If John Kerry and John Edwards thought their convention would give
them some much-needed momentum, they clearly were mistaken. The vapid
proceedings in Boston did little to excite the public; in fact, the public, in
its wisdom, pretty much ignored the goings-on at the Fleet Center. Television
coverage reflected the voters’ apathy-the broadcast networks devoted a mere
three hours of coverage to the convention.
once served a real purpose in American political life. It was where the parties
nominated their candidates for national office. It was where issues were
debated, where deals were done. These events were filled with drama and
unpredictable scenarios. The party platform actually meant something, and often
was the focus of heated debate. The sweaty, passionate and often unruly side of
politics was on display for all to see.
conventions are little more than infomercials-even worse, they’re like
infomercials you’ve already seen a dozen times. And the result is predictable:
The public tunes out, and candidates like Mr. Kerry, who is trying to unseat an
incumbent, actually lose momentum.
irony is that the political scriptwriters who have turned conventions into
Rotary Club meetings are afraid of the very drama that would inspire the
public’s interest. The last thing either party wants is any sign of dissent. So
platforms aren’t debated in public, and the Presidential and Vice Presidential
candidates are nominated without discussion. No wonder neither the media nor
the voters seem interested.
been more than a half-century since the last contested convention, when Dwight Eisenhower bested Robert Taft-who
entered the convention with the most delegates-to win the Republican
Party’s 1952 Presidential nomination. And the last multiple-ballot convention
fight took place in 1956, when John Kennedy unsuccessfully sought to become Adlai Stevenson’s running mate. With the young
Senator from Massachusetts gaining momentum, the party’s insiders began
changing votes and trading horses. The result was Estes Kefauver’s dramatic,
second-ballot victory. Nominations have since been a one-ballot affair, a far
cry from the 104-ballot marathon that took place in New York in 1924, when the
exhausted Democrats nominated John Davis.
Conventions had drama back then. They had floor
fights and impassioned speeches and arguments over issues.
Conventions mattered, and now they don’t for any number of
reasons. Political consultants don’t dare allow the public to see anything
resembling argument. The explosion of primaries in the 1960’s took
control of the delegates out of the hands of free-wheeling bosses who traded
votes for favors. And the emphasis on fund-raising has led parties to
front-load their primaries so that a winner emerges by mid-March, allowing that
candidate to get on with the all-important business of collecting
then, have lost their purpose. Stripped of drama and debate, they are unable to
inspire voters or generate excitement about the fall’s election. It’s time they
went the way of the Whig Party.
Bloomberg and Kelly Have the Right Stuff
Faced with warnings about new security threats, Mayor Michael
Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly have offered steady, reassuring
leadership. They have not downplayed the threat, nor have they said or done
anything to make matters more tense. That is no easy task, but they have
managed it and have set the right tone for the city.
the government believes that the information about specific threats to specific
buildings warrants a ramping-up of security measures. But should we be
surprised to learn that terrorists would love to destroy the Stock Exchange or
the World Bank? It would be news to learn that, for some reason, the terrorists
have no interest in these institutions. The specificity of detail does not
necessarily make the threats any more credible than the generic threat we
already know about and live with every day.
terrorists’ goal is to create a climate of fear and to force Washington (and other Western governments) to spend energy
and money on anti-terrorism defense. Homeland Security Secretary Tom
Ridge justified the stepped-up measures by citing the specific nature of the
new (or, to be more precise, somewhat new) threats. But at what point are we
actually playing into the enemy’s hands by going to battle stations just
because specific buildings may or may not be in the terrorists’ cross hairs?
rather, disinformation-may be the terrorists’ biggest weapon. With a
well-planned leak, our enemy can sit back and watch officials like Mr. Ridge
scramble. This ability to cause anxiety and to
disrupt the nation’s economy simply through words may be the terrorists’
most formidable tactic.
more, how can intelligence sources tell us about a suicide bomber in a truck?
Terrorist operations are not like D-Day, when the Allies had to marshal
thousands of men, vessels and vehicles along the coast of Britain. Terrorists
hide from public view. How can we gather information about people we can’t see?
York City has admirably learned to adapt to the post–Sept. 11 climate. Indeed,
it’s hard to imagine another city whose residents would have recovered as
gracefully. But there’s no denying that these are challenging times. The past three years have changed much of our day-to-day lives, with security checks at public
events and office buildings and restrictions at our bridges and tunnels.
All of which makes the leadership of Michael Bloomberg and Raymond Kelly all
the more important.
The Dog Days of August
Many long-time New Yorkers will tell you that the city’s most lovely
seasons are spring and fall. What they won’t tell you, because it’s something
of a secret, is that August is also one of New York’s most idyllic times. The
streets are blissfully empty, you can always get a table at your favorite
restaurant and then perhaps stroll into a Broadway show just before the curtain goes up. Museums suddenly feel manageable;
books that have gone unread for months become an accessible pleasure
again. And for these precious weeks, you’re not subject to the usual aches and
pains of your friends-they’re all in the Hamptons, the Catskills, the South of
France or Litchfield County-and your own aches and pains recede, as your
therapist takes the waters in Wellfleet.
you may be tempted to head to Long Island for a weekend, but such thoughts
evaporate like a summer shower when you remember the hours you’d likely spend
stuck in snarled traffic on the Long Island Expressway,
only to find the beaches and restaurants jammed with other bleary Manhattanites, and then to return Sunday
night more stressed-out than before you left.
August in New York. Savor it. But please, keep it under your hat.