues.

Americans are furious with Congress. And because both the House and Senate are controlled by Democrats, much of that fury is directed as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

They argue they don’t have enough of a majority in either body to push their agenda. But to many Americans, including those who want American soldiers to stop dying in Iraq and those frantic about high energy prices, that rationale seems weak.

The convention planners say they will attack John McCain and sell the virtues of Obama. But reporters will be writing about the partying, the special interests and the hangers-on who hope to get rich and/or powerful by attaching themselves to a new generation of Democrats. The usual suspects will be in their usual perches doing their usual logrolling.

Obama plans to make his acceptance speech in a huge football stadium with thousands in attendance. After the spectacular Olympics, will it fall flat? Will so many Americans be clinging to their last precious days of vacation that they’ll tune him out?

After eight years of the Clintons and eight years of George W. Bush, Americans would like to hear some straight answers, real plans and new ideas. It’s not too likely they’ll hear anything radical or different in Denver.

For political junkies, the quadrennial political conventions are fun, necessary, invigorating and enlightening. It’s cool to see the players in a different setting. But the conventions are also very serious business. The country’s future is being debated, to be decided in November. A new president chooses 3,000 executives to run the government. How trillions of dollars are spent is at stake.

In the TV age, conventions are supposed to be both entertaining and solemn. Balloons and confetti and cheering crowds are mixed with talk of war and the souring economy and proposed solutions to the grimmest of social problems. Newcomers are introduced and weighed. Obama made his first appearance on the national scene just four years ago.

The party adopts a platform that spells out its principles, often a controversial process. There will be talk of abortion, gays, guns and God. And all the other social problems that get American’s juices flowing.

Hundreds of reporters will weigh each nuance, examine each phrase, and judge each speaker.

And they’ll be worried (with so many journalism jobs going down the tubes). What if the whole thing really is boring?

But whether it is or is not, it will then be on to Minneapolis and the Republicans, and the process will start all over again.


(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)

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