THE BIG SHOW
Every four years, we flash back to seeing Republican Conventions on television, when we sat in front of the tube open-mouthed in admiration at the amazing, entertaining, frustrating, brilliant circus displayed for all to see.
Every four years, the Republicans manage to stage an extravaganza that is breath-taking in its scope and discipline, in its line-up of country western stars, in its ribald and rabid hilarity.
And every fours years we’ve bemoaned the fact that this effort is so darned professional, so professionally enthusiastic that if we couldn’t contain ourselves, we’d enroll in their cause half a dozen times during the three hour evening displays because they all seemed so determined to believe in what they were doing.
The corollary is that the Democratic Convention, by comparison, pales badly. It seems terminally disorganized. It starts, it stops, it starts again. We can’t hear the speakers. We don’t know the speakers or the musicians. We can’t for the life of us find out what is on the party platform. Infighting reigns. There are meaningless demonstrations and side-shows. The entire triplet of convention sessions seems to roll on forever, getting nowhere until the Big Speech, and by that time we’ve already heard enough. We turn off the television set depressed and angry. What’s the matter with these people? Can’t they learn anything, even from their enemies?
Why should this be so?
Well, here’s an answer, perhaps not THE answer, but a very good one, it seems to us.
The answer stems directly from expectations, confidence, and ambition. It also stems from fear, competitiveness, and rivalry.
The Republican Big Tent really and truly can hold all of its component parts together because the party knows that if it wins the election, every Republican wins. Also, of course, the party’s big tent contains no gigantic population, certainly no population made up of differing ideas, motives, ethnicities.
There is no in-fighting over the platform. There is no renegade candidate desperate to make an impression from the podium. Delegates are really and truly having fun, not because they are so sure of winning the general election but because, having become used to losing it, they can afford to relax and enjoy booze, broads, deep-sea fishing trips, junkets to nearby tourist haunts.
If they do actually come out on top, there is plenty of time to get portentous, serious, mean-spirited, obstructive, demanding, tyrannical. All of them together. Nobody loses at a Republican convention. Hawks have time to target their next war; policy wonks have time to separate the haves from the used-to-haves; speakers have plenty of time to begin imagining how to present the worst possible news to the nation in the most soothing and ambiguous terms. And the rich know the future is assured.
Compare this with the chaotic scenes we have come to associate with the Democratic conventions.
When F.D.R. died and Harry Truman became not only president but also a nominee for his own term in 1948, the dispirited and disbelieving Democratic base shattered. The Dixiecrats were born, an offshoot of the Southern Blue Dog Democrats. So within the party itself there was little or no unity of purpose. Expecting Thomas Dewey to win the election that year, the Democrats fragmented and have remained so since.
Which is to say, Democrats broke into small cabals each with its own agenda. This eventually meant competition within the party for platform planks, for time on the podium, for disparate goals. The Democrats could not believe that if their side won, the entire party would win.
Just remember the outrages of the 1968 Chicago convention, or the convention of 1972 with a vice-presidential candidate eventually dumped because he had undergone psychological therapy. Talk about fragmentation!
As a party made up of an incredible diversity of members, that convention in 1948 set the tone for Democrat infighting to this very day.
Members had particular goals they feared, if not achieved, would be lost forever. Unions rose to prominence with their organizations and bankrolls. Diplomats, not even beginning to understand the coming success of the Marshall Plan, looked weak-kneed and tired, too tied to European goals and methods and rebuilding.
Educators began for the first time to have some collective strength. Small businessmen and women worried about being forgotten in the face of huge international business conglomerates that hovered just above the horizon.
And civil rights – voting rights, intermarriage, minimum wages – began to get ginned up for a long, long battle, still to this day unresolved.
There was nothing homogenous about the Democrats. And, in fact, the Democrats liked their world this way.
But that is no way to run a railroad, as the saying goes.
Believing that if each little pocket of concern doesn’t find satisfaction, Democrats are determined to destroy other factions that stand in what they consider their place. If education can’t win, neither will health and welfare. If health and welfare can’t make progress, that faction is damned if the Defense Department is going to get what it wants. None of this leads happily towards victory and, if victory there is, it’s just as fragmented and chaotic as a loss would have been.
What Democrats fail to realize is that their Big Tent really and truly does hold a mélange of voices, concerns, ethnicities, desires and needs that – should the party be able to harness these in tandem teams –could lead it towards a successful administration.
Briefly, the Democrats are pessimistic and the Republicans optimistic, and it shows.
If Republicans are bullies, Democrats are nerds. In the past dozen years, the Democrats seemed frozen in place, afraid to make too much noise lest, when election time came round again, they be seen as part of the problem Reagan so blithely outlined.
How can the Democrats compete with the joyous celebrations of their counterparts? By being brave, strong, determined, confident, and combative in their own reasonable fashion.
The complaints about President Obama’s first term – that he seems disengaged, uninterested, able to formulate ideas but loathe to carry them out – must not be allowed to be mirrored by the party itself. In the immortal words of one Republican we’d like to forget, Man Up!
For if both conventions are to be successful, both must be equally confident of success, equally driven by desire, equally capable of actually handling victory should it be theirs.
That the Republican circus is based on distortions and racism means nothing in the face of its overwhelming power and success.
There must be people in the Democratic party who can give as good as they get, who are unafraid of verbal and ideological combat, who believe in their cause as rabidly as their opponents.
Otherwise, with Republicans in charge of state houses across the country, busily plotting voter suppression schemes and getting them not only passed by their legislators but also being given a pass by their own judiciary, the Democrats will never be able to mount a spectacle that begins to rival what we’ll see in Tampa. That’s because as time progresses, not to pull any punches, there won’t be men and women proud to be identified and labeled as liberals or progressives or even as Democrats. They will have allowed themselves to be beaten down into permanent minor party status, which is a clear and definite Republican goal.
So, once again, pacem Sharon Angle, MAN UP, GUYS! And as new Democratic Men and Women, give us a show we want to see, we deserve to see, one in which we can believe.