Convention Coverage From The Past

Before I get into the bulk of the post, I’d like to mention that if you live in the Boston area or are attending the DNC circus, you can check out this week’s comic strip a few days early in Wednesday’s Weekly Dig. It might even be in spectacular Technicolor. I’m not sure. Hopefully someone important will see it and I will be showered with chocolates and rose petals for the rest of my life.

I don’t really have anything to add about the convention. I live in the suburbs and work from home, so the Boston Green Zone doesn’t affect me at all. I watched some of the C-SPAN coverage and thought the speeches were dandy. I didn’t watch any of the endless commentary following or during the speeches, because I have no use for the network newsreaders’ banal commentary and Tim Russert is a fatty and I hate him.

Instead, I opted to spend most of the night watching C-SPAN2’s programming of the past fifty years of convention nomination acceptance speeches. I realize this makes me a hopeless dweeb in the already pathetic world of people who follow politics. The only analogy I can think of is staying at home to watch Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (the one with the whales) on AMC, when an actual Star Trek convention is in town.

The best speech was Adlai Stevenson’s 1956 acceptance speech. It’s the one with this famous quote about the marketing of candidates:

The idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal – that you can gather votes like box tops – is, I think, the ultimate indignity to the democratic process.

I had no success in finding a complete transcript of this speech. The consensus seems to be that his 1952 acceptance speech is much better, but I saw both and don’t think so. If I knew it was going to be so hard to find online, I would’ve taken notes. There was a lot of stuff that’s relevant today. He railed against a lazy media and pointed out that the president at the time was just a figurehead, picked to be the pleasant face of a pretty shitty machine. (I’m paraphrasing.)

But history is written by the victors and Adlai Stevenson is pretty much just a footnote in Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency. This week’s Sunday Globe had an interesting article about the 1956 Democratic Convention, but the emphasis is on Kennedy’s failed bid for the VP spot on the ticket and barely mentions Stevenson.

I’m not saying Eisenhower sucked, just that Adlai’s speech was still relevant today. Especially since the White House is thinking of making more nukes for the first time since I was born, and Stevenson was an early advocate for scaling back the nuclear arms race.

Eisenhower’s acceptance speeches weren’t that great, but that’s probably only because I was familiar with his farewell address, in which he appears to have grown a backbone and famously warned against the rise of the military industrial complex:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Too bad no one listened to him either.