The presidential race begins in earnest over the next two weeks with the nominating conventions, and we’ll get under way with the start of the GOP gathering Monday night. Unless you don’t have cable, in which case you’re stuck with “Hawaii Five-O.”
That’s right: CBS plans to air a rerun of a remake rather than a primetime speech by Mitt Romney’s wife Ann. ABC is going with “Bachelor Pad” rather than remarks by tea-party favorite Rand Paul of Kentucky.
When you hear the GOP is just a bunch of old, white males, recall that NBC offered you “Stars Earn Stripes” instead of Alabama Democrat-turned-Republican Artur Davis; Senate nominee Ted Cruz of Texas; the Indian-American governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley; Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington; and Lucé Vela Fortuño, wife of Puerto Rico’s governor.
Hey, at least it’s a new episode.
This election is a critical inflection point for our country. Why would the networks bail on any of the nights? (At least the cable news channels are sticking with the news; the networks will air a single hour of convention coverage the other three nights.)
Maybe it’s because the airwaves are already thick with negative campaign spots. Peggy Noonan, in the Wall Street Journal, had the line of the campaign so far, about what folks are doing while they tune out the vitriol: “That sound you hear after the Obama attack ad is not cheers, it’s toilets flushing.”
Yet, Noonan counts herself as one who thinks voters would like to hear more from the candidates, if they talk about themselves and their plans. So do I. The conventions are one such opportunity.
Maybe the conventions are less than must-see TV because they are so stage-managed, so — ironically — made-for-TV.
It wasn’t always thus. At the 1880 GOP convention, James Garfield arrived in Chicago to nominate fellow Ohioan John Sherman and left town, 36 ballots later, as the party’s reluctant nominee. Imagine if there were even a slim possibility Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who was scheduled to introduce Romney on Thursday night, could, as Garfield did, wind up atop the ticket. (Note: As of Friday afternoon, Tropical Storm Isaac was forcing the GOP to consider pre-emptive changes to its convention schedule to minimize any disruption.)
In 1912, William Howard Taft fought off a hostile takeover bid by his fellow Republican and predecessor in the White House, Theodore Roosevelt. As late as 1964, moderate Republicans thought TV coverage of their proceedings would spark a backlash against presumptive nominee Barry Goldwater and produce a different standard bearer (they were wrong).
Either way, we know this year’s conventions won’t be the last we hear from Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. Amazingly, this was not always the case, either.
In her account of Garfield’s rise to the White House and eventual assassination, “Destiny of the Republic,” Candice Millard describes what the 1880 campaign was like for the Republican nominee:
“Although [Garfield] argued that he should ‘take the stump and bear a fighting share in the campaign,’ traveling from town to town and asking for votes was considered undignified for a presidential candidate. Abraham Lincoln had not given a single speech on his own behalf during either of his campaigns, and Rutherford B. Hayes advised Garfield to do the same. ‘Sit crosslegged,’ he said, ‘and look wise.’ “p. 59
Fat chance Romney or Obama would take Hayes’ advice today.
Nor should they. We need to hear more from them. If you agree, then, during these conventions, vote with your remote.
– By Kyle Wingfield